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The Last Blackstone Dragon



A Blackstone Mountain Novella

By


Alicia Montgomery





























Copyright © 2017 Alicia Montgomery

Cover design by Melody Simmons

Edited by Serena Clarke at Free Bird Editing



All rights reserved.




Want to read more of my stuff? Check out the True Mates Series and the spinoff series, The Lone Wolf Defenders:


The True Mates Series


Fated Mates

Blood Moon

Romancing the Alpha

Witch’s Mate

Taming the Beast

Tempted by the Wolf



The Lone Wolf Defenders Series

Killian’s Secret

Loving Quinn

All for Connor


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Chapter One


Fire. Heat. Flame.

The pitch-dark cave was suddenly bathed in light from the fire bursting from the creature’s mouth. The flame turned from bright orange to light blue, and the temperature went from cool to burning hot in seconds, then back to cool again. As soon as the temperature dropped, a dozen men scrambled forward, grabbing shiny black rocks scattered in the dirt. The cycle continued--heat and cold, light and darkness--until a whistle sounded.

“All right, we’re good for now,” a tall, burly man wearing a headlamp called out. “Bring those rocks to the processor. Good work everyone!” He turned to the creature and gave it a thumbs-up.

Large, silvery reptilian eyes blinked once. The dragon’s gold scales glinted as the overhead industrial lights began to flicker on. There was hardly any room in the cave to stretch its giant wings, so it kept them close to its body. With a snort and shake of its head, the creature began to shrink. Scales disappeared into skin and the long, elongated head pushed back into a more human form. Once the creature was gone, all that was left was a man. He was fully naked and bracing himself on the rocky floor on one knee.

The burly man tossed him some clothes, which he easily caught without looking up.

“Thanks,” he said as he got to his feet and began pulling on his jeans.

“You okay, Hank?” his foreman, James, asked.

Yeah, I’m fine.” More lights overhead turned on and Henry ‘Hank’ Lennox looked over to the guys who were gathering the precious black chunks. Blackstone. The hardest material on Earth, found only in these mountains. Unfortunately, it was also embedded in the second-hardest material in the world, nitride londaleite. Fortunately, there was only one thing that could destroy it. Dragon fire.

It had made his great-great-great grandfather, Lucas Lennox, as rich as a king. And to think Lucas had won the mountain in a card game. It was pure luck that one of the few dragon shifters had come to own a mountain filled with a substance that could only be mined with dragon fire.

Hank turned back to the burly man. “What do you think, James? Good enough for the day?”

“Looks like a good yield. We might actually make the quota.”

“I hope so,” Hank replied.

“Let’s go to the office,” James said. “We have a couple of things to discuss.”

“Okay, but I need finish up here first.”

“Of course.”

Hank stopped by the group of guys who were loading the rocks onto the carts, to chat with them and check in to make sure they were okay. This particular part of the job was suitable for shifters, who could easily recover from the burns and injuries from handling the blazing hot rocks.

Since Lucas Lennox had begun mining the blackstone, his company employed the various shifters from around the area—bears, wolves, foxes, lions, and even a flight shifter or two—to work in the mines, as normal humans could never survive the working conditions. Of course, thanks to today’s technological advances, all the shifters who worked on-site now wore protective clothing and thus didn’t rely on their accelerated healing abilities as much. However, Lennox Corporation still employed shifters for this particular job, as few humans wanted to work next to a giant, fire-breathing dragon.

After Hank and James had finished checking up on everyone, they walked out of the cave, past the workers hauling out the chunks of blackstone, and down one of the smaller, muddy trails that led away from the main entrance to the mines. A few minutes later, they arrived at Hank’s ‘office’. It was more a large, worn trailer that had seen better days. Beside it were two other trailers, all roughly the same age and in the same state. Hank grabbed the doorknob and yanked it open, and James followed behind him.

The interior of the trailer wasn’t much of an improvement on the inside, though it was at least clean. There were filing cabinets in one corner, a table with a coffee maker in the other, and a large desk in the middle with a computer and various file folders.

Hank let out an unhappy mumble as he got a cup of stale coffee from the machine, then walked back to his desk. He sat down on the leather chair behind the desk, and slammed the cup down as a grim expression set on his face.

“So, what’s gotten your panties in a twist today?” James asked as he sat down on the chair in front of the massive desk. “Is it the board?”

Hank shook his head.

“Look, Hank,” James began. “I know you’re taking Harrison’s death hard, but your brother—”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I know, but—”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.” The air in the small room grew cold and heavy, and Hank felt his dragon’s presence. He closed his eyes, trying to control the emotions. He shut them down, refusing to give in to them. The anger. The hate. But he had to let go.

Harrison had been the one his father was grooming to take over Lennox Corporation, not him. When his father had died of a brain disease that affected shifters, the board chose Harrison as president. But now, Harrison was dead too, and he was alive, and now he had to deal with all this shit.

“So is there another reason you’ve been on edge all day, cuz?”

Hank let out a huff. Cousins. It was a loose term the Lennoxes and Walkers still used, even though they were as different as night and day. Apparently, a few generations ago, a Lennox dragon and a Walker grizzly had got together and the two families had been linked ever since. In fact, Lucas’ first foreman in the blackstone mine was Eustace Walker (James’ great-great-great grandfather), and ever since then there had always been a Walker foreman overseeing the operations at the mines. Bears, after all, were loyal, especially to their clans and families. Of course, they could be annoying at times, but Hank was glad to have the support. Especially now that he had no other family.

And that was the problem on his mind. James was a family man, so maybe he’d understand.

“I need a wife.”

“You need to get laid?” James asked.

Hank sighed inwardly. James was loyal, dependable, and strong, but he wasn’t exactly refined. “No, a wife.”

“Oh.” James scratched his head. “Uhm, well, I’m sure I can ask Laura if she has any single friends…”

“I need a wife,” he reiterated. “Not a date. Someone to have children with and pass on the genes to. To secure the future of Lennox Corp and the mines. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not going to be around forever,” he snorted. Indeed, the lies that the anti-shifter groups spread around were ludicrous. When he was a teenager, he’d read that his father was actually still Lucas Lennox and had been faking his death for generations.

James chuckled. “Shit. You’ll find better luck getting a date. You know, with what those people are saying about dragons.” His expression turned dark. “Sorry. No offense.”

“None taken.” And that was the other lie those anti-shifter groups were spreading. Groups like SPHK and DARSA abhorred all shifters, but they seemed to have a special hatred for dragons. Not that anyone could blame them. After all, dragons were gigantic, flying creatures who could raze cities and towns in mere minutes.

So the anti-shifter groups had begun to spread rumors that human women who mated with dragons always died in childbirth. They said women who got pregnant by dragon shifters would give birth to eggs, or monsters that would rip them apart from the inside. It was an utter lie of course; human women gave birth to perfectly normal babies. His own mother had survived birthing two dragon shifters, though she had died of a heart attack when he was fifteen.

But still, the lies had been effective and now there were very few dragons left. It was hard enough for dragons to conceive, and those who mated with other shifters rarely produced dragons. So the only way to guarantee a dragon offspring was to mate with a human, and even that was rare.

“Why don’t you start with like, uh, a dating service? Or one of those websites or apps?”

Hank had to laugh. “Seriously? What am I supposed to put on my profile? Dragon looking to impregnate a human?”

James’ eyes narrowed. “Hank, we’ve known each other since we were kids playing out here in these mountains. When you say you want or need to do something, that usually means you’ve already been planning it. So who’s the lucky girl?”

Lucky indeed. “Do you know Thomas Sinclair?”

“Yeah, he owns that construction company in Verona Mills. We did some business with them a while back.” James scratched his heard. “Hmm…haven’t heard good things lately.”

“An understatement,” Hank said.

“Yeah. Too bad. He’s a widow and he has a…” James took a deep breath. “No. You can’t.”

“Yes.” And Hank told him his plan.

“Are you serious? Are you really going to go through with this?”

He nodded. “I don’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“Not this time.” When James opened his mouth to protest, Hank cut him off. “We can’t all have loving mates who would do anything for us and accept us for who we are. You and Laura are one in a million.”

“You can’t believe that.”

“I do.”

“Then you really are a cold-hearted bastard.” James stood up and kicked the chair back, sending it to the wall with a loud crash. He turned to the door and yanked it open. “Don’t do this, Hank. There’s another way.”

Hank said nothing, but instead swiveled his chair away, turning to the large window. There was a reason his father had put this trailer up here. It gave him the perfect view of the mountains. His legacy. His entire life, Harold Lennox had ingrained the importance of family in his sons. There used to be many dragons in the world, protecting what was theirs.

He gave a silent, bitter laugh. That was before the anti-shifter groups had spread their lies. Before profits began to dwindle. He loved his father and Harrison, but neither had a head for business. When he came back to take over, he hadn’t known how bad things had gotten. While he couldn’t do anything about the hole they had dug themselves into, he could do something about the future of the company and his family.

Since no woman would willingly have children with him, he was going to do the unthinkable with the last of their resources.

He was going to buy himself a wife.








Chapter Two


Riva Sinclair strode confidently into the offices of Sinclair Construction in the small town of Verona Mills. As soon as she stepped inside, she felt it. She felt at home. This was where she grew up, after all. Her earliest memory was of playing under her father’s desk in his office.

“Hey Virna,” she greeted her father’s longtime secretary.

“Riva!” the older woman greeted her as she jumped out of her chair. She quickly walked over and hugged Riva. “Oh, I’m so glad…”

The embrace was tight and lasted much longer than usual. Riva wasn’t unaccustomed to long hugs from her father’s assistant (who really was kind of like a mother to her, especially since her own had passed away when she was seven), and now that she lived out of state, she didn’t see her as often, but still…something about it didn’t feel right.

Riva pulled away. “Virna? Is everything okay?” She searched the other woman’s face. Virna looked the same—carefully applied makeup, graying hair in a tight bun, suit impeccably pressed. But her smile was tight and the bags under her eyes seemed deeper.

“What? Oh, yeah…uh, you should go see Thomas,” she said, her voice tight when she mentioned Riva’s father. “He’s been waiting for you.”

“Sure, thanks V.” Riva was anxious to see her dad after all these months. She’d been away for her first semester at one of the most prestigious (and brutal) MBA programs in the country. And she loved every minute of it, except being away from her dad. But her father had been supportive of her dreams and career.

Ever since she could remember, all she’d wanted to do was work alongside her dad at Sinclair Construction. While many of her friends played with dolls at home, she would spend hours in her dad’s office, listening to the calls he made or reading reports and project management timelines over his shoulder. As soon as she turned sixteen, she demanded her father give her a part-time job—any job—at Sinclair Construction so she could learn the business inside and out. Or more like from the bottom up, as she started by cleaning out the kitchen and refilling the coffee pots, and had made her way up to answering phones by the time she graduated high school and was accepted at NorthWestern University, not too far from her hometown.

She graduated top of her business management class, then worked two more years in an architectural firm in the city. Once she got her work experience under her belt, she applied for Rickard University’s MBA program, one of the top schools in the country. Of course, she was sad to leave her dad, as Rickard was two states over. She and her boyfriend Daniel had agreed to do the long-distance thing, and she had missed him as well.

Riva frowned. Where was Daniel? As Sinclair Construction’s VP of Operations, he was usually hanging around the office. But she hadn’t seen him nor had he offered to pick her up at the airport when she arrived that morning. In fact…his last text had been a few days ago. She chalked it up to the busy summer season.

“Dad!” she greeted him as soon as she entered.

Thomas Sinclair looked up at his daughter from behind his desk. “Riva!” He got up, then embraced her.

“I’ve missed you,” she said, wrapping her arms around him.

“Me too, princess, me too.”

They hugged for a long time, and Riva was the first to break away. Again, there was that strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Dad?” she asked when she looked at his face. Had she only been away four months? It was like he had aged ten years. His hair had more white and seemed thinner. The lines around his eyes were deeper, and his eyes…they seemed dull and his smile didn’t reach them. “Dad? Are you okay?”

Thomas shrugged. “I can’t hide anything from you, can I, princess?”

Her heart began to thud in her chest as she saw the different expressions flash across her father’s face. Guilt. Then…fear? “What happened, Dad?”

“Oh, Riva…” His face fell and he sank down on his chair, his head bowed. “I’m sorry…I’m sorry princess…I shouldn’t have trusted him.”

“Who?”

He slowly looked up at her. “Daniel.”

She didn’t think her heart could sink any lower. “Tell me. From the beginning.”

As he began to explain, she felt her entire body freeze. She tried to absorb the details of her father’s story, but only the important bits got to her brain. Bad deals…organized crime…bribery…corruption…Daniel. He’d gotten himself into some trouble. Correction: he’d gotten Sinclair Construction into deep trouble.

So, where is Daniel?” She wanted to kick herself for asking that question first. But she wanted to know because she was going to wring his neck when she found out.

“Gone.” Thomas rubbed a palm down his face. “He just disappeared. I don’t know if those guys he did deals with got to him, or if he disappeared because he was going to be arrested for criminal charges.”

“But…I don’t understand!” Riva shot to her feet, her body now shaking. “You didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Yes,” Thomas nodded. “The FBI came and said that as long as we cooperated, they wouldn’t press criminal charges against us. But, Riva, all our contracts…they dried up. We’re finishing what we have on the schedule, but we have no new contracts to get us through the slow season.”

Blood drained from her face and she sank down on the chair again. “How long…how long will we last?”

“We’re overextended with our creditors. Daniel…he took out more credit to pay for this deal. He really thought it was going to go through. We all did,” he said with a defeated sigh. “I don’t know…a couple of weeks maybe? We’ll have to start layoffs next week.”

“No,” she said. “You’ve had this business for over thirty years! How about bank loans? Talking to the vendors?”

“I’ve tried everything. But no bank will give us a loan, not with the FBI looking at our every move.”

“You can’t shut down.”

“I know, princess,” he sighed. “But I don’t have a choice. I…” He turned away from her.

For moment, she saw something else in her father’s face. Shame? What else was he hiding? “Dad, is there something else?” There was. She could feel it in her bones.

“I can’t…”

Yes, you can.” She got up from the chair and walked over to him, then placed her hands on his shoulders. “Dad, what else haven’t you told me?” A dozen scenarios ran through her brain. He was sick. Or dying. Or he was going to lose the house. Maybe he’d been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by one of them. What could be worse than losing their company that he couldn’t tell her?

“I…I’ve had an offer.”

“What offer?”

“To save the company.”

Relief zinged through her. “From who? What do they want?”

“Lennox Corporation. From Henry Lennox himself.”

Riva wrinkled her nose. Lennox was a large, family-owned corporation that was headquartered in Blackstone, not far from Verona Mills. Most of their profits came from mining the precious stone their town was named after. But most people around here knew them because the Lennoxes were a family of dragon shifters. “What does he want? A takeover? Merger?”

“Something like that,” Thomas said. “But I said no.”

“What? Dad, how could you say no? What were the terms of the deal?” She couldn’t believe her father would say no to Lennox, not if it could save their company and the jobs of their employees. “Dad, call him now—”

“No!” he bellowed, his face going red. “I will not. I will never speak to that…vile monster ever again.”

Riva stood there, her eyes going wide. Her father was a gentle and soft-spoken man, and never prone to outbursts. “Dad, please. What did he want in exchange?”

His lips trembled. “I never even considered it. Not for a moment.”

“What? Tell me, Dad.”

“He wanted you, Riva. In exchange for paying off our debt and using his influence.”

Shock was too mild a word. It was like a bolt of lightning shot through her. “M-m-me?”

“He wants…an heir. But for that, he needs someone to bear his children.” Thomas’ face was filled with rage again. “I thought he was here for a serious meeting. Then he told me…I threw his ass out of here! Told him you weren’t for sale!”

“Dad—”

“What? He’s a monster. Literally and figuratively! Why would I hand you over to him, knowing that you could die—”

“Dad!” she admonished. “You can’t believe the lies that SPHK and those other kooks have been spreading!” She had to admit she wasn’t political, but she did believe that shifters had the same rights as humans. And she didn’t believe any of those stupid rumors those anti-shifter groups spread to frighten people.

“Still, you’re not some piece of property to be bargained.”

Her shoulders sagged. The gravity of it was slowly sinking in and she had to brace herself on his desk. This was her fault.

Sure, she hadn’t made those bad deals or bribed those officials, but she was the one who’d started dating Daniel. He’d been a senior at her college and she’d been a freshman, and the attention was flattering. He was handsome, smart, ambitious, and out of her league. She wasn’t ugly or anything, but she’d always thought of herself as plain, with her unremarkable face, mousy brown hair, and a figure that could always stand to lose ten pounds or so. Suffice to say, Daniel had swept her off her feet with his attention.

She’d brought him home that Thanksgiving and introduced him to her father. Thomas had offered him a job as soon as he graduated, partly because he’d been dazzled by Daniel, but also because he was probably hoping he’d be joining the family too. And indeed, they’d talked about marriage and running Sinclair together someday and passing it on to their children. But now that dream was dead. Crumbled to the ground. And she had ruined her future and her father’s company.

“Dad…” she began. Would it be so bad? She could save Sinclair. Save the hundreds of employees and their families. All she had to do was say yes. “Dad, call him back.”

“Who?”

“Henry Lennox.”

“What? No, Riva, I won’t let you!”

“Dad!” She slammed her fists on his desk. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“This is not your fault!”

“Please, Dad,” she said, placing her hands over his. “I…I want to do this. Just call him and see if the offer still stands.” She shrugged. “You said he just wants a child?”

“An heir,” he replied. “He said you could live separate lives once you’ve given him what he wants.”

“How generous,” she said with a sardonic laugh. Was this really happening? How could she even consider it? Was she going to get artificially inseminated or did he want to do things…naturally? The thought sent a shudder through her.

Blackstone and other shifter towns attracted a lot of visitors, not just because people wanted to see shifters up close (indeed, many of them offered themselves as tourist attractions), but also because they were curious in other ways. Shifter groupies weren’t unknown, and there were even groups on social media sites that discussed the sexual prowess of shifters. She had to admit she’d been curious and had looked at those sites, but the way those women had talked frankly of sex and treating those shifters like they were pieces of meat just turned her off. Still, shifters had a reputation for a reason…

“Riva…you don’t have to do this. I know what you’re thinking…”

“No, Dad. I…I want to do this.” Not that she had any other opportunities. Daniel was definitely out of the picture. That lying, bastard scum. “I just…let’s talk to our lawyers first and see what they have to say. Then maybe we can figure things out.”








Chapter Three


Beautiful surroundings, mountains in the background, flowers dotting the aisle. A handsome little ring bearer and a cute flower girl in a puffy pink dress. White dress, roses in hand, tied up with silk ribbons. It was everything a girl could wish for. A dream wedding day.

But for Riva, it was a nightmare.

Each step she took made her feet feel like lead. Since the day she’d walked into her father’s office, it seemed every step got heavier as she drew closer to this point.

If only she could change the past.

If only she had never met Daniel Murphy and gone out with him.

If only she had never introduced him to her father.

If only he hadn’t been so eager to employ his possible future son-in-law.

Then she wouldn’t be in this mess.

Oh how she wished…

But if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. Maybe she could ride off on one of those horses and get away from here.

She straightened her shoulders. No, that wouldn’t do. She was a woman of her word and she’d agreed to do this. She’d consulted with their lawyers, negotiated terms back and forth, and signed the papers. Two weeks later, here she was. About to meet her future husband for the first time. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t wanted to meet him beforehand. Maybe because she didn’t want to get cold feet. Not that they were warm right now, but still…

“Are you sure about this?” Thomas asked right before they walked the aisle.

Not really, she wanted to say. But what could she do? Everyone was counting on her. “Yes,” she said weakly. The music began to play before she could say anything else, and soon she and her father were halfway down the aisle.

The wedding ceremony and reception were being held on the Lennox property in Blackstone. There were about fifty guests, mostly from the groom’s side. They’d invited a few employees from Sinclair, who were really more like family to Riva and Thomas. Virna, of course, and her husband Jim, who was one of their foremen. Albert Johnson, the family lawyer (who had taken care of the contracts), and his wife Allie. Her father had no siblings, and when Riva’s mom had died, they just sort of lost touch with her side, so there was no one representing family.

She looked straight ahead as they walked, and tried to make out the figure of her future husband. There were two men at the end of the aisle, one dark-haired and the other blond. She had googled pictures of Henry Lennox, of course, and she knew he was the one with dark hair. He was handsome, she supposed, thinking of those grainy photos on the Internet. Maybe a little cold and haughty, but he was a dragon after all.

As they drew closer, she realized that those pictures on the Internet didn’t show how tall or large he was. He was a shifter, after all. He was probably two or three inches over six feet, with broad shoulders. His best man was much taller and burlier, but Riva barely looked at him. Her attention was fixed on Henry Lennox as he turned around.

She held her breath. Those pictures hadn’t done him justice, either. For one thing, they were probably a few years old. His face was much more mature and handsome now, the lines around his eyes adding character to his features. The dark hair was a bit overgrown, but only made him look more appealing. And those eyes. They were a gray so light, they were almost silver. For moment, his face registered shock, but then quickly returned to a cold mask.

Her confidence deflated like a balloon. Well, what was she expecting? For him to fall madly in love with her at first sight? Sure, she was no beauty, but she hadn’t expected such indifference. But this wasn’t a real marriage, after all. This was a business arrangement.


***

Hank thought of himself as a practical man. He was doing this to save his legacy, continue the family line, and maybe someday Lennox Corp could be restored to what it once was, thanks to the Sinclairs.

Thomas Sinclair was the perfect target. It was a big scandal, after all, one of their VPs getting caught bribing county officials. Turned out Daniel Murphy was doing deals with the mob and needed the approval of the county to get a big development pushed through. When the scandal broke, it crippled Sinclair Construction.

So it was easy enough to dangle a quick solution in front of Thomas Sinclair, which was why he’d been stunned when the old man threw him out of his office. But then, no decent man would sell his daughter to save his business.

Of course, he’d been surprised to get a call back days later from their lawyer, saying that Ms. Riva Sinclair had agreed to the arrangement. Not Thomas, but the daughter herself. He’d said he would get back to them, and took the time to research their background, their family, and their medical history. No major diseases or genetic problems, and all the women on her mother’s side didn’t seem to have any fertility problems. In fact, they were quite fertile; twins ran in the family, which he thought was a good sign. An heir and a spare in one go, wouldn’t that be fine?

And she was damn practical, insisting on a contract. He’d added the part about living separate lives (i.e. taking on other lovers) after an appropriate heir was born, as well as a generous alimony if she wanted a divorce in order to remarry, depending on how how many children they had. Yes, it was like the perfect present, all tied up in a neat bow. Sinclair’s debts would be gone, and their association with Lennox would probably make the nastiness of the federal investigation go away. In turn, Hank would have a dragon heir and their line would be continued.

But what he hadn’t expected was the woman herself.

The Ms. Sinclair he’d seen in her pictures wasn’t a beauty. He’d seen a photo or two of her on Thomas’ desk too. She wasn’t particularly attractive, leaning more toward the plain side, but nothing that he couldn’t live with. Indeed, that was probably one of the reasons he’d chosen her.

But now, one look at his bride sent something primal roaring in him. Who was this woman beside him now, reciting those vows? Sure, she kind of looked like the girl in those pictures. Maybe he should have found more recent pictures of her, because this woman seemed miles apart from the plain Jane girl he had seen in the photos on Thomas’ desk.

Thick, mahogany-colored hair flowed down past her shoulders, curling over delicate, pale shoulders. Her loose, off-the-shoulder white gown hinted at the curves underneath, and for some reason, he was glad she wasn’t showing off her body in front of all these people. Her creamy skin flushed pink when their eyes locked. And her eyes…light brown with green specks. So clear and wide it brought a shock to his system.

Mine.

He wanted to get that contract back and rip it to shreds in his claws and then maybe set fire to whatever remained and turn it into ashes. The thought of her with other lovers was making the dragon inside him roar with fury. Damn the contract. He decided then and there that no one would have her except him.

The ceremony seemed to go on and on, and he answered automatically, without thought to the words, as his luscious bride continued to distract him with her mere presence. Finally, the judge proclaimed them man and wife, and Hank hastily kissed his bride on the cheek. It was a quick brush, and it took all his strength not to claim her lips in front of all these people. There were some cheers and applause, and as soon as they were done, they were whisked to the reception area, which was really the next clearing in the woods.

Hank had wanted the wedding to take place in the mountains, right behind his home, and since Riva didn’t care one way or another (or so her lawyer had told him), he’d asked Laura, James’ wife, to take care of all the arrangements.

He had to admit, his cousin’s mate had outdone herself, despite the small budget they had to work with. The area where they had the ceremony was beautiful, and Laura had used swathes of cloth and wildflowers to decorate the aisle. The reception was even more enchanting—fairy lights, white paper lanterns, and upside-down paper umbrellas hung across the trees, creating a canopy; the plain wooden tables they usually used for picnics were covered in white linen and burlap and decorated with candles and more wildflowers. It was a fairy-tale wonderland, and he heard an audible gasp from Riva as soon as they entered.

He looked down at her, those hazel eyes wide and her mouth open. She obviously liked what she saw.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

Was she surprised? Did she think she was going to get married in a cave? It almost annoyed him to think that. “You’ll have to thank Laura,” he said nodding to the gorgeous and curvy blonde talking to one of the waiters. Her nose wrinkled and for a moment, he saw distaste on her face. “She’s my cousin’s wife,” he added. For some reason, he was pleased that she seemed jealous, but didn’t want to cause her any distress.

“Oh. I’ll have to thank her, then.”

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate it, Ms. Sinclair.”

“I suppose you should call me Riva, since I’m your wife and all.”

“Right. And you can call me Hank.”

They stood in the entryway, where they began to greet guests. There were many important people there, from business associates to the mayor himself. Hank frowned, realizing he didn’t know most of the people who were attending his own wedding.

“Hank, congratulations,” said a familiar, sickly-sweet voice.

He winced. Melissa. His sister-in-law. Of course he couldn’t not invite her. They still lived under the same roof, after all, even after his brother’s death and the awkwardness that came after. What was he supposed to do? Toss a widow out on the street?

“Thank you, Melissa,” he replied, accepting her hug, which lasted a little too long.

“I’m Melissa,” she said, turning to Riva and offering her hand. “Your sister-in-law.”

Riva accepted the other woman’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Melissa.”

“Melissa is—was—my brother’s wife,” Hank added.

“I’m sure we’ll get to know each other quite well,” Melissa said, the smile on her face not quite reaching her eyes. “After all, we’ll be living together as one happy family.”

“Excuse me?” Riva’s brow shot up. “What do you mean—”

“We have more guests waiting to get in,” Hank said, ignoring Riva’s shocked expression.

“I’ll see you later then, Hank,” Melissa said, then nodded at Riva. “You too.”

He cursed inwardly, wishing he had spoken with Riva before the wedding. There just hadn’t been enough time. He was too busy running the company and doing all the work that was entailed with being the last Blackstone Dragon. They were going to miss the quota this week again. At least that was the excuse he’d given James when he asked why Hank wasn’t going to meet his bride-to-be before the ceremony. After all, he had used the remaining cash on their balance sheet to buy off Sinclair’s debts. Someone had to keep working to keep their employees paid and the lights on.

They continued greeting the guests, and Hank formally introduced Riva to James, Laura and their son, Benjamin. Riva’s eyes lit up as she bent down to say thank you the three-year-old boy for being such a good ring bearer and he felt a pang in his heart. He imagined her doing that with other children, maybe one with her hazel eyes and mahogany hair.

God, what was happening to him? He was never sentimental. That was Harrison’s thing. Boisterous, loud, and always with his heart on his sleeve. Hank was serious, focused, and some would even say cold. But something about this woman…

“We’re done,” Riva said, her voice chilly. “We should get to our table so they can serve dinner. I’m sure everyone’s hungry.” She didn’t even wait for him, but turned and walked away.

From across the room, Laura and James shot him concerned looks. Damn. He should have explained the whole Melissa situation. He had a feeling that one would be biting him in the ass.








Chapter Four


Riva fanned herself, feeling overwhelmed and overheated. It was her wedding day, and probably the worst day in her life. As she sat at one of the long tables that had been set up in the clearing, under the fairy lights and umbrellas, she thought that any other woman would have been grateful. But she couldn’t help but feel miserable. She just hoped it wasn’t too obvious on her face.

What the hell were they doing, having a damn reception anyway? So they could show the entire world they had a sham marriage? Her husband, for one, looked like he would rather be anywhere else. He hardly looked at her, instead preferring to stare ahead or talk to people who would come by and offer their congratulations.

Her face hurt from all the smiling during the receiving line, and if she never smiled again it would be too soon. Plus, as she greeted all of Hank’s guests, she couldn’t help but feel their scrutiny and see the surprise on their faces when they looked at her.

Riva knew that look. It was the same look she got whenever Daniel introduced her to other people as his girlfriend. The one that said, what is she doing with him?

She’d gotten used to it with Daniel, even laughed it off, chalking it up to jealousy. But today, it stung particularly hard. She’d always known she wasn’t gorgeous, but she’d at least made some effort today with her hair and makeup. Hank probably dated supermodel types, she thought glumly. Why hadn’t he picked one of them to be his broodmare?

As the night wore on, she felt the weight of the entire day on her shoulders. She wanted nothing more than to go home and collapse in bed. But then that wasn’t going to happen either, right? She was moving into Blackstone Castle tonight.

She had done some research on her future home in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Lucas Lennox, the founder of Lennox Corporation and Blackstone town, had built it for his wife, who was a Swedish countess. She had seen pictures of the imposing castle, with its tall spires and dark roofs, and couldn’t believe she’d be living there with Hank.

And Melissa, apparently.

Something about Hank’s sister-in-law rankled her but she wasn’t sure what. Maybe it was the way her eyes had seemed to devour Hank, or the familiarity of that hug they’d exchanged.

She shook her head. No, she was being ridiculous. But still, it was obvious that something was not quite right, and she couldn’t believe Melissa would be living with them. It was something she probably should have clarified, but then again, it was her fault for not insisting on a face-to-face meeting with Hank.

She snuck a glance at her husband, who was talking to James Walker on his right side. From beside James, Laura’s face popped up and the perky blonde flashed her a smile. She smiled back. They had only spoken briefly at the reception line, but she’d made sure to thank Laura for all her hard work. The other woman had laughed, saying it was her pleasure. Riva had immediately decided she liked Laura, even if she was a teensy bit envious of her relationship with James and their adorable son.


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