Dragon Down Under
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by Angela Castle
Category: Erotica/Paranormal Erotica
Description: Accused of a crime he did not commit, dragon shifter Kaden, has been exiled to the human realm. His only chance for survival is to find a remote, warm dry place to live, as both man and dragon. Deeply in debt, Terrie Holbrook has no choice but to sell her family's remote cattle station in the far North of Australia, and a mysterious buyer saves the property from falling into the hands of a mining company. The overwhelming attraction between them has Terrie on the run and one large blue dragon on the chase. Things take a violent turn when the mining company owner comes after what lies beneath their land. They discover an ancient puzzle, dating back to time of gods and men. When Terrie is threatened, Kaden must do whatever it takes to save his one true mate--and the world--from the hands of a mad man.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: August 2011
58 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [200 KB]
Reading time: 124-174 min.
The beast was clawing under his skin, screaming to escape. Burning pain racked through every cell of Kaden's body as he writhed on the cold stone floor, the enchanted manacle biting deeply into his skin. He wanted to shift, needed to shift, his dragon wanted out, wanted his freedom. It had been eight days, three days past the tolerance of any dragon to be able to stay in his human form. Even if he could shift, the little cell he'd been placed in would crush his dragon body, killing him. It was agonizing. But then again, that was the whole point, to keep him like this, to cause him pain, to make him suffer for a crime he did not commit. No one was listing to his pleas; no one would hear his side of the story. He got the feeling they didn't wish to either. The evidence negated his words. Kaden was acutely aware of the jealousy that raged through many of the male dragons of the king's court. Everyone knows no good deed goes unpunished.
He held on to his scream. He wouldn't give them the satisfaction of screaming, even when the whip had torn his flesh, as every dragon of the court watched on, in the central chamber, including the eyes of his accuser. He had raised his gaze to glare with hatred at the woman who had ripped everything from him, the one who had reduced him to this. Kaden snorted in disgust when she turned her head as the punishment continued. Each time he had tried to deny the crime, he'd been whipped into silence. Clenching his jaw, enduring until he had collapsed, his dragon side wanted to take over to heal his flesh, but the manacle of the gods had been placed on his ankle and he had been shoved into this tiny cell. Now he waited for his death.
He couldn't raise his head as he heard the footsteps approached his cell. The door swung open.
"Always knew it would be a woman to bring you down, Kaden." The cold voice of Merloc, once his subordinate, now his tormentor, and new captain of the guard rang out as he stepped into the cell.
"You know me better than to believe I would do something like that to her." His voice sounded shaky and pained to his ears. "I was set up! Can't you see it?"
"It's out of my hands, my friend. The king has decided: it's not death, but I think you're going to prefer it, may the gods have mercy."
Kaden managed to raise his head to meet Merloc's gaze. Pain racked his body as he forced himself to stand. He would face anything they threw at him with pride and honour.
"Take him to the court chamber for the verdict."
Merloc stepped back to let two dragon guards take hold of him by his upper arms, while Merloc undid the manacle. Every step felt as if they were driving long hot spikes up through the soles of his feet. He kept his head held high as he was led up from the cold dungeon, through the lower chambers of the dragon palace up into the warmth of the upper spires of the king's court. The elders flanked the king on the large flat dais that accommodated both human and dragon form. The queen was conveniently absent. The king's face was grim as Kaden was pushed to his knees.
"Kaden De-Kerr you have been found guilty of treason against the queen, king and the royal court." The king's top adviser Petra spoke.
Kaden clenched his jaw so tight, he was close to breaking his teeth.
"As only one was willing to speak in your defence, and long loyal service to the royal court, the usual death penalty has been lifted. It is instead the judgment of this court that you hereby be exiled from the Dragon Realm."
He struggled to suppress the pain pounding through him, making it difficult to concentrate on what was being said. There were two possible places of exile, the Lower Realm and the Human Realm. He was hoping for the Lower Realm, at least there he could shift when he wanted, demons were not averse to having a dragon in their midst. The second was almost unthinkable, the Human Realm.
It was not unheard of for dragon males to make short trips through the Realm portals to indulge in the pleasures of a human female. But to live there willingly was unthinkable. No dragon who had had been cast from the Outer Realm had ever come back. It was simply assumed they had not survived. Every dragon knew the humans lived in ignorance and fear. Dragons were hunted and slaughtered because of it.
"You shall be stripped of your magic and tossed to the fates of the Human Realm. Is there anything you wish to say?"
Kaden drew in a shuddering breath, fighting not to let his anguish show. "When the truth is revealed, nothing you do or say will ever right this wrong," he proclaimed proudly. He would say nothing more. The arguments in the court were done. They had not listened to him then, they would not now. He had lost.
"Be done with him."
Kaden knew it was the king's final word. His arms were seized by the guards and they dragged him away. He knew exactly where he was being taken: the realm portal.
* * * *
"It's not bloody fair."
Terrie Holbrook's hands shook with rage, holding a bank's seizure notice in her hands.
"Your father had considerable debts, Miss Holbrook. Even with the government drought-relief package to farmers in need, it was nowhere near enough to cover what he already owed."
She sat in the air-conditioned comfort of the National Bank of Australia after receiving notice the bank was going to seize her land. She needed to pay off the three million dollar debt that had been accumulated. She and her father had used the bulk of the funds trying to keep their station running in the middle of the longest drought in recorded Australian history. Water and feed had been trucked in, and reliable equipment had been bought. Upkeep of the station and keeping the station hands paid had all cost money they didn't have. To top it all off, her father was killed in an accident while out on a muster to round up stray cattle. Three weeks later, the notice had arrived.
"But it's been raining, the land is recovering. We're going to turn a profit this year," she tried to explain.
"Not enough even to pay the interest on the loan." The bank manager's face was expressionless.
Terrie sat rigid in the office chair, dismayed that the bank could do this.
"We have tried to be fair, Miss Holbrook, believe you me. You're not the only company or station having financial difficulty."
"You can't take my family's land!"
"I'm sorry, Miss Holbrook, but the decision has been made. If it's of any comfort, you won't come out of this empty-handed. We already have a willing buyer and at an excellent price. There will be enough to pay back the debt and have some left over so you can make a fresh start somewhere else."
Her eyes narrowed on the bank manager. "Who's the buyer?"
She had a creepy feeling that she knew exactly who the buyer was----West Net Mining. They had been trying to buy her land for the past three years, ever since her father had grudgingly allowed a survey team from the company in to look over the land. She thought they were simply valuing it. Not long after, they started receiving offers to buy them out. Some even escalated to verbal threats. Yet her father had kept them out.
"If it's West Net, then the answer is no bloody way!" Terrie shot to her feet, leaning over the manager's desk, glaring angrily at the man in the expensive Brooks Brothers suit. He actually pushed his office chair back a foot, his expression worried, as if she was about leap over the desk and attack him. "You are not going to sell my land to that leach of a company, do you hear me? If my land has to be sold in order to finance your bank's ivory towers, Mr. Jamerson, then I'll sell it myself."
"Miss Holbrook, please calm down. There is no possible way you could find a buyer for all your land in the next fourteen days."
She straightened her posture and smoothed down the same black suit and skirt she had worn to her father's funeral.
"You'll have your money in fourteen days, Mr. Jameson. My land will not go to West Net. I'd wish you a good day, but, personally, I don't give a flying fuck!"
With her head held high, she swivelled on her black heels and strode out the door with determined confidence.
On impact with the freezing lake, Kaden's body lost complete control, and his dragon burst forth. He let out a roar which echoed out into the cold night. Already he knew he was in trouble. In such a densely populated place as the human realm, some curious and now frightened human would have heard his dragon's cry. No doubt a hunt for his hide would soon be on.
He dove deep into the dark, murky water. Dragons loved the water but hated the cold, which made it difficult for them to function. He swam the length of the lake slowly, giving himself time to stay in dragon form as long as possible. His dragon side now appeased at his shift, the pain had eased into a dull headache, but he was still sluggish and weak. He might be able to hold off a few humans for a while, but not for long. It was not their fault for being an inferior and ignorant species.
The water became shallow as he reached an embankment. Still fully dragon, he dragged himself up onto the rocky stone bank and dropped his huge dragon frame onto it, unable to control the shivers that racked his body.
His ears pricked up at the sound of a low rumbling. It grew louder as whatever it was approached. The acrid smell of smoke wafted into his senses. He rolled slightly, blinking against the glare of lights. Something slammed, in the distance, followed by the crunch of heavy boots on gravel.
"By the gods, yer a big bastard! Looks like they did a number on you, lad."
The man's voice rolled with an accent Kaden was unfamiliar with. "Canna ye shift? I dunno how much longer before yer roar will attract Nessie watchers. 'Tis good fortune, my friend, I found ye before they did."
Senseless, he wondered how this human knew of his kind. Kaden poured the last of his strength into shifting his dragon form into his human one. Warm arms wrapped around his shoulders helping him to his feet.
"C'mon, laddie. We'll soon have ye warmed up."
"Howhow do you know? Who are you?" he choked out in a hoarse voice.
"Shhhh. I'll tell ye all about it once yer safe. Come now, quickly."
Kaden stumbled. He was too weak, exhausted, tortured by his first shift in eleven days. The combination got the better of him.
"Sorry," was all he managed to mumble, ashamed of his weakness, but he welcomed the blackness which claimed him.
Terrie paced, anxiety and stress giving her a headache. Losing her father in the accident had been hard enough to deal with, but losing the one thing she and her father had battled and worked for She didn't know how she was going to deal with it.
Terrie's sandy-coloured hair was a dishevelled mess from running a frustrated hand through it too many times. Her black jacket lay tossed over the back of an armchair.
"What am I going to do? I can't lose the property, II just can't."
"First of all, stop wearing a track into my carpet. Second, sit down and take a deep breath."
Mentally exhausted, she obeyed, slumping into the chair behind her friend's desk. Leah glanced up at her friend. Leah had lustrous black hair, green eyes, reddish lips, and a pale complexion. Terrie had always envied her friend's "Snow White" looks. Leah sat composed in her desk chair, scanning over the bank's paperwork.
The only education available to kids growing up in outback Australia was school of the air. Lessons were conducted on the station radio and on the computer, but it had not been good enough for Terrie's father. He had sent her to an exclusive boarding school in Darwin. Leah had been her roommate and good friend right through to college. Afterward, Leah had gone into law, and Terrie had headed back to the family station. They had kept in close contact with phone calls, emails, and the occasional visit. Leah would even come to stay at the station during her holidays. Terrie's father used to encourage other girls to visit too. He understood it wasn't easy being a growing girl on an all-male working cattle station.
"I hate to say this, but they have you by the balls, Ter. They have gone well beyond the extension on the loan and have sent several letters of intent to your dad already. My guess is they left it as long as possible before springing this on you."
"Bastards! I bet West Net pushed them to this."
Terrie dropped her head into her hands, on the verge of tears. "If West Net buys the land, they will tear it up--literally. Can't I get government intervention or something?"
"By the time you petition the government for intervention against a mining company, your two-week window will be up. The only way you can stop West Net from taking it is if you sell it to a private buyer who wants to keep running it as a cattle station."
"Holbrook Station has been in my family for almost a hundred years. How the hell am I going to find someone with three and a half million dollars who wants to live in the middle of nowhere----with the heat, flies, dust, monsoonal rain storms----and work their guts keeping several hundred head of cattle?"
Leah gave her a sympathetic look. "Have a little faith, Ter. We'll think of something."
"What I need is a bloody miracle."
Leah sat back in her chair, thrumming her fingers on the table. She looked very thoughtful for a moment, and then her expression brightened.
"Hey, I got it!"
"A brilliant idea, of course." Leah's eyes gleamed with enthusiasm. "The Internet! We'll set up a website to seek a buyer. I have heaps of digital photos from my last trip to your station." She flipped open her laptop, waited it for to wake up, and then her nimble fingers started flying across the keyboard.
Terrie wasn't so certain this was going to work. She stood up, moving around to peer over Leah's shoulder and stare at the screen.
"Are you sure?"
Leah never took her eyes of the screen as she worked. "They don't call it the World Wide Web for fun, Ter. Someone out there is looking for your hot, middle-of-nowhere, fly-infested cattle station. West Net won't even get a look in."
Even if they did find a buyer other than West Net, the result would still be the same. Terrie would lose her home.