Collin walked through the dark toward his son, carrying his shirt and his jacket. Harvest season was almost over. The chill in the air promised an end to the summer-like temperatures they’d been enjoying. Michael would have to take the guests into town to buy jackets.
Collin saw Jake’s shimmering body among the trees. “How is he, my friend,” Collin whispered, although he knew he was too far away for Quinn to hear anyway.
“He is asleep,” Jake answered. “I have kept him warm.”
“Good.” He knew he was still in Cee’s range, so he did not discuss anything else with Jake yet.
His precious son. He always tried so hard to do what was right, and now Collin knew just where he was hurting. Guilt at disappointing him. Cee had even said so yesterday when Collin had inadvertently been too sharp with Quinn. “He tries so hard to please you, and you yell at him.”
What had surprised him and even given him a slight chuckle was now part of a larger problem. He was used to Jake calling him to task, stating his views, but accepting his judgment. But Cee no longer accepted his judgment of things.
Collin reached Jake and rubbed his neck as he walked around him. Jake’s right wing extended to the ground, close to his side. He’d have never guessed Quinn was snuggled beneath if Jake hadn’t told him. Collin kneeled in the dirt, and Jake lifted his wing a few inches.
Quinn lay curled up against Jake like a little boy. Collin caressed his hair. Quinn jerked awake.
“It’s just me,” Collin said softly. “I brought your shirt and jacket.” He rubbed Jake’s wing a moment. “I know you need to patrol the village, Jake. When you return, we’ll talk.”
Jake leapt into the air and disappeared.
Quinn began shivering, and Collin helped him into his clothing. After his jacket was on, Quinn folded his arms across his chest as if still cold, and he scooted back to lean against a tree. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
“I know.” Collin drew his son close to try to warm him. He’d been outside too long without a shirt. He’d have to keep watch on him for a few weeks to make sure he didn’t get pneumonia. “I love you, Quinn. I only want what’s best for you.”
“She didn’t mean it.”
“No. I know she didn’t. But you must trust me, Quinn. You didn’t trust me, and now we have a problem.”
“I’m sorry,” Quinn repeated, still shivering slightly beneath his arms. “Cee told you I kissed her, didn’t she?”
“No. Cee wouldn’t tell me a thing. But Tori did confess everything to me and asked me for help with her nightmares. Do you know that she knows my secrets? Both Charles and Tori do. The only thing they don’t know is that Jake and the Jamel5000A unit are one, but when Charles is well and our other guests leave, he will find that out also.”
“They know you are Collin Hansell? How? Did Michael…?”
“No. I sent Charles the clues in my report. I wanted to meet him, and I want to work with him.”
“Then Tori? Is she…?” Quinn closed his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t need another wife. I don’t need anyone. I’ll never let you down again. I promise.”
Collin rubbed Quinn’s back and then gave him an extra hug. “I love you, Quinn. You must trust that I want what is best for you. I also want what is best for Tori. The girl has admitted to some problem with her family and that she has nowhere to go when Charles dies. I have assured her that she will have a home with us.”
“She will? But I….” He became stiff under Collin’s arms. “I will not let you down. I don’t need any woman.”
“On the contrary, my son, I think you do need a wife. And Tori needs a husband to love her unconditionally. I normally believe that a couple should both be well mentally before undertaking marriage, but I can see that Tori’s problem is situationally caused by a traumatic experience, and she will soon, with rest and reassurance, be over it.”
Quinn stood and looked down at him. “I can marry her?”
Collin stood and walked with Quinn along the edge of the river. “You, of course, must convince her to say yes. Perhaps ask her how she feels about children before the ceremony. You understand that whoever you marry will be Shanika’s stepmother.”
He grabbed both Collin’s arms and looked into his face in the scant moonlight. “You’re saying she’ll be a good wife?”
Collin drew a deep breath. “Nothing is a hundred percent certain. But from Cee’s earlier reports, her attitude toward Charles, and her discretion, I believe that when she pledges loyalty, she will keep that pledge.”
“And I can ask her now?”
“I believe she is sleeping right now,” Collin teased to ease Quinn’s tension. “Actually you know a woman likes a little romance. Try to show her that you are passionately attracted to her and you desire to know her better.”
“Michael bought Kayden a ring. I could go to Capitol and get….”
“Not for at least a month.”
“But you said….”
“Yes. You can get married tomorrow, but your flights are restricted until the crack has knit itself together for a month. It’s bad enough that you’ve tempted pneumonia by coming out here without a shirt; I won’t risk puncturing that lung again.”
“But Rae, and the village, and….”
“You are restricted from house calls for one month. You have an injury, and you will rest. You will not even ride a horse. If you were thrown you could be killed.”
“You’ll tell everyone that Tori…?”
“No, Quinn. No one needs to know how you were injured. You hunt dragons. It’s a dangerous business. Let them assume what they will over your cracked rib, but you will take the time to recover. You do realize though that I expect that you will never hide any injury from me again, no matter how it happens.”
“No,” Quinn agreed, turning from him to stare into the water. “I’m sorry.”
Jake landed in the grass behind them. “Do you need a ride home?”
Collin directed Quinn up the bank to Jake’s side. “Let’s talk for a moment about Cee.”
Jake settled on his chest.
“You’re taking Cee from me?” Quinn’s voice rose in panic.
Collin motioned him to sit beside Jake as he settled himself between Jake’s front legs, under his neck. “No, Quinn. I am not taking Cee, but you do have a problem. First, since you momentarily did not trust me, now Cee does not trust me. She refused to give me the information I asked for.”
“But Quinn said she should,” Jake protested.
“I reminded her of that. She still refused to give me all the details, and what she did relate was extremely biased, as if she now has a strong dislike for Tori.”
“But I told her. She can’t hate Tori. I don’t understand.”
“I believe her rebellion stems from how much she is afraid of losing you like she lost Michael. Also, between your order not to tell me, and my order to destroy Butler, even though she was afraid of Butler, she now knows that I will kill a malfunctioning unit. I have lost her respect.”
“No, she can’t,” Quinn protested, jumping up. He took Jake’s snout. “Jake, you must help me. What am I doing wrong?”
Collin stood and hugged Jake’s neck.
“Never again keep anything from Collin,” Jake said severely.
“Quinn, you must stress to Cee your loyalty to me. You also need to stress that Tori is not an enemy. Butler almost killed Thom’s wife. You can imagine that Tori will be afraid that Cee will come between you and her. It may even prevent her from getting as close as she desires.”
Quinn shot him a sharp look. “What makes you think she’s even desiring to get closer?”
Collin gave his son a soft smile. “A doctor hears many confessions in a day’s work. But you desire her, and that is enough for you to begin your courting.” He became firm again. “But you must make sure that Cee never comes between you. Cee must understand her place, and it is not to call me to task, nor to harass or berate Tori if you two have a disagreement. Do you understand? You must be very careful not to stay angry or fume over any of the normal conflicts between couples. Perhaps you and I should meet, out of range like this, to discuss any problems that come up, because Cee will be too quick to come to your defense. As a dragon that could kill. Even now, she could harass Tori, as Jake did to Michael.”
“I’m sorry. I will talk to Cee,” Jake vowed. “I will not let her hurt anyone. If she begins harassing Tori, I will alert you both immediately.”
“Cee’s dragon body?” Quinn asked.
“We still have almost six months. I trust that Cee will adjust to your marriage and Butler’s death before that. And she must accept both my authority and Jake’s. I can not be responsible for any more dragon deaths, especially not your wife or child’s, Quinn. I will not take chances with your family.” He started them walking back toward the house. “And Quinn, it is essential that you are honest with me about Cee. Do not hide anything to protect her. You know I want her to adjust and be able to accept that dragon body as much as you do. Let’s work together to teach her what she needs to know.”
Quinn shivered. “I will never hide from you again, Collin. Please, both of you, help Cee. It’s only because she loves me so much.”
“I know, Quinn. But we cannot excuse Cee’s jealousy, just like you cannot excuse it in Shanika. And yes, Quinn, I have no doubt that Shanika will also display a fit of jealousy over a new relationship. But you must be firm, letting her know the behavior isn’t acceptable while still acknowledging that you love her.”
“Maybe I should just forget Tori.”
Collin smiled. “Can you forget Tori?”
Quinn gave a small shrug, but kept walking. “If it will cause trouble….”
“I’d rather the trouble come now than when Cee has a twenty-five foot dragon body to pout with. Marry Tori. You need a wife. Or don’t you want her now that you know I approve?” he teased.
Quinn ignored him for a few minutes, and then he smiled. “It certainly puts a new perspective on things. You’ve never approved before.”
“You only gave me the option of approving Tara before.”
They walked in silence, Jake circling overhead. Quinn glanced at Collin and then said, “Yes. I’m all right, Cee. I didn’t give you away. I left you to give Collin the report. Did you give him the report he needed?”
“The whole report, Cee? Collin said you withheld information from him.”
“Well, I was wrong, Cee. Never withhold information from Collin. We’ve talked about everything, and I endangered Tori by not informing Collin accurately about her just to protect myself. I was wrong to kiss Tori like that….”
“Yes I was! I knew it, so I didn’t want Collin to know. I was wrong to hide my mistakes from him. I endangered my own life.”
Quinn shook his head, his look more concerned than before. “You must apologize.”
“Collin,” Cee said in his ear. “I am sorry. Do you wish the whole report?”
“Give it to Jake. I will review it later. And try to keep your own emotions from clouding the facts this time. A dragon must be clear thinking, not open to impulses of passion.”
“Yes, Collin,” Cee said, but her voice was neutral, as if she’d turned off the emotion.
Collin rested his hand on Quinn’s shoulder in reassurance. Then they were at the house. “Now, you can take over for Geoff, and I’ll relieve you in three hours. I’m going to take a nap.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Shanika ran into Quinn’s room, waking him after only four hours of sleep. “You missed breakfast, Daddy. Come on. You have to see Flash. He almost flyed today. Come on. You have to get up, or Kayden’s going to take me into town. I want to stay here with Flash.”
Quinn groaned as he got out of bed. He’d slept without his shirt as he normally did, and as the sheet slid off, Shanika’s gaze fixed on his bruised ribs.
“Oh, no, Daddy. What did you do?”
“I got hurt, Sweetheart. I won’t be able to do much. You should go with Kayden.”
“I want to stay with Flash.”
Quinn took a deep breath. “You will go with Kayden. You can’t be in the barns by yourself, especially with Marta gone.” Niles was performing all his wife’s duties in the barn as well as his own. Kayden helped first thing in the morning and then in the evening.
“You never do anything with me anymore.”
“Sweetheart, I’m sick. We have sick people here who need help. When you are a doctor, you always have to help the sick people first.”
“I’m not going with Kayden!” She ran from the room.
Quinn took his time washing up and dressing. Today he would tell Tori that he loved her. He wanted to look his best. His hand stopped at his blue dragon-hide outfit. Well, perhaps he couldn’t look his best today. He grabbed the shirt beside it and slipped it on, setting Cee in his pocket.
A knock sounded on his door. “Quinn,” Kayden said. “Is Shanika up here?”
Quinn opened his door. “No.”
“You do want me to take her with us, don’t you?”
“Yeah. She wants to be at the stables, and I will not be able to keep up with her. I cracked a rib,” he said, matter of factly, hoping Kayden didn’t think he was a girlbaby. “Collin told me not to do much. No house calls. Can’t ride.”
“Oh, Quinn. How awful. I saw you were hurting yesterday. How did you….”
Quinn shrugged. “Rather not talk about it. Mistake in judgment.”
Kayden touched his arm. “Sure. I’ll keep watch over Shanika. That is as soon as I can find her.”
Quinn heard Jake’s chuckle in his ear. He assumed Kayden heard him also. “She has tried to hide in the loft.”
“But Jake!” They heard Shanika plead. “Please let me stay with you.”
“Maybe if you had asked your father and Kayden, but instead you wanted to hide from them. I never hide anything from Kayden and Quinn. You will have to go today. Maybe I will keep watch over you tomorrow, with Quinn’s approval.”
“But today Flash is learning to fly! Look!”
“Careful, little one. That’s a twenty foot drop.”
“I’m not a little one.”
Kayden grinned at Shanika’s protest. “I’ll go get her, Quinn. You work on getting well.” When she was in the hall she turned and winked, “Or are you planning to ask Charles about Tori?”
“Maybe I’ll just ask Tori.”
Kayden grinned. “Too late. She’s coming with us. She needs a jacket.” And Kayden ran downstairs.
Quinn sat back on his bed. Great. Now he wouldn’t see her until dinner time. He lay back down a moment to think.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A knock jerked him awake. And then Collin entered the room, carrying a tray. “Hey, my son. Lunch time.” He smiled.
“So now she’s gone.”
Collin gave a soft chuckle. “Now she is following orders. It’s good for her to get out. But I could use your help downstairs if you’re up to it.”
Quinn sat up and obediently ate the lunch Collin had brought him. Then he went downstairs to take his turn in the infirmary while Collin made house calls. Thom was sedated. His file said he’d had several waking moments, but he was not yet lucid. Sensitivity was returning to his extremities, and Collin surmised that his outlook was much brighter than it had been before. Jim could now walk by himself, but Collin recommended supervision. Charles had improved so much that he was dressed and sitting in Collin’s armchair. Quinn had instructions to take him through several exercises before dinner.
Jim went to the porch with Par, Gwen, Marta, and the babies. Quinn sat before Charles and quietly helped him through his exercises.
“You now have Cee, don’t you?”
Quinn jerked his gaze to Charles’ face, his hand covering his pocket.
“She hasn’t spoken to me.”
“I am sorry I failed to protect Michael,” Cee said, contritely.
“You protected him. You did well, Cee. I read your report and approve of your actions.”
Quinn sat back on the chair, deciding to forego the pretense of continuing with the exercises.
“I am curious as to why you decided to be referred to as a female unit.”
Cee was silent. Charles met Quinn’s gaze, questioning him. But Quinn didn’t know how to answer without speaking about dragons, and Collin had said last night that the dragon/computer connection was still a secret.
But then he heard Jake’s voice. “Charles, I think Cee just wished to be different. Perhaps later, when the guests have returned to Capitol, you will understand. It is a logical decision on her part, and Collin approved the change.”
Charles gave a slight nod and sighed. “If you believe I’ll live long enough to satisfy my curiosity.”
Then he heard Collin’s voice in his ear. “I have a feeling, my friend, that the curiosity will keep you alive better than anything I may be able to do.”
Charles smiled. “Curiosity has always motivated me.”
“When did Charles receive a transceiver?” Cee asked. “Why was I not given the frequency?”
Quinn noted Charles’ surprise, and it was not approval. “Cee, Collin decides what is best for his patients.”
“That is correct,” Jake said. “I am not allowed to speak to Charles without also transmitting to Collin. The patient is not to be harassed, and I am too eager to learn how he now views us, that I may inadvertently speak too often. That is why we are both restricted, Cee. Charles is still recovering.”
Quinn noticed that the exercises and conversation were indeed taking their toll on Charles. “Perhaps Charles should rest now,” he suggested. “Then perhaps you will be ready to eat dinner with Tori when she returns.”
“Until next time,” Jake said.
“Do you really think I did well, Dr. Jamel,” Cee asked.
Charles met Quinn’s gaze. Quinn hoped Charles would say yes. He was sure Cee just needed the reassurance that she was as loved as Jake. “Yes, Cee,” Charles said, not taking his gaze from Quinn’s face. “You saved my grandson’s life. I am very grateful.”
Quinn gave a brief, relieved smile. “Cee has always helped me. I am grateful to you and to Michael.”
He did not wait for Charles’ reply, but helped him from the chair, to the rest room, and then to bed. Shortly after Charles was in bed, Par returned with Jim for his nap before dinner.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.