It was mid-morning and the house was already alive with activity. John was arguing the specifics of a recent business acquisition with Ashley while descending the stairs and their mother was already ensconced in her office working on the final drafts of the design for the new barn. Isabel was the only one that hadn’t come down yet and they all knew why. Eventually one of them would have to go drag her out to mingle with the living as their mother put it.

Rose stepped out of her office to get tea and see what her children were up to. They were all adults, with their own lives happening all around, but this would always be home-base. She could hear two of the three that were in the house with them. Two were off to college across the country, John was here to stay while he worked at Kennedy Corp. and Ashley was in a graduate program at Whitley. The third one that was here – well, she hadn’t shown herself to be living this morning, yet. Glancing up the stairs she sighed, ~ She’s doing it again. Is it your turn or mine to fetch her down this time?~

~ I just got back in from the fields. Washing up. You want me to bring in a nice bucket of cold ass water for her or a baby goat? ~ the humor played off of the old dragon’s mind speak to his kindred.  Nathan, as the others around the farm knew him, turned away from kicking off his boots on the front stoop next to the door, when he felt a familiar disturbance nearby.

~Don’t get snarky with me sir.~ Rose smoothed her pretty white hair back behind her ear and started up the stairs. She smiled just a little to herself.

~ Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in… ~ He had turned to catch Largros portalling into the front lawn. The young man looked around like he was confused.  

“Piece it tagether, whelp,” Nathan rarely cursed in such a fashion, but this young whelp had pissed him off beyond measure.  

Largros looked up and growled at the supernatural in front of him.

“Oh, I wish you’d try and back that show up, boy.” The older man, wiped the filth from his scruff of beard and slowly made his way toward the steps on the front porch. He was about done with this little affair going on between the girl he had raised as his child and this creature.

~Oh he wouldn’t dare..~ Rose stopped mid-way up and turned to start back down towards the front door.

“Where is Isabel? I need to speak to her, apologize. There was an emergency…” Largros walked to the steps, but stopped suddenly and hopped back just a bit. He grabbed his hand and looked up at the old one.

“I took the pleasure of reinforcing old magical wards around the house, in particular around Izzy’s room. Thought you might try to swoop in and take her away without bein’ a respectable creature, once again. Guess I was right.” The older man was grey, but he was twice the size of the little blonde playboy standing in the yard in front of him.  

“Isabel!” Largros tried to call to his lady, but seeing the wicked smirk on the face of the elder in front of him, he realized the wards protected against any thing, including sound and probably mental speak.

“I’ve been workin’ on the tractor engine this morning. Didn’t bother anybody. I doubt you could outdo that.” Nathan heard the door open behind him.

As the front door opened it was quickly filled by the petite older form of Isabel. Rose stood there in the entry way with her chin tilted up and her green eyes glittering dangerously. She stepped out onto the front porch and pulled the door closed behind her.

“And just what do you think that you are doing here in my front yard young man? You didn’t arrive by conventional means so you couldn’t have meant to stay long.” Slowly she crossed her arms over her chest and was thankful she’d decided on a pantsuit today as the pose wouldn’t have worked so well in a dress.

“Mrs. Matthews, I need to speak to Isabel. Please.”

“What makes you think that we’d let you talk to Isabel?” Rose was straightforward with him as she stared right at the man that had recently hurt her baby girl. As a protective mother she took it personally.

“What’s going on outside?” John asked Ashley. They were in the side kitchenette that had a bay-window overlooking the front yard.  He slowly lowered his paper when he saw his younger sister peeping out one of the windows.

Sipping her coffee Ashley watched the goings on and called back to her brother, “Looks like Izzy’s sweetheart is trying to smooth talk our mother into letting him see baby sister.” She gave a soft laugh because she knew it wouldn’t work.

“Hmmm… should be entertaining,” He went back to reading the paper. John could care less. He stopped saving Izzy back when they were in middle school. What Iz got herself into; Iz could get herself out of.

“I need to apologize to her. I usually spend my time with her, but an emergency came up and I was needed on the other side. You can check with your friends, the Weylyns about it all. Your nephew knows, too. I went because … his Tasker was injured. They needed someone with similar training. But the trip was so sudden that I didn’t have time to tell Isabel. I left her a note and a present at my home down south, but I saw it hadn’t been opened.” Largros stopped talking. He hoped his blubbering about everything would at least buy him a visit. But he didn’t want to cross any lines.

“If it was for my nephew and the Weylyn’s why didn’t you have them send word to her and let her know that you were called away on an emergency? Even Gabriel makes it a point to stop by and say his farewells when he will be away for an extended period. And this emergency, did it involve someone bleeding out that you couldn’t make such a stop yourself?” Rose was not going to be easy on him because she had been consoling her daughter and listened to her crying at night. If she wasn’t holding her Nathan was tending her. So there was no sympathy in either of them at this very moment.

“No ma’am. Not at first. I believe poison was involved and then a lot of fighting once we got over there.” The young dragon was annoyed.  “Derek was involved, so I didn’t want to also open that can of worms.”

“That ain’t a can of worms, that’s just an excuse. You left my girl missing ya, unable to communicate with ya, and thinkin’ the worst of every damn scenario. All you had ta do was let her know what was happenin’ yaself.” Nathan scolded the creature.  

“Do you really think she would’ve let me go?”

“You would have given her the respect of having the choice to talk to you about it.”  Nathan walked down the steps to stand an inch or more over the other male. He looked the young one up and down. “You ain’t ready for her kind of love, welp. You need ta leave her alone until you know what yer doin’.”  Sometimes, Nathan wished Izzy would have fallen in love with Derek Weylyn. At least he would’ve been a good, stable man for her. What she saw in this wild dragon, he would never get.

“Doesn’t seem that you know my baby girl as well as you think you do?” Rose turned to go back inside. If Largros truly believed what he was telling them then they had nothing more to discuss. While Isabel could be stubborn and hard headed, she could also be very understandable.

“We’ve been together for 8 months and four days, we’re still learning each other. I don’t propose to be perfect or perfectly aware of what she would or wouldn’t do. I… I thought she’d love the surprise I left her – not realizing she’d never get it and then I’d… I’d apologize after the fact.”  He took a deep breath and blew it out his nose.

“Now, that’s more truth than you’ve spouted in a while. You left this way on purpose and hoped you could apologize when you got back and everything would be fine.” Nathan sneered. “That’d be more like it. And not a good idea.”

“I don’t think he is going to get to see her.” Ashley called out to John as he continued to read his paper and she continued to be nosy.

“Mmmhmmm…” the man was not really interested. He was finishing up the business section on the stock market and then moving onward, when his eyes stopped on something that he’d never seen coming.  

“Who’s not going to see who?” Isabel was yawning and rubbing a hand over her face as she made her way into the room. She raked a hand through her hair and reached for the coffee pot to pour herself a cup.

Turning from the window Ashley moved to take up her own cup of coffee. She looked John’s way to see if their brother would tell her.

“Largros may not get by Nathan to see you,” John mumbled, but his eyes never left the paper. He began folding it around the article he was reading.

Moving to the window, Isabel yanked the curtain opened and caught sight of her boyfriend facing off with her parents. “Oh God… why didn’t you get me!”

“Izzy… don’t..” Ashley followed their sister to the door and stood behind her as Isabel marched out onto the porch.

“What are you two doing?” Isabel looked from one parent to the other as she waited for an answer from them.

“Not letting him near you until we get a good explanation for what inconsiderate bullshit he just put our baby girl through,” Nathan had no bit of shame in keeping the younger dragon out. He gave Largros a stern glare. “Well? No excuses.” He knew it was too late to stop Izzy from taking over the conversation. The girl was infatuated with the creature. But he damn sure wanted to be sure she was protected and that Largros would learn instead of thinking he could get away with this.

“I’m perfectly capable of handling this myself.” Isabel would have marched down the front steps except that her mother was blocking the way.

He looked over to Rose. She’d always been able to help him get through to their Isabel and vice versa. But when it came to matters of the heart, their girl was so… impetuous…

“Settle yourself Isabel Marie Matthews and watch your tongue when you speak to us. He left without saying a word to you, he left you a note and a gift.. How considerate.” There was a touch of sarcasm as she looked from Largros to Isabel. “He needs to answer to you for that and you need to expect him to do so. To do otherwise is a disrespect to you and neither of us will tolerate that.” Rose caressed her daughter’s cheek as she whispered softly, “You deserve that much.”

Isabel had to close her eyes a moment as she drew in a deep breath. Stepping past her mother, she moved down to the bottom step and stopped to stand near her dad as she looked at Largros.

“I didn’t know where you were or what had happened. One minute I could feel you and then suddenly you were gone.” Her bottom lip trembled as she held his gaze. “And the worst part was no one was telling me anything. I called every number you left me and no one would tell me anything. As each day passed I just felt even more helpless and finally had to wonder what I’d done that was so terrible that you’d do that to me.”

Seeing her like this and opening himself to her now, he felt some of her pain.  His expression was one of empathy and concern.

“I am so very sorry for what I’ve done to you, Isabel. I…I’ve never had someone care about me or that I cared about before.” he shook his head and he took a breath. “I admit, I was trying to get past you. I was tasked with something in the other realm and I had the opportunity to get to it while helping the Lady of Gorias.  It was an amazing opportunity, but I know how you and your family feel about the other side. Top it off that Derek Weylyn was involved and there’d be fighting and… well… I didn’t want you to say – NO – so I thought I could go and do this, then apologize and everything would be forgiven.” He looked down and backed up a step. “I treated you badly. I didn’t respect you. I didn’t know you couldn’t feel me…”

“Well, now, ain’t that interestin’?” Nathan glared at the younger dragon.  “You wouldn’t have been able to feel her, either. Connections on the other side of a dimensional portal get dampened to nothing if the two bonded are on opposite sides. So, what does that say about your commitment to our girl?”

“Nothing! As a Tasker, I don’t want to have emotions cloud…”

The larger man moved forward, a growl deep in his chest. “You think we’re buying this act?”

“Dad don’t..” Isabel started to follow him but was halted by his next words.

“No, Izzy. He needs a lesson learned. And if nobody else wants to teach it, I will.” Nathan shoved his hand outward with a quickness and pushed a powerful bit of magic into Largros’ chest.  He stopped where he was as Largros stumbled backward, holding his chest where the silvery power webbed through him.

“Ahhh….” the blonde went to the ground on his knees and started crying.  

Isabel wanted to go to him, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her, “What did you do to him?”

“All I did was transfer a bit of what you felt in his absence to him. It’s called emotional resonance. He deserves to know some of the pain you went through.”   

Instead of letting her daughter go, Rose held her on the bottom step and let Nathan do as he would with the reckless young man. She still felt that he was getting off easy compared to what they’d dealt with in his absence. “He’ll live, I suffered worse in childbirth.”

Pulling free of her mother, Isabel stepped off the last step and moved out to the yard, past her father to reach Largros.  

Nathan remained close, waiting.  

She knelt beside him and moved his hair from his face. She didn’t say anything else, she just knelt there looking at him.

“Isabel… I’m sorry…” he whispered. For the first time, he truly felt the pain of another.  

“You didn’t tell me because you were worried about me saying no. You went to prove to yourself that we weren’t that close and that you weren’t that attached to me. It had nothing to do with Derek or anything else, Largros. You wanted to be away from me and you were. I hope you got the answers that you wanted.”

His eyes grew large as he was faced with the truth. It didn’t sound like something he’d want to be accused of doing. It sounded like something only a scoundrel would do and he was supposed to be an honorable dragon. What had he done?  

Isabel stood up and walked back towards the house. “I’m glad that you’re alive. That’s all that matters right now, I don’t have to worry about that at least.” She was hurt and it wasn’t going to be an easy fix with just an apology. She didn’t have to have her parents show that to him, she could do that herself.

“Isabel! Wait!” Largros tried to get up and Nathan just shoved the boy back down. The look he gave the welp would tell him not to bother trying again. The emotional resonance was gone, but he had an ancient dragon standing in front of him and with those came magic that was far stronger than he was capable of pulling to him.  

She didn’t stop, she moved up the stairs and even though it hurt even more now, Isabel did so without looking back.

“Think you need to take a break and really stew on some things, boy. Don’t come around here until you understand what you’ve done and know where your heart truly should exist.” Nathan motioned for the other dragon to move along. They’d had enough.  

~ Go see to her, darling. He won’t be coming anywhere near. They need a time-out. ~

Largros, turned and walked down the drive to the cover of the woods before casting a portal and leaving the farm.  Only when Nathan knew he was gone, did the elder dragon turn and come back inside.

Curled on her side in the middle of her bed, Isabel had her pillow hugged to her chest as she let her tears fall quietly. She didn’t make a sound as she laid there with her heart aching.

Standing just outside the open door, Rose watched their girl and felt like crying herself. ~She wouldn’t let me go to her, maybe you’d have better luck?~ Nathan had been the closest thing to a father that Isabel had had since she was little more than a toddler. He’d been such a part of her children’s lives that in times like this she looked to him just like she would have John Sr.

“Okay.” He walked softly into their daughter’s room.

She felt him even before he got close to the bed. “I’ll be alright.. Just hurts you know.”

He pulled the footstool over to the side of her bed and squatted there on it beside her. He moved his hand out to take hers, not asking permission. His eyes showed that he hurt for her.

“I know, pumpkin.  That kind of pain tells you what a wonderful person you are. You feel it deep in your heart. Sometimes, other people don’t feel the same as you do. That’s okay. Either they begin to feel it or they move on and you let life bring you the right person.” He couldn’t forget that not long ago – she had put someone else in this position. However, she hadn’t been malicious with her part. She’d really made a mistake. Largros had been malicious and thought he’d get away with it.

“I thought it had.. How many times do I have to hurt others or be hurt? I just want to stay right here and never leave my bed again. Can I do that daddy?” If he was sitting on her bed she would have laid her head in his lap like she’d done as a child.

“As far as I’m concerned you can stay in here for a few days, but you’d end up being bored. I know you. And you got horses out there that would miss their rides with you.” He laid his white-haired head down on the bed near her so they could look into one another’s eyes. “Izzy, I lost count on how many times I hurt people and how many times I’ve been hurt. But baby, I learned somethin’ each time the bad stuff happened. And then, I met your mama. She was worth the heartache that came before her. And to be honest, some of my other loves were also worth the heartache. You make the most of it, pumpkin. But never give up.” He figured, this was a start. She just needed to get her mind working on something else.

“I’ll try not,” Isabel whispered.

“You know, I’ve heard homemade ice cream makes the hurt go away for a few seconds after each bite. Wanna try that?” he chuckled.

“Sure..” She smiled more for him than herself. She reached to smooth her hand over his hair and could remember when it was darker. She and her siblings made his hair white – or so he’d always told them.

 

Outside the door, John walked up to his mom.

“I need to get to the airport. I promised I’d drop Andrew off along the way. But, uh, you might want to look at this. FYI, mom.” He kissed Rose on the cheek. “Looks like I’ll be meeting with PR when I get in. Just wished he’d have let us know ahead of time. And if you knew, shame on you.”  John turned and made his way back down the stairs.

Rose was confused. She opened the paper where he had shown her and looked down. On the Business Page of the USA Today was a picture of Gabriel with an “anonymous male” kissing. The line said, “Billionaire Bachelor no longer Eligible?”  

As Rose read the article she covered her mouth with one hand, ~ The news just outed my nephew as gay. He’s pictured with Senias. ~ It was absolute shock she was feeling over both facts that were staring her in the face in black and white.

~ Well… that wasn’t totally unexpected… ~  her dragon had known Senias for longer than most. They had simply not been in contact for say… a few hundred years.   

~ Why wouldn’t he tell me this? ~ She didn’t want to draw Nathan away from Isabel, but she wanted him to know what their eldest had just dropped on her.

~ Senias is very private. He keeps up a facade. Gabriel is as well, Rose. And we’ve never told either about us. About me… With a family filled with secrets, such things happen. ~

Isabel leaned over to kiss her dad’s nose before climbing from the bed. “Let’s go eat ice cream so mom will stop stalking my door.” She tossed the pillow to the head of her bed and reached for his hand, “And you can stop talking to her,” she tapped her head, “I thought you said that was rude.”

“Well in my defense, we’re not discussing you!” He picked her up and spun her to drop her by the door. It was his reminder that he could still pick her ass up.  He embarrassed every kid with the maneuver on their birthdays and when they deserved it, like right now.

Still laughing softly Isabel moved past her mom and kissed her cheek and then headed to the stairs. “See you in the kitchen.”

Rose smiled at their youngest and moved to slide her arm around Nathan’s waist as he joined her in the doorway. “They have all grown up on us haven’t they love?” She rested her head on his chest for just a stolen moment. “I’ll need to go see Gabriel, will you go with me?”

She’d never wanted to share him in all these years. He’d been perfectly fine with that. He had nothing to prove, after all. So long as he had Rose’s love, he was content.  He couldn’t help but poke a bit of fun at her for the change of heart.

“Oh, I’m not sure about that. Does that mean I have to actually sign off on marriage to you in a public forum? Not sure I’m ready for that. I may still need to sow some of these wild oats of mine,” he waited for his punishment like a good scoundrel.  

Playfully she swatted his arm and shook her head, “I wouldn’t want to twist your arm or anything.” Rose pretended to pull away from him.

“Of course, I’ll go with you. I think it’s about time the secrets stopped, don’t you?” He kissed her lips and then held his arm out for her to take so they could go back downstairs and enjoy some ice cream.  

Sliding her arm through his she smiled and leaned into him. “Good, I think the secrets have done their job. Our children grew up safely now didn’t they?” When they arrived in the kitchen it was to the sight of their girls already enjoying bowls of ice cream without them.

“Took too long.” Isabel called out as she and Ashley filled bowls for them and set them out.

“Not at all.” He reached over and grabbed a spoon before sitting down at the table to dig in when he was handed a bowl.  

“So, what do you two know about your cousin?” Nathan asked. Might as well start explaining here. He looked over to Rose with a loving smile. She’d be calling the boy soon enough. He just hoped to go ahead and give their own kids a heads-up.  

“He’s extreme OCD?” Isabel took a bite of ice cream and licked her spoon before adding, “A major prude and acts like he has a stick up his..”

“Don’t finish that sentence young lady.” Rose wagged her own spoon at their youngest.

Ashley thought about it a moment and answered, “He’s very business minded, a workaholic, but he does make appearances with pretty ladies at major events. He’s one of the worlds most eligible bachelors too.”

~ Well he certainly didn’t make this easy did he. ~ Rose took a bite of her own ice cream and thought about how to say it to their girls.

“Actually he put on a good show. He prefers the company of men it seems.” Both of their daughters just stared at her as if she’d grown two heads.

“One man or dragon in particular.” Nathan smiled. “Seems there is a family tradition going on here,” Nathan chuckled before taking another bite of his ice cream. His gaze moved to Izzy. “That’s not permission to take the welp back. He owes you.” He winked at their youngest. Nathan had a feeling that Izzy was going to end up with a supernatural no matter what – dragon most likely.  

She gave a two finger salute to their dad and went back to enjoying her ice cream. “Big deal so he likes getting frisky with a guy. Why all the hoopla? Like you say, he’s not the first to fall for a dragon in this family, mom has him beat by years. How many now dad? 20? 30? 50?” Isabel giggled and wrinkled her nose at their parents. For her Nathan was the only father she remembered.

“You’re 23 that makes it 20 this year baby sister.” Ashley winked at her mother. “Long time before him I’d guess.” She smiled at her father, “You two could probably teach them a few things about being discreet.”

“My… brother  – i suppose would be your term –  is secretive, but not always known for being discreet, though he tries his best,” Nathan said before taking another bite and waiting for the surprise to sink in.  

“Brother? Okay… yeah dad that’s not weird at all. So that make him an Uncle or a cousin?” Isabel asked.

There was a sound of disgust from Ashley as she pushed the rest of her ice cream away, “It makes it creepy. What are we backwoods rejects?”

“Most dragons are related in some way, except the original few. Only one of them is actually still breathing. Senias is only a half brother. I am much, much older than he is. But when he was a dragonling, I took him under my wing. We’ve remained in one another’s lives off and on through the many centuries. We never clashed, unlike so many others. It’s not creepy at all, young lady.” Nathan moved his spoon to gather the last of the ice cream mush. “Stop thinkin’ all human-like about it.”

“Can’t help it. I’m human,” Ashley stuck out her tongue.

Isabel shrugged again and continued enjoying her ice cream. It mattered not to her. She was just trying not to keep letting her own love life trip her up.

“Again it doesn’t matter to me who he takes to bed as long as he doesn’t care who I do.”

Rose set the paper with it’s picture down on the table between the girls, “I think he’ll be too busy with his own circumstances to worry too much about yours dear. Besides, that’s what you have parents for.” Rose smiled at ate a small bite of ice cream. It really wasn’t her favorite sweet but she’d enjoy with her family.

“Not like he cared much for our drama anyway,” Ashley whispered to herself.

Studying the picture as she licked her spoon, Izzy arched a brow in perfect Kennedy fashion, “Can’t even see who he’s smacking lips with. Hopefully he’s cute.”

“Eh, depends on what you think of as cute, I spose,” Nathan shrugged before getting up with his empty bowl to go to the sink.

“Does this mean you’ll tell them now?” Ashley’s eyes sparkled with just a little excitement. Their father had always used the secret as an excuse as to why he couldn’t take them to see the other world. If the secret was out there’d be no excuse.

Nathan turned around and looked to Rose. He had only wanted to keep it from Gabriel because of the pickle it might put them all in. Dragons were to be killed on sight. Gabe was a Councilor of Crimson.  But if he was with a dragon as well – why keep the secret?

“I don’t see why not.” Rose smiled for her love. Then her gaze went to Ashley, “Don’t get too excited young lady this doesn’t change my thoughts about the other world and travel there. Nathan says it isn’t safe there, especially for humans like us.”

“It’s very dangerous. If you go, it will be with a full accompanying guard and with me. Not many have the intestinal fortitude to mess with someone like me. But that’s not something we’ll be doing right away. This doesn’t change my life here – just because he’ll know. All us dragons still gotta play it very safe, Ash.  I could never abide leavin’ yer mama because some trigger happy Crimson agent wants to make a name for himself caught wind of what I was and had the right to take me out.” Nathan had bonded to Rose out of love, but he had further bonded to her because of her health. He didn’t want to think about what might happen to Rosey if he left this world.  

“I wouldn’t risk mom either, you know that dad.” Ashley got this far away look on her face a moment and then gave a slow smile. “I’ll get there one day no matter how many guard you insist on.” She didn’t say it out loud but something called to her there and she was determined to seek it out.

~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018

(picture is of the Green River Plantation – what I base the Matthews’ Home on)