Scent of Danger by Autumn Dawn - Read Online
Scent of Danger
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Summary

Ever fall in love with the wrong man?

With a body to make a young girl sigh and a voice like black velvet, Mathin is definitely the wrong man. He’s not safe, he’s not stable...he’s not even human.

Romanced by the light of the triple moons, entranced by Mathin’s fiery kisses, will Andrea give up her home on Earth in exchange for something wild?

Published: Autumn Dawn on
ISBN: 9781452327099
List price: $3.99
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Scent of Danger - Autumn Dawn

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again.

PROLOGUE

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. White-barked birch and budding spruce whipped in the wild wind, groaned under the onslaught of frigid rain. Willows rustled in protest as massive trunks popped and groaned. Some fell under the force of the brewing storm. It was winter’s last gasp for control before relinquishing its seasonal reign.

Nothing living moved.

A violent flash of lightning split the night, illuminating a clearing on the side of one of the forested hills. In that instant of light, two men appeared.

Thunder boomed.

The tallest, a blond warrior with brilliant green eyes, lifted his face to the wind. His nostrils flared as he tested the currents. Finding only the scent of wood pitch and damp earth, he relaxed.

So this is where we came from, said his bemused companion, a warrior as dark as he was light. Earth… He frowned as he took in the naked birch limbs and dead tundra. No wonder we left. Barren sort of place, isn’t it?

Fallon laughed. Their winter ends, Mathin. They have snow and seasons, remember? And not all of us chose to leave. He studied his companion’s appearance. Mathin had taken well enough to the comfortable denim pants and soft cotton shirts of the locals, but was visibly uncomfortable in the leather jacket that protected him from the dripping spruce boughs. Such heavy clothing was never needed on their world, but it was better than being wet.

Fallon looked down and grinned. His companion had chosen to wear his own boots instead of the hiking boots he’d been offered. No doubt he had a knife sheathed in each one. At least they wouldn’t be flying on this journey. He’d be a nightmare to get past airport security.

The guns holstered on each of their thighs would be no problem. Many of the locals wore them as protection against wolves and bears, at least in the untamed areas, but the dagger sheathed at Mathin’s waist made him frown. His companion already knew the risks of the blade falling into the hands of others, yet he’d chosen to bring it.

No doubt because any thief intent on taking it would be cut to shreds for his effort. Mathin the Mad was no one to toy with.

The house is some miles from here. Are you ready to run? Fallon asked, already looking in the direction of the trail that led to the highway.

Mathin grinned, eager to explore this new world, and changed, taking on the shape of the Haunt.

With one last glance at the empty countryside, Fallon joined him in the shift that made their race so feared by man, and so much stronger.

Together they began the long run.

CHAPTER 1

Yes, Grandma, I know.

Andrea sighed and rolled her eyes at her friend Zoë, who sat at her battered folding table, picking the almonds out of the chipped dish of nuts. Knock it off, she hissed, holding the phone away from her ear. No, Grandma, not you! I was talking to Zoë.

Zoë smirked and made a show of hunting for the next one, knowing full well she was safe from retaliation. Andrea was busy piping the meringue mushrooms for her half-assembled Yule log.

Sometimes Andrea wondered if the only reason Zoë hung out with her was for the edibles. It certainly wasn’t for the décor, she thought, grimacing at the rusty folding chair on which Zoë sat. At least it was better than the rickety three-legged stool that was the one-room apartment’s other seat. Other than a neat pile of blankets in the corner and the cardboard boxes housing her possessions, the room was still bare.

And why wouldn’t it be? After all, she’d just moved in last week. Between work and culinary school, she’d barely had a moment to breathe, let alone unpack. Besides, it wasn’t as if she could afford much more than the essentials on her waitress’s salary. Even garage sale bargains were out of reach until she had the time to hunt for them.

This was the last semester of school. In two days she could take her finals and finally earn her accreditation as a chef. She couldn’t wait.

Um, hmm. she mumbled into the receiver sandwiched between her cheek and shoulder, realizing she’d missed half the conversation. It came as no surprise, since half of her grandmother’s dialogue consisted of local gossip, which Andrea detested, and personal advice, little of which applied to Andrea’s life. Still, she loved her grandmother, and she did try to respect her feelings.

Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. When shall I expect you?

What? The receiver slipped, caught in the crook of her elbow. She grabbed it and held it firmly to her ear. I’m sorry, what did you say?

Zoë wandered over to the microscopic counter, her gaze sly as she eyed the leftover chocolate gauche. Her fingers twitched.

Andrea snatched the wooden spoon out the bowl and whacked the back of her hand.

Zoë pouted and licked the creamy chocolate off her dark skin. The pout turned into a cross-eyed look of ecstasy.

Andrea giggled. Then she heard her grandmother say, Oh, thank you, dear! It means so much to me to know you’ll come visit. And do bring Zoë. She sounds like such a nice girl.

B-but Grandma! Andrea stuttered, stunned. You live in Alaska! Surely she hadn’t agreed to go visit there.

Don’t they still have igloos? Zoë asked.

Andrea glanced at her only to discover the brat had stolen the gauche while she’d been distracted. Brows lifted in challenge, Zoë dipped the spoon in the bowl and brazenly licked it.

Andrea’s mouth opened in outrage, but Grandma Matilda cut her off. I’ll pay for your e-tickets right away. I’ve got the Internet, you know.

Flustered by her Grandmother’s logic and the rapidly disappearing chocolate, Andrea sputtered, I can’t take your money, Grandma! Besides, I have to find a better job, and there’s tons of stuff to do…

If you haven’t found a job then there’s no problem, dear. You can find one here just as well, or wait until the summer’s over and go back to the lower forty-eight. Though why anyone would like to live there is beyond me. Something chimed in the background. Oops! There’s the timer. Jeopardy is on. I’ve got to go, dear. Love you.

I’m not going to Alaska! Andrea yelled, but it was too late. The line was dead.

For a moment she just stood there, staring at the receiver until the automated message came on. She slammed it in its cradle, grabbed the half-eaten chocolate from Zoë and smacked it firmly on the orange counter. Pointless, now that it had been contaminated, but at least it was one thing in her life she could control.

Granny bought you a ticket, huh? Zoë murmured sympathetically, eyeing the bowl.

Eyes narrowed, Andrea inched it farther away. No, she’s buying us tickets. On the Internet, she said with mock anticipation, blue eyes wide. And since I don’t have a job and as far as I know your job is mooching, there’s no problem, is there? She shook her braided dark hair in disgust and popped the meringue in the oven, mentally reminding herself to put it on the top shelf so the ancient device wouldn’t scorch the bottoms. Carefully easing the frosted cake back, she grabbed a fresh dishcloth and started to clean up.

Sounds fun, Zoë said absently, moving around her to lean on the mustard colored refrigerator. Her weave caught on the broken door handle and she grimaced, adjusting her position. I’ve always wanted to see penguins.

Andrea closed her eyes in exasperation. They don’t have penguins at the North Pole, Zoë. When she opened them again Zoë had the bowl and was seated at the table.

Giving up, Andrea joined her, eyeing the bowl wistfully. At the moment she wanted nothing more than to drown her troubles in a bowl of rich chocolate, but she’d already eaten her quota of heaven for the day. I’m not going to Alaska, she muttered rebelliously, almost to herself. Just the sight of that rapidly disappearing frosting was making her cranky. If there were justice in this world, Zoë would gain five pounds for every lick. Nobody should be able to live off snack cakes and pizza and still look like a prom queen.

Zoë just looked at her and licked the spoon.

I’m not! she insisted more vehemently. Can you see me living with Granny for an entire summer? I’d go insane. Completely nuts. I mean… She picked up a pen and tapped it on the table in agitated staccato. All she does is ask me when I’m getting married, do I have a boyfriend….

How is Rob, anyway? Zoë asked around the spoon.

History.

Already? she asked in surprise, going so far as to remove the spoon. I figured you’d at least keep him around long enough to pop your cherry.

Zoë! That was too much, even for her outspoken friend. Maybe some of us like to wait until we’ve found someone worthy of the deed. Two months was enough to convince me that he wasn’t it.

It had taken less time than that, but she’d been reluctant to admit it, even to herself. After all, she was twenty-three and she hadn’t dated more than four guys in her entire life. Zoë called her picky, and Andrea was starting to wonder if maybe she was a little too demanding. Not that she’d had a lot of offers in high school, being one of the unlucky late bloomers, and shy to boot. She’d hidden her nose in a book throughout most of her teen years and lugged around a huge stack that strained the seams of her backpack. She might as well have had the geek logo stamped across her pimply forehead.

Fortunately, things had changed. She’d learned to fit in, lost the glasses, and made a few friends. Her glossy brown hair was tamed with a chic cut and she’d discovered a sense of style. Her skin was smooth enough now that she hardly needed makeup, and she was in decent shape.

Occasionally, she even had a date—they just never made it past first base. She was really picky about kissing. If a guy didn’t know how to kiss, then it was doubtful he’d be good at anything else. Even if he might be, would it be worth putting up with garlic breath and cold slobber to find out?

Unfortunately, she’d had a run of bad kissers.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t have desire, and she wasn’t frigid or anything. She just wanted more than a brief relationship with a man she only sort-of liked. She wanted love. Magic. Was that too much to ask?

Zoë snorted. It’s just a ring of tissue, girlfriend. It doesn’t mean anything.

Unwilling to argue the point, Andrea waved the issue aside. Anyway, she said, getting back to the original question, I’m not going to Alaska. She’s just going to have to understand. I’ll call her back, and this time she’ll listen.

Zoë blinked, very slowly. This is your Granny, she said very carefully, as if to a particularly slow child. The guilt will eat you if you don’t go.

Andrea frowned. I’m not going.

Care to bet?

One week later Andrea found herself in a cab, heading for the house her grandmother maintained for a rich gentleman. She didn’t know much about the man, and at the moment she couldn’t remember his name. She was far too busy wishing she’d wormed out of this visit like Zoë, who’d simply told her Grandma that she’d take a rain check and gone about her merry way.

Andrea had no such luck.

So here she was, paying a cabbie an outrageous fare to take her far into the budding hills of Fairbanks. Actually they’d passed the city limits some time ago, and she wasn’t really sure quite where they were. She had a life back in Chicago—or soon would—and she didn’t have time to run off to the wilds and commune with the wolves or whatever the locals did out here.

The first sight of the house caught her by surprise, though it shouldn’t have. After all, if the man were rich enough to hire a caretaker then it would follow that he could afford a rather nice residence.

Built of squared stone blocks and nestled halfway into the hillside, the house resembled nothing less than a small castle, complete with octagon towers and a slate roof. Diamond paned glass of an iridescent hue graced the spacious windows. The front doors were constructed of thick planks of wood banded with elaborate ironwork. Still dormant birches lined the gravel paved drive and the grass had yet to turn green on the well-clipped grounds.

Nice place, the cabbie said as she handed him some money. What’s it like inside?

Don’t know, she admitted as she climbed out. First visit.

He glanced at her black duffle bag and smaller carryall in speculation. You need help with that?

No, but I’d appreciate it if you’d wait until I’m inside before taking off. I tried to call from the airport, but nobody answered. When he nodded she shut the door on the lavender cab and hefted her bag, her shoes crunching on the gravel as she approached the front steps. Hard to believe it was almost 10:30 PM and just beginning to get dark. This midnight sun business could really mess up a person’s time sense.

Andrea’s breath frosted in the chill May air as she set down the carryall and grasped the wolf’s head knocker. As the sound echoed through the door and into the house beyond she suppressed a shiver. This place was just a teensy bit creepy.

Only a few moments passed before one thick door opened wide, revealing her beaming grandmother.

It took a moment for Andrea to recognize her, as the lady had shrunk since last she’d seen her. Of course, she’d been just a child at the time. She remembered Matilda’s hair as being gray-shot red, but now it was a faded shade of tangerine. Since their only communication had been a few phone calls over the years, Andrea was taken aback by how much the woman had aged. And didn’t she look a little pale? Hard to tell with the clouds moving in to obscure the light.

A dog bayed in the distance.

The older woman ushered her into the foyer, barely allowing Andrea time to set down her bags before she drew her into a big hug. The scent of roses smothered her and she fought not to sneeze. Andrea gingerly returned the embrace. Hi, grandma.

Her grandmother didn’t seem to notice any awkwardness. Oh, darling, it’s so good to see you! she gushed, holding Andrea’s arms out to the side. And look how you’ve grown.

Yeah, just look. If her voice lacked enthusiasm for the observation, well, that was to be expected. She hadn’t liked that gushing tone as a child and as an adult it set her teeth on edge.

This is going to be a long visit, she thought with a mental sigh.

You look just like your great-aunt Virginia, her grandmother enthused as she led her out of the foyer and into the sitting room on the right. She cocked her head. Or was that Winifred? I never could keep them straight—they were twins, you know.

Identical, huh? Andrea looked around. And winced.

What she could see of the parquet flooring under her feet was beautiful. Unfortunately someone had covered it in a series of violently clashing hooked rugs; the shaggy kind made with bits of yarn. Even worse, these rugs were balding. Rough-hewn beams spanned the white ceiling and the walls were wainscoted with birch tongue and grove. The effect reminded her pleasantly of a lodge, as did the iron, lantern-style light fixtures. Everywhere she looked the underlying decor spoke of elegance and taste. It was difficult to believe that whoever had designed this place would allow her grandmother to run amuck with her crazy color scheme. Unless the owner rarely saw it?

Oh, no, dear, Matilda corrected her, continuing on to the next room. They looked nothing alike.

Tension built in Andrea’s brow as she tried to understand her grandmother’s logic. Her first sight of the sitting room didn’t ease the frown.

Slipcovers in loud floral patterns covered all the furniture. Couches and chairs were draped with crocheted Afghans of multicolored yarn. Checkered curtains with roughly the same colors as the slipcovers smothered the windows, obscuring the lovely diamond paned glass. So many knickknacks cluttered the sideboard, mantel and end tables it was impossible to see any of the surfaces.

Do have a seat, dear, her grandmother told her, gesturing to a couch.

Andrea sat down, discreetly elbowing aside a purple and red granny square pillow. Been busy decorating?

Oh, yes. The winters are very long here, and one must have something to do. Would you like a cookie? She gestured to a plate on the coffee table.

The cookies looked all right, but remembered dismay kept Andrea from temptation. Grandma’s desserts were never what they appeared to be. She still remembered the sensation of biting into a carob and prune bar at the tender age of seven.

It had been years before she’d dared try another brownie.

Um, no thanks. I’m on a diet, she hedged.

Disappointed, her grandmother sat back, tucking her sweater more securely around her thin frame and propping her fuchsia-clad legs up on a hassock.

Andrea blinked and politely averted her gaze. Her grandmother’s feet were clad in mismatched argyle socks, and her heels showed through the holes in the bottom.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I wanted you to come here on such short notice, her grandmother began, surprising Andrea with her directness. At Andrea’s nod, she went on, the doctors say that I have cancer. She swallowed. I don’t have much time.

Stunned, at first Andrea could just sit there. This was nothing like what she’d expected. Grandma couldn’t have cancer. She was too...she just couldn’t!

It hit her then—her grandma was her last living relative. If she died, that was it, no more family. She would be alone. She didn’t even have a boyfriend, wasn’t sure if she’d ever find someone to love.

Ashamed of her selfish fears and wishing to give comfort, she jerked out of her review and knelt at her Grandmother’s feet to grasp her hand. Tears she wouldn’t have expected clouded her vision. Are they sure? They can’t...fix it?

Grandma shook her head sadly, her own eyes misty. No, sweetheart. They can’t. She sniffed. And I’d so looked forward to seeing great-grandbabies, too.

Andrea flinched. How many times had she dodged her grandmother’s questions about settling down and raising some babies? It wasn’t as if she weren’t willing, she thought defensively. Was it her fault if good men were in short supply?

At Andrea’s guilty expression her grandma shook her head and became all business. Now none of that, she said briskly, patting Andrea’s hand. You just haven’t found the right man yet, and no wonder. But we’re going to change all that. With barely suppressed excitement, she leaned in and confided, I’ve spoken with my employer, and he’s agreed to hire you as his new caretaker—on a trial basis, of course.

Andrea frowned and sat back on her heels. The idea of becoming a housekeeper for a man she knew nothing about was ludicrous, of course, but she wasn’t sure how to say so without hurting her grandmother’s feelings. After all, she was so excited, and it must be good for her to have something to concentrate on after receiving the blow of incurable disease. With that in mind, she cautiously ventured, I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a caretaker, Grandma.

Of course you are! her grandmother rushed to assure her. And it will be such a relief to depart this world knowing that you’re in the capable hands of a man who can take care of you. Wait until I tell him!

Whoa, wait minute! Andrea protested, raising her hands to slow the flood. I’d be working for him, not marrying him. Besides, I haven’t agreed to do this yet. I have things to do in Chicago—

But her grandmother was talking again, fast and furiously, and there was no getting in a word of protest. Andrea never did figure out how, but by the end of evening her grandmother had extracted a promise from her to at least stay for the summer. Of course, Andrea wanted to keep an eye on her grandmother, but she would rather make other living arrangements and find her own job. Grandma was sure to spend all her time trying to match make.

It was late when they finished talking, so her grandmother took Andrea to one of the six guest bedrooms and wished her a goodnight.

Vowing to find a way through this mess after she’d had a good night’s sleep, Andrea fluffed her pillow and promised herself she’d find a solution in the morning.

The scent of roses—a fragrance she’d always hated—woke her in the morning.

Andrea opened her eyes and groaned as perfume wafted from the lacy sheets. The sight of the hunting ducks parading across the canopy of her bed threatened to make her nauseous. Throwing back the matching comforter, she swung her feet to the shaggy duck rug beneath and tried to wake up. A glance at the bedside clock—shaped like a decoy—said it was late morning.

Shocked that her grandmother had allowed her to sleep in so late, since she’d always been insistent on rising early—a holdover from her days on the farm—Andrea reached for her jeans and a ribbed shirt. In moments she was dressed and groomed, making fast work of refreshing the twin braids at each temple. The braids reminded her of Zoë, who’d got her in the habit of them. She grimaced, wishing she’d had the guts to do like her friend and just stay home. Unfortunately, her grandma needed her. As her only family, Andrea really needed to be here.

As soon as she’d fastened the beads on the ends of each braid she left the room, electing to skip the makeup, as was her custom.

She’d been too tired for a tour the night before, but it didn’t take much effort to find the immaculate kitchen. A wide array of shining copper pots hung from the rack above the long work island, giving a hint that the room was well stocked. A stainless steel refrigerator and a very modern stove formed an odd contrast to the crocheted blender covers and parti-colored valances. The smell of recent cooking lingered in the air but no trace remained of any breakfast dishes. How odd. Grandma never passed up a chance to force an enormous breakfast on her only grandchild. Where could she be?

Andrea propped her hands on her hips and surveyed the sunny kitchen until her eyes drifted once again to the fridge. Tacked to the front of it with a colorful hodge-podge of magnets was a piece of paper. Was that a note?

Andrea moved closer, leaving it tacked to the fridge as she read in her grandmother’s swirling hand, Dear Andrea, I’m so glad you’ve agreed to take care of the place for me. I know you’ll make me proud. After all, you’re a child of your word.

With a scowl for that dirty tactic, Andrea read on, Now I’m off to do something I’ve always wanted—cruise to Tahiti! Andrea gaped and read in growing fury, If you need anything at all, just ask Fallon. He’s been very good to me and I’m sure that you’re going to adore him. Love, Grandma.

A streak of blue words spilled from her lips. She’d been set up! For that matter, why couldn’t her grandma just buy her a ticket to Tahiti, too? She’d far rather spend her time in the tropical sun, comforting her grandma, than freezing her tail off in Alaska. If she really were dying, wouldn’t she want family with her?

It must be the matchmaking. If Matilda thought there was a man there, she’d strand her in Antarctica with him. Andrea wished she could get her on the phone now and vent. She felt certain she’d feel far more romantically inclined if she were lazing half-naked on a tropical beach. Where was the logic?

Such harsh words from such a pretty lady, came a man’s husky voice.

Andrea froze in the middle of a tirade against her grandmother and a vow to hate her new employer on sight. Oh, please, no, she thought without turning around. It had to be him.

At least I assume the lady is exceptional; the view from behind is certainly promising, he continued