🔥📚Samantha Snow’s House Of Dragons [FREE] Sneak Peak
A special treat for Simply Shifters subscribers who have not yet checked out Maria Amor and Samantha Snow’s bestselling series, House Of Dragons
The opening chapter is available to read for free for a limited time below, enjoy!
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“One minute Cami couldn’t even buy a date, the next minute she was living with four weredragons who all wanted to marry her…”
When the impossibly handsome Alistair Overton approached Cami Bakersfield on the dance-floor of a nightclub she could not believe her luck.
Little did she know, there was nothing lucky about this. She had already been CHOSEN.
And before she knew it, Cami would end up in a luxurious mansion alongside four of the most beautiful men she had ever seen in her life.
But this was NOT your typical after-party.
These men were the Overtons and they all had the unique ability to shapeshift into strong, fire-breathing DRAGONS.
However, the dragons were in danger and Cami soon discovered that she was part of a prophecy.
In order to save the dragon species she would have to live in the house with all four men until she chose which dragon she wanted to be her husband and the father of her future child.
Welcome to the House Of Dragons!
“Are you sure you don’t want to go home with me?” Jessica asked. Cami laughed, shaking her head. She wasn’t drunk, but she’d hit her stride with the shots people had bought for the bachelorette party of about eight women. The last thing she wanted at that moment was to catch an Uber back to her quiet, lonely apartment.
“I am sure,” Cami said. “I’ll be good. Don’t worry.” Jessica raised an eyebrow, glancing around the last club that the party had come to. It was nearly two in the morning—almost last call—and Cami could see that her friend was exhausted. The bride-to-be had called her future husband about fifteen minutes before, and everyone else had trickled away since.
“Promise me you’ll let me know you’re home—or, God forbid, wherever else you end up—and safe,” Jessica said.
“I promise,” Cami told her friend, giving her an exaggerated, beaming smile. In truth, she was starting to get tired herself, but after watching yet another friend celebrate pending nuptials, Cami wanted to remind herself of the virtues of being single. She would stay until they shut down for the evening, maybe grab a couple of slices of pizza at the late-night pizzeria across the street, and then head home, her hangover—hopefully—prevented.
Jessica kissed her on the cheek, and for about two seconds, Cami was sure that her friend would press the issue one last time. Instead, Jessica turned to make her way through the crowd of dancing revelers to the exit. Cami turned her attention back onto the bartenders and waited patiently for her turn.
The bachelorette party had been a bar crawl of sorts, going to each of the places Cami and her friends had frequented as single girls and ending at the low-key dance club Lost Weekend, their favorite. The staff and most of the regulars knew them, and Cami knew it was only a matter of a few minutes until she was served.
“Another shot?” Crystal, the bartender, asked. Cami shook her head.
“I think I’ve done enough straight liquor for the night,” she said.
Crystal laughed. “Yeah, everyone wanted to see Isobel plastered. What’ll you have, then?”
Cami considered the question. “I think a gin and tonic,” she said. “Extra lime?”
Crystal grinned. “Tanqueray or well?”
Cami shuddered. “Definitely the Tanqueray. I’ll pay extra for it. Well gin is a nightmare.”
Crystal laughed and got to work, quickly assembling the cocktail and squeezing an extra lime wedge into the concoction.
“I’ll add it to the tab,” Crystal said. “Isobel preset it with us to close it out once the last of the party leaves.”
“So, no 10% surcharge for her?” Cami asked, raising an eyebrow. That was the club policy for when someone forgot their card.
“No surcharge,” Crystal confirmed, handing the drink off to Cami and then turning to take care of the next customer.
Cami took a sip of the sharp, throat-tingling cocktail and looked around the club again, browsing with her gaze. The crowd at Lost Weekend was an ever-changing group, ebbing and flowing: the hardcore regulars, of course, in goth or grunge or punk styles; the floating regulars like herself—stylish but nothing on the glamazons that went to some of the higher-end clubs in the same area—and then the people who picked the club at random, who might eventually become regulars.
Her gaze fell on a man off to the side of the dance floor, swaying to the Pixies and watching the more intent dancers. Cami’s interest was immediately piqued; he wasn’t a regular that she’d ever seen, but he didn’t have the slightly awkward look of someone who wasn’t sure they belonged either—the look she knew from the people who floated in and out. He was tall, probably just over six feet, and slim almost to the point of being skinny, dressed in fitted jeans and a blue dress shirt. Blond hair fell to his jaw, curling just slightly at the ends. He turned slightly in her direction, and Cami ripped her gaze away, pretending to look for her long-gone friends, sipping her drink.
When she was almost certain that the coast was clear, she glanced at the area where she’d seen the man. He was gone, and Cami suppressed a burst of frustration at that fact. The club wasn’t huge, but it was fairly easy to lose people in it, with the flashing lights overlaying the darkness, the general sense of disorientation, and the moving crowds—not to mention the distraction of cigarette smoke hanging around in the air, in one of the few locations smoking was allowed inside in the county. She shrugged off the man’s disappearance. It’s rude to stare at people anyway, and nothing would have ever come of it, she told herself.
The DJ transitioned to another song, and Cami let out an almost involuntary shriek of excitement as the first notes of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” came through the sound system. She barely remembered to bring her drink with her as she rushed the short distance to the dance floor and threw herself into dancing. She wasn’t the only one thrilled by the selection, and Cami found herself surrounded by similarly giddy twenty-somethings, all singing along to the lyrics as they all gyrated.
“I know I won’t be leaving here¼with you¼” Cami felt someone brush against her from behind as she swayed and sang but didn’t think anything of it, tossing her head and closing her eyes. The DJ milked the song for all it was worth, building it up again and again, and Cami let the music flow around her, propelling her movements. It came to the last chorus, and Cami twirled, briefly—nearly—losing her balance. A pair of hands caught her and kept her upright and her drink in its plastic cup, and Cami laughed.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly, stepping back. She saw a blue dress shirt and fitted jeans, and blinked, taking another step back, nearly colliding with some other dancers. Her unexpected helper was the man she’d seen before. The lights flickered over them for a second or two, and Cami got a look at the man’s face: sharp, fine features, and bright eyes—¸it was impossible to tell the color—with sandy, groomed eyebrows. His lips weren’t overly full but had a beautiful, almost feminine shape to them, and one of the corners twitched upward as Cami tried to think of what to say. “Thanks for saving my drink,” she said brightly.
“I was more worried about your dress,” the man told her, and Cami giggled before she could stop herself. She kept swaying to the music, unable to quite break its hypnosis, and noticed that the man was moving too—moving with her, though not so close that they were exactly dancing together.
“I should probably be more careful with it,” Cami said with exaggerated seriousness. The man laughed, and Cami found herself laughing again too; the sound was so infectious. The DJ let Franz Ferdinand fade out. Cami would have made her excuses and left the dance floor then, but she heard the telltale guitar strumming opening of Foo Fighters’s “Everlong.” That brought more appreciative shrieks from everyone, and Cami saw the gleam in her helper’s eyes as she started dancing again.
He moved closer to her, matching her movements, and Cami quickly drank the last of her cocktail as the song transitioned from the instrumental opening into the first verse. She closed her eyes and threw herself into the music, able to sense her new dance partner as he stopped just short of touching her, close enough that she could smell a strange kind of cologne on him: like incense, ashes, and evergreen trees, the smell of post-harvest, late-fall fires. Despite being more than half a foot taller than her, he somehow managed to dance up close to her without any awkwardness and without making her feel uncomfortable, crowded, or creeped out. Cami opened her eyes to catch him singing along with the lyrics and added her own voice to the crowd of people shout-singing.
“The only thing I’ll ever ask of you¼you gotta promise not to stop when I say when¼” The man leaned in just a little closer, somehow, his mouth only inches from her ear as they danced together, and she heard his voice, low but somehow almost more audible than the music. “Breathe out, so I can breathe you in¼” She laughed, unable to help herself from the giddiness of the situation, and caught the return chuckle from her dance partner.
By the time the song ended, Cami definitely needed to sit down, and she tried to think of how to convince her new—as yet unnamed—friend to join her. She slowed to a stop and looked up at his face. Offer to buy him a drink for saving yours! Perfect!
“Your drink is empty,” he said before she could make the suggestion.
Cami’s cheeks burned. “I was actually going to get another,” she said. “And I wondered if I could buy you one for helping to save the last one.”
The man smiled openly, revealing perfectly straight, neat, white teeth. “I normally don’t let people buy drinks for me,” he said.
“Well, I have a confession,” Cami told him before he could finish his sentence. “I wouldn’t actually be paying. I have a tab—a friend set it up for her bachelorette party.”
Her dance partner chuckled again. “You shouldn’t abuse the generosity of your friends,” he said. “Why not let me buy you a drink instead?”
Cami looked up at him for a long moment, and then nodded her agreement, feeling a tingle all through her body that she knew very well. It didn’t happen often, but somehow, the universe had dropped a guy she could actually be interested in into her lap; she wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize the potential.
“Lead the way,” she said, gesturing for him to precede her to the bar.
He grabbed her hand, and Cami felt a jolt from her hand through her arm, seemingly right to the center of her body—something more than just the impulse of an attractive man touching her. She shook it off, letting her new acquaintance steer them both to the bar, through the throngs of people. The clock above the neon and glass behemoth that was the club bar told Cami that they were about to announce last call, and from there, the club would wind down, closing maybe thirty minutes to an hour later.
“Last call is in five minutes,” Crystal told her and then glanced at the man who’d accompanied her, raising an eyebrow in a quick, interested twitch. “What’ll you have?”
“I’ll have whatever she’s going to get two of,” the man said, and Cami turned to give him a doubtful look.
“Buying me two drinks at once?”
The man shrugged. “It’s almost last call,” he pointed out. “Don’t want to miss out on the last drink of the night, right?”
Cami shrugged and saw Crystal grinning. “Two Tanqueray and tonics, then,” she said.
“Extra lime,” Crystal added, and Cami nodded.
She looked around for a chair, hoping against hope she could get off of her feet for a few minutes. The club boasted couches along one wall, and there was an outside seating area with picnic tables, but Cami didn’t want to waste any time trying to find a convenient spot or risk her new acquaintance losing interest.
“Here,” the man grabbed a chair that Cami hadn’t even seen and pulled it toward her, gesturing for her to sit.
“You are just on top of all my needs tonight,” Cami said, giving him an appreciative smile.
“I figured it was the best way to stay close,” the man said.
“You want to stay close to me?” Cami asked. Crystal put the drinks in front of them, and the man passed her a fifty-dollar bill. Cami realized she hadn’t even seen him take out a wallet.
“Keep the rest,” he said, and Crystal’s eyes widened slightly. The Tanqueray was on the pricier side, but a $20 tip or better was—Cami knew—on the remarkable side.
“Thanks,” Crystal said. “That’s really nice of you!”
The man smiled again, flashing his bright, straight teeth; there was something about the expression that almost unnerved Cami in the brighter light around the bar, but she couldn’t say what. The next second, though, he turned his attention back onto her, and the smile faded to little more than an upward curve of his lips.
“You know, I should probably ask your name,” Cami said, picking up the first of her drinks. She raised it to her dance partner, and he picked up his own.
“Alistair,” he said. “Alistair Overton. And you?”
Cami clinked her plastic cup against his and took a long drink of her cocktail. “Camille Bakersfield,” she said. “But everyone calls me Cami.”
Alistair inclined his head slightly toward her, taking his first sip of his drink. “I saw you dancing, Cami,” he said. “I just¼couldn’t not be close to you, I guess.”
Cami felt her cheeks warming up again. “You did?”
Alistair nodded. “I don’t usually dance much,” he told her. “But I felt drawn to you. And well, if you were dancing, I should be dancing too, right?”
Cami grinned. “Are you intentionally being devastatingly charming, or is this just how you are naturally?”
Alistair laughed out loud, and the sound was just as delightful as it had been before, prompting Cami to giggle with him. “Some of both, probably,” Alistair replied. “What brings you out tonight?”
“Oh—well, like I said before, my friend,” Cami said. “We did kind of a bar crawl for her bachelorette party, ending up here.”
“Last call!” The music cut out just long enough for the bartenders to make the announcement, and people started heading to the bar to make sure they could get one more drink in before the night ended.
“So, your friend,” Alistair said, moving closer to her as the bar became a crowded territory. “This doesn’t seem like the usual bachelorette party location.”
Cami shrugged. “I guess not, but we spent all of our single days here,” she said. “And well, I guess I am still single, so I stayed after everyone else called it a night.” Cami yawned. She felt sleepy—sleepier than the late hour and the alcohol should have made her feel.
“Night owl, eh?”
Cami nodded, suppressing a second yawn. When did she get so sleepy? She sipped her drink, knowing it wouldn’t actually help but hoping against hope that the cold liquid would at least trigger some kind of effect. “Although, apparently, walking to five different bars takes it out of you,” she said, blinking a few times rapidly and sitting up a little straighter.
“Oh, definitely,” Alistair agreed. “I could never do that—in heels, at least.” He glanced down at her feet, and Cami shrugged.
“After a certain point, your toes go numb,” she told him. “Of course, later on, the pain comes back with a vengeance.”
Alistair chuckled and sipped his drink. They continued talking, Alistair asking Cami about herself, and Cami pressing him for reciprocity. But somehow, as she consumed her drinks, she kept losing the thread of the conversation, the sleepy feeling rising up again and again. After a little while, the music slowed down and cut off, the DJ playing the last song to get everyone to finish up and leave. Crystal checked in with her when they were closing out tabs.
“You all good, Cami?” Crystal looked doubtful.
Cami felt a little lost at sea—not drunk, not drugged, exactly, just tired and ready for home. “Yeah, everything’s all right,” she said. “I’m going to get an Uber home.” Crystal looked at Alistair skeptically. Cami leaned a bit against him.
“I’ll make sure she gets in the right car,” Alistair said.
“I’m going to text you in the morning, okay, Cami? And remember to text Jess,” Crystal said, as Cami inelegantly hopped off of the bar stool Alistair had gotten for her.
“I’ll text you both,” Cami said. It felt like she was on a boat, almost—as if the floor under her was moving. She didn’t feel that drunk, though. What is going on with me?
“Let’s get you outside, get you some fresh air and a car home,” Alistair said. He took her arm, and somehow Cami felt both more lost and more comforted at the same time as he helped her steer her way through the club to the entrance. Alix, the bouncer at the door, gave her new friend a dubious look, but when Cami reassured him that she was fine, he let them leave the club together.
Alistair steered her toward a nearby bench, and Cami took out her phone, struggling with the fingerprint ID for a few seconds before she could get it to work. She opened the Uber app and peered at the screen, trying to see if it had found her location properly.
“Can you check this for me? I don’t want to deal with an annoyed driver trying to find me,” Cami said and then giggled with the memory of the last time that had happened.
“Yeah, that’s where we are,” Alistair confirmed, setting the pickup.
“Oh no!” Cami said, sitting up a bit. “I meant to get pizza before I went home.”
Alistair chuckled. “I don’t think you’ll be awake long enough to eat it,” Alistair pointed out.
“Still,” Cami said, pouting.
Alistair looked across the street to the open Rose Street Pizzeria, and then glanced at her phone. “He’s ten minutes away,” Alistair said. “Let me get you some pizza. I’ll be right back. Are you going to be okay?”
Cami considered the question. “For ten minutes? Yeah, I’ll be all right,” she said, smiling fondly at him. “You’re so nice!”
Alistair snorted. “Be right back,” he said, starting off across the street to the pizzeria.
Cami watched him, her thoughts free-floating and irrelevant as she waited for either her car to arrive or her new friend to come back.
By the time Alistair approached with a takeout box of pizza slices, the car arrived. By then, though, Cami barely knew where she was. The last thing she remembered was getting into the car, and Alistair climbing in behind her, saying something to the driver. After that, everything went dark.
Nicholas looked at his cousin, still holding the takeout box from Rose Street Pizzeria. Alistair didn’t look exactly proud of himself, but there was the faint sign in his expression that told Nicholas that his cousin wasn’t exactly displeased with the situation either.
“You’re sure it’s her?”
Alistair nodded. “I checked her ID when we were in the car,” Alistair said.
Nicholas glanced at the guest room door, closed to give their unexpected guest some privacy, and sighed. He’d seen the girl—Camille Bakersfield, Alistair had said her name was—when his cousin had brought her in, fully asleep. “She’s going to be pissed when she wakes up,” Nicholas pointed out.
Alistair shrugged. “Nobody has touched her, and nobody will,” he said. “I can just say that I was worried about her, wanted to make sure she was safe. Besides,” he hefted the takeout box, “I have pizza for her. Peace offering.”
“You still should have been more cautious,” Nicholas said. He looked at the closed door again. If his cousin was right, the fortunes of the Overton clan would change practically overnight—but only if they moved quickly. And only if they could get Camille on their side.
“You wanted her,” Alistair pointed out. “I managed to find her. I think we can make this work.”
Nicholas pressed his lips together, exhaling slowly through his nose. “Eli and Dylan will be here soon,” Nicholas said. “Somebody had better be up when she comes out of it. Somebody has to explain.”
“I’m good for another few hours, at least,” Alistair said brightly.
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “What are you going to do? Explain to her that she needs to stay here for at least a week? Do you even know anything about her other than who she is?”
Alistair frowned, losing some of his exhilaration at his success, and Nicholas felt a mixture of satisfaction and guilt at letting the wind out of his cousin’s sails. “She doesn’t have to stay for a week right away,” Alistair said. “We let her wake up, meet us, explain some of the situation¼” He shrugged.
Nicholas shook his head. “We can’t explain some of the situation without explaining all of the situation,” he pointed out to Alistair. “She’s going to have questions. You should have started slow.”
“She’s too¼” Alistair sighed. “You’ll see when she wakes up.”
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. “Too what?”
Alistair shrugged. “As soon as I spotted her, I couldn’t not bring her home,” Alistair said. “I mean, I know she’s supposed to be different. But if anything convinced me that she’s the one we need¼”
“We’ll see,” Nicholas said, turning his back on the door. He heard Elijah and Dylan—the other two Overton clan members looking for the woman Alistair had managed to find—coming into the house and started down the hall to meet them. He’d sent a text when Alistair had arrived home, easily balancing the unconscious Camille and box of pizza slices, hurriedly explaining that he’d found the one they were looking for.
“Did Alistair really find her?”
Nicholas shrugged off Elijah’s question. “He says the ID checks out,” Nicholas replied. “But we’ll see when she wakes up.”
“If he has, then thank God,” Dylan chimed in. “I’ve been getting tired of the search.”
Nicholas scowled at his older cousin. The stakes were not quite as high for Dylan as they were for the rest of the clan; his part of the family was still doing well. But if they didn’t manage to secure Camille—assuming she was who they thought she was—then even Dylan’s branch of the Overton clan would go down, as the rest of their kind would.
“We have to take care of this,” Nicholas said firmly. “We have to win her over to our side of things as quickly as possible, since Alistair decided to just bring her here right away.”
“Well, what else was he going to do?” Elijah asked. “Playing it slow risks someone else finding her and playing ‘keep away.’”
“Thank you, Eli,” Alistair said, appearing from the hallway. “That was exactly my point.”
“I still think that if we’d taken it slow and introduced ourselves to her gradually, we’d get a better result,” Nicholas said.
“You’re just jealous Alistair found her and not you,” Dylan suggested. Nicholas growled low in his throat, but he couldn’t quite argue the point. They’d been looking for the woman for months, ever since they’d gotten an update about how to find her; he’d been hoping that he’d be the one to track her down, to introduce her to what she needed to know. And the woman Alistair had brought in, if she really was the woman the prophecy meant, was definitely someone Nicholas wanted to spend a lot of quality time with—in spite of the fact that she’d been unconscious.
The woman Alistair had brought in was beautiful, there was no question. She’d been in a slinky, curve-hugging dark green dress with a moderately low neckline, along with heels high enough that when Alistair told Nicholas that she’d apparently been bar-hopping that night as part of a bachelorette party, Nicholas had let out a low, respectful whistle. She had long, dark hair that was in a slightly messy bun, and delicate features highlighted by just enough makeup to do the job. They’d taken care of her and tucked her into the bed in the guest room together, and Camille Bakersfield had looked tiny among the pillows and blankets; Nicholas guessed that she was maybe 5’5”, at most 5’6” tall, and with curves that had practically begged to be touched. All of her height was in her legs; her torso was short, adding to the hourglass effect of her figure.
“No,” Nicholas said to Dylan’s accusation. “I’m worried that Alistair bringing her right here is going to create an issue where she’s going to freak out, run away, and immediately not trust us.”
“We just have to handle it the right way,” Eli said with a shrug. “I mean, neither of you did anything creepy to her while she was out, did you?” He raised an eyebrow, and Nicholas looked at Alistair. Technically, nothing they had done was–strictly speaking–creepy. But depending on Camille’s state of mind on waking up, Nicholas could easily imagine that she wouldn’t agree.
“One of us–at least one of us–needs to be awake when she gets up,” Nicholas said firmly. “Someone needs to be on hand to explain the situation to her.”
“We haven’t even agreed on how much we’re going to tell her,” Alistair pointed out.
“As little as possible,” Nicholas said. “She doesn’t need to hear it all at once. She won’t believe it if she does.
“Then just how are you going to get her to stay here for a week, at least?” Dylan asked.
“We’ll deal with that later,” Nicholas said. “The first thing is to make her as sympathetic to us as possible.”
“You’re making it sound like we’re kidnappers,” Elijah said.
“Technically, we kind of are,” Dylan pointed out.
“She got in the Uber willingly,” Alistair said.
“Yeah, but where did she think she was going?” Dylan asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
Nicholas sighed. “She’s here now,” Nicholas said. “The goal is to keep her here as long as possible—and to make sure she does it willingly. We can handle the rest of it when we’ve gotten her to agree to stay with us for a while.” He looked at his three cousins and took a deep breath.
“So, which one of us is going to sit up and wait for her to wake up all hungover?” Elijah looked around the group, and Nicholas knew that they were waiting to see if he was going to take responsibility or delegate it.
“We’re all going to be on hand,” he said. “We’ll take turns napping until she gets up, but we need to all be available.” Annoyance flickered across Dylan’s face, and resignation across Elijah’s. Alistair had likely—Nicholas thought—expected him to make that exact decision.
“Can we at least get a peek at her before we commit to staying up until probably—what—noon?” Dylan asked.
Nicholas shrugged. “If you can be absolutely silent and not risk waking her up, then sure,” Nicholas said. He knew that if he forbade it, the two cousins who hadn’t been there when Alistair arrived home with their quarry would just do it while he napped during the wait for the woman to wake up.
“She’s pretty fully out of it,” Alistair pointed out. “I mean¼”
Nicholas looked at his cousin sharply.
“Oh god, you didn’t, like, bathe her or anything, did you?” Elijah looked almost horrified at the idea.
“No!” Nicholas said.
“Just¼made her a little more comfortable than she would probably be in going-out clothes and makeup,” Alistair said, looking away.
“Yeah, she’s immediately going to think we’re the creepiest creeps that ever creeped,” Elijah said.
“Hopefully, we can talk her out of pressing charges,” Dylan mused. “‘I know you’re probably super freaked out right now, but hey, we’re looking out for your skincare routine!’”
“What’s done is done,” Nicholas said.
“Oh, is that what you’re going to tell her? I’m sure that will win her over,” Dylan said.
Nicholas scowled at his cousin. “What are you going to tell her?”
Dylan shrugged. “I’d go with, ‘If you agree to stay here for a week, I’ll buy you the pet of your choice, anything other than snakes,’” he said.
Nicholas snorted. “You are not going to do that,” he told his cousin. “Not the least of which because, ideally, she’ll stay here longer than a week, and I’m not taking care of whatever pet she decides she wants.”
“She could decide she wants an entire Iditarod dog sled team, and you’d put up with it,” Dylan pointed out. “All four of us would.”
Elijah shrugged, and Alistair smiled wryly. Nicholas tried to scowl, but instead, he sighed because Dylan was right: Camille was too important. They’d agree to just about any terms she could come up with because all of them needed her.
“Let’s go and sneak a peek,” Elijah suggested. “Then, we can figure out who takes the first nap.”
Cami woke up all at once, her heart beating fast. Somehow, even asleep, some part of her brain had realized that something was wrong. Her head throbbed, but she didn’t feel the usual hangover nausea or body aches; in fact, she felt remarkably well-rested. But even before she opened her eyes, Cami knew she wasn’t in her own bed. Her own bed—while she had put as much money as she could afford into making it as comfortable as possible—was not nearly as comfortable as the one she woke up in. What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck? She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. She definitely was not in her own bed, in her own apartment, or anything like it.
“What the fuck,” she murmured, looking around.
The first thing she noticed was that she was not in the dress and heels she’d worn out; somewhere along the line, either she or someone else had taken those off, switching them for a pair of expensive but extremely comfortable silk pajamas. Her hair was down out of the bun she’d put it in, and the lack of colorful smears on the pillow told her without checking a mirror that her makeup was off.
Then there was the fact that she was in a bed at least twice the size of her bed at home. It was an antique, four-poster behemoth, with half a dozen pillows and what felt like a quality duvet covering her. The room was almost the size of her whole apartment, with a fireplace on the wall directly facing her, a door leading to what Cami thought—hoped—was a bathroom, and a comfortable-looking chair and couch alongside a window that looked out on a heavily gardened yard. The floor was antique hardwood, dark and smoky looking from years of use, and she thought the dresser in one corner of the room might be older than she was.
“What the hell happened last night?” Cami sat up in bed, trying to piece together what she could remember. Getting into the Uber, Alistair climbing in next to her, and then? “Son of a bitch!”
She nearly tangled herself in the blankets hurriedly getting out of the bed, stumbling before she righted herself and threw the heavy, warm material back. Cami roughly combed her fingers through her messy hair, looking around, trying to find her clothes. “Not important,” she told herself, anger bubbling up through her brain as the rest of the possible events of the night—events that she had apparently either been blacked out or unconscious for—became apparent to her. She saw a pair of slippers, clearly placed for her use, but kicked them aside on her way out of the bedroom she’d woken up in, grabbing the ornate doorknob and twisting it as hard as she could.
“Where the hell are you?” Cami shouted as soon as she left the room, following the hallway the door opened on. “Alistair?” Fear warred with anger in her mind for two seconds, as the possibilities—increasingly outlandish but no less worrying—presented themselves to her.
“Guys? I think she’s awake,” Cami heard someone say a moment before she emerged from the hallway and into a marble-floored foyer. On one side, a grand staircase with brass handrails led upward; to her right, Cami saw a small entry space and ornate, carved wooden doors with wrought-iron decorations. The marble was cold underfoot, and for maybe half a second, Cami regretted not putting the offered slippers on—but a heartbeat later, her anger came back, and she continued forward toward the sound of the voice, through another set of double doors.
“Alistair!” Cami trudged into the room, and then—as she took in the sight in front of her—came to an abrupt stop. She had expected to see the man she’d met at Lost Weekend the night before, and Alistair was there, sitting slouched on a long Chesterfield, in pajama pants and a tee shirt. What she hadn’t expected was to see three other men, all of them equally good-looking—though in different ways—all looking up at her from their positions about the room.
One of the men sat in an oversized wingback chair, one leg crossed over the other, a phone in his hand. He had short, dark blond hair and chiseled features, light eyes, and a broad chest that his tight tee shirt did nothing to disguise. Another man was sprawled on a second couch in the room: his light brown hair fell to just under his chin, messy but still appealing as a frame for a strong-featured face with generous lips and big, brown eyes. He was broad-chested, with strong upper arms and wide hands, his lean body not quite hidden by the baggy tee shirt and faded sweatpants he had on. A third man was perched in another chair, all legs and arms: his medium-brown hair fell to his shoulders in loose waves, the ends curling in different directions. When he put his feet down on the floor and sat up, Cami saw that the rest of him was just as slim as his slightly gangly legs and arms, his artistically ripped shirt and pajama pants hanging on him strategically.
“I still have your pizza,” Alistair said. “If you’re hungry, I mean.”
Cami stared at Alistair for a moment and opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She closed her mouth, took a deep breath, and tried again. “What…the hell…is going on here?”
Alistair glanced at the man with the short blond hair in the oversized wingback chair.
“Who the hell are these people?”
“Who won the betting pool on what her first words to us would be?” the long, skinny one asked.
“Technically, no one,” the blond on the couch said, sitting up. “Since none of us went with ‘where the hell are you.’”
“Someone answer my question before I just start screaming and don’t stop,” Cami suggested.
“You look like you have a headache,” the blond on the couch observed. “I don’t think screaming would help.”
“Right now, I don’t particularly care,” Cami told him. “Someone give me some answers as to what the hell happened, where the hell I am, and what the hell this is.”
“I’d recommend you sit down,” the short-haired blond told her. He gestured to the one empty couch in the room, another Chesterfield-style behemoth of furniture. Cami didn’t want to sit down; she felt more powerful, more imposing standing up. But if any of the men in the room stood up—much less all of them—Cami was certain that slim advantage would evaporate, since she was fairly certain they were all taller than her. She looked around at the four men, watching her with such intense interest that some of the more outlandish ideas about what she’d been plunged into started to seem more realistic.
“Answer one thing before I sit down,” Cami said. “Is this some kind of sex cult thing?”
“No!” all four men replied at once.
Cami raised an eyebrow. “You know, that is not really reassuring,” she said dryly.
“It isn’t a sex cult,” the short-haired blond said. “Just sit down, and we’ll explain what happened.”
“I have a pretty decent idea of what happened,” Cami said, crossing her arms over her chest. “That asshole drugged me somehow and brought me here.”
“I didn’t drug you,” Alistair said quickly.
“Really? Because I passed out in the car, and I know I wasn’t that drunk,” Cami said tartly.
“I promise you my cousin didn’t drug you,” the short-haired blond told her.
“Still not buying it,” Cami said. “I drank a lot last night, sure. But I’m not puking, and I only have a little bit of headache. So, I definitely didn’t drink enough to black out. And the last thing I remember is getting into the Uber, and just¼everything going black on me.”
“Sit down,” the short-haired blond repeated. “We’ll explain as much as we can to you right now, and more later.”
“I’m not comfortable with the ‘more later’ part of that,” Cami said. “I want you to explain why the hell I’m in different clothes and what all you did to me while I was passed out, and then I want at least three good reasons I shouldn’t get the hell out of here and go straight to the police.”
The short-haired blond rose from his chair, and Cami’s impression that he was taller than her definitely bore out; he was easily as tall as Alistair, maybe one or two inches taller, and broader across the chest and back, muscular in a way Alistair wasn’t. Cami’s mouth went dry at the sight of him approaching her, and her heart beat faster in her chest.
“Sit down, please,” he said, his voice quiet—and unmenacing—but definitely firm. Cami couldn’t look away from him, despite her desire to glare at Alistair. She tried to think of a way to argue with his command but found that she didn’t have quite the nerve or the presence of mind.
“Fine,” she said, summoning up what little courage she had to walk past him and around the perimeter of the big leather Chesterfield without betraying the nervousness that had come across her. She sat down, crossing her legs at the ankle, and kept her head high as she dared. “But I’m still not sold on not going to the cops.”
“If we wanted to keep you from going to the cops, I’d like to point out that we outnumber you and are bigger than you,” the skinny brunet said.
“I don’t know, Dyl. She looks like she could probably take you out, at least,” the longer-haired blond said.
“If she could take me out, she could take Alistair out,” the skinny brunet—apparently named Dylan—said.
“Shut up,” the short-haired blond told them both, his voice quiet but no less commanding. “Our guest has questions.”
“You mean, your hostage,” Cami countered. “Or what do you call a kidnapping victim? Are you even planning on ransoming me?”
“You weren’t technically kidnapped,” Alistair pointed out.
“I was supposed to be going home,” Cami said.
“You did,” Alistair said brightly. “Just not your home.”
Cami scowled. “That isn’t a very good defense,” she said tartly.
“You wanted an explanation, right?” The short-haired blond sat down in his chair, leaning forward slightly and resting his elbows on his knees. “Do you want an explanation, or do you want to keep sniping at everyone?”
“I mean¼both sound good,” Cami said.
The short-haired blond rolled his eyes. “You aren’t being kidnapped,” he said. “If you want to leave, you absolutely can. But before you go, my goal is to convince you not to leave.”
“Not starting off on a good foot here,” Cami told him. “Hey, before we start this whole thing with you explaining what the hell this is, could I maybe get some names?”
“You already know Alistair’s name,” the short-haired blond said. “I’m Nicholas. That—” he pointed to the skinny brunet, “is Dylan, and last of all Elijah.”
“Okay,” Cami said. She took a deep breath and realized that her anger was starting to ebb out of her. She was ready to get angry all over again, depending on what the men said, but for the moment, her curiosity was greater. “So, tell me what the hell happened and why you want me to stay here. And I should probably point out: you’re going to want to give me some damn good reasons to want to stay here.” She sat back but didn’t quite relax against the leather sofa.
“Alistair didn’t drug you,” Nicholas said. “He wouldn’t. None of us would.”
“I’m going to need something better than an appeal to your honor because I don’t know any of you,” Cami pointed out. “For all I know, you regularly go out, find someone to drug, bring her home, and repeatedly rape her until you get tired of it and then bury her in the backyard.”
“Allow me to point out that, while it’s probably a little jarring to wake up in pajamas with your makeup off, nobody harmed you,” Nicholas pointed out. “You can at least recognize that you woke up with no bruises and none of the¼signs ¼of being violated?”
Cami felt her cheeks burning. “Finding out that someone undressed me and took my makeup off while I was unconscious is still kind of leaving me feeling violated,” Cami said. “Even if nothing worse than that happened.”
“In our defense,” Alistair chimed in, “would sleeping in that dress have been that comfortable?”
“That isn’t the point,” Nicholas said before Cami could reply. “We had good intentions, but obviously we overstepped. Alistair and I apologize.”
“Sorry, Cami,” Alistair said. From that, Cami took the idea that it had only been those two men involved in cleaning her up and changing her clothes. They could be lying, she thought. But then, what would be the point?
“Fine,” Cami said. “I will say these are very comfortable pajamas, and I’m sure the slippers you left for me were comfortable too.”
“I could get them for you, if your feet are cold,” Elijah said.
“I’m okay,” Cami told him. “Let’s get on with this explanation.”
“Alistair brought you here because we need your help,” Nicholas said.
“All four of you?” Cami looked around the room, her thoughts once again returning to the more outlandish ideas she’d had about what she’d been brought into.
“All four of us, yes,” Nicholas said. “We’re family; all of us are cousins. We would like to ask you to stay for a week, and if you want to leave after that¼we’ll be happy to let you.”
“But if I want to leave before that, you won’t be happy,” Cami surmised.
“We’ll be disappointed, but we won’t stop you,” Nicholas replied.
“Okay, so. Big question here: Why?” Cami glanced at the other three men and then turned her attention back onto Nicholas.
“The answer is a complicated one,” Nicholas said. “Before I start explaining why we need you, could you answer something for me?”
Cami raised an eyebrow. “Technically, I’m not really in a position to say no,” Cami said. “But I’m not going to promise to give you an answer because you’re either going to do something terrible to me or not, and I’m not all that sure my answer will affect that outcome.”
“Did you ever meet your father?”
Cami’s eyes widened. “Okay, you’re going to need to give me some context for why you need to know,” she said.
“Just answer: did you meet him, and do you know who he was?”
Cami stared at Nicholas for a second. Then, she turned her attention onto Alistair. “Meeting you last night wasn’t that random, was it?” she asked.
“No, it wasn’t,” he admitted.
“Answer the question, Cami,” Nicholas said.
“No, I’ve never met my father,” Cami replied tartly. “My mother left him while she was pregnant with me. Why?”
“Do you know who he was? Or at least his name?”
Cami scowled. “My mom told me his name but didn’t tell me anything about him,” she said.
“What was his name?” Nicholas asked, staring at her intently.
“She said his name was Finn Keane,” Cami said. “She didn’t put his name on the birth certificate, and they—I guess—never got married, so I just got her last name.”
“You’re sure she said he was Finn Keane?”
Cami nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Why is that important?”
“Because it means you are exactly who we need,” Nicholas replied. “And we really need you to stay.”
“At some point, are you going to get around to telling me why?” Cami asked. “Because you’re kind of weirding me out even more right now.”
“Alistair picked you up because we got your name from a prophecy,” Nicholas said.
“Oh, Christ,” Cami groaned. “This is some kind of sex cult, isn’t it? Or at least, some kind of cult?”
“It isn’t a cult,” Nicholas said.
“That’s exactly what people in cults say,” Cami pointed out.
“We have no plans to rape you, sacrifice you, or bilk you out of thousands of dollars,” Dylan chimed in from his seat. “Or any dollars. In fact, if you stay here, we’ll probably pay you.”
“Pay me for what?” Cami looked at all four of the men in turn.
“Pay you just for being here,” Dylan said. “I mean, I assume you’ve got some kind of job you’d be missing out on for the week, right?”
“If I just disappeared for a week, I’d probably be missing my job for a lot longer than that,” Cami said.
“How about this?” Elijah suggested, leaning forward and looking at her with avid, attentive brown eyes. “We’ll pay you a year’s salary if you stay here for a week.”
“What?” Cami turned her attention from Elijah to Nicholas, who shrugged.
“I’m just being practical,” Elijah said.
“He has a point,” Dylan added. “Our goal is to have her stay here a week. If we can accomplish that with money, I’m onboard.”
“I’d rather she chose to stay here because she wanted to,” Nicholas said.
“If money makes her want to stay, then why try the hard sell on any other reason?” Dylan pointed out. “I mean, she has no reason right now to want to help us. Or even trust us.”
“He’s right,” Cami said.
“I was getting around to explaining,” Nicholas protested.
“I’m not saying that money alone would make me stay here,” Cami said. “I am saying that if you can guarantee I will be financially fine for at least a year afterward, that’s going to pretty strongly influence my opinion on whether the other reasons are important to me.”
Nicholas sighed. “If you want to pay her, Dylan, then I’m not going to argue,” Nicholas said. Cami glanced at the skinny, long-haired man, wondering why Nicholas had singled him out; his tone didn’t suggest that he’d said it to shut Dylan up but instead that he fully expected Dylan to agree to it.
“What’s your salary, Cami?” Dylan took his phone out of a pocket and unlocked it.
“Fifty grand,” Cami said, inflating the amount somewhat.
“I feel like you’re probably lying to me,” Dylan said, looking up from his phone for a second to make eye contact with her. “But I can do $5,500 a month for a year, easy.”
Cami tried not to let the surprise show on her face. “Seriously? You’re seriously going to pay me five-and-a-half grand a month, for twelve months, to stay here for a week?”
Dylan shrugged indolently. “I can set up the escrow account right now,” he said. “First payment a week from today, and then every four weeks after that.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth? That it’s not a scam?”
Dylan looked up from his phone, staring at her steadily. “If you want the first payment in cash, you’ll have to give me time to go to the bank,” he said. “And you won’t be allowed to leave with it until after a week.”
“Can we talk about this later?” Nicholas asked. “I want to get to the point here.”
“The point right now seems to be whether we can pay Cami to stay with us for a week,” Dylan countered. “And I can. If you can’t explain to her over the course of a week¼”
“That isn’t an issue,” Nicholas said sharply. “Cami, you wanted to know why we chose you.”
“I do still want to know that,” Cami said.
“Your father was a very important person,” Nicholas said. “It’s a shame that your mother chose to leave him, but none of us can really blame her.”
“Well, I mean, none of you even know her,” Cami pointed out.
“We know that she wasn’t prepared for the future you were meant to have,” Nicholas said. “That’s why she left your father; he probably told her what that was.”
“Getting the culty vibe again,” Cami told him.
“I have to admit, if I wasn’t on the inside, I’d probably think it was a cult too,” Alistair chimed in.
“It isn’t a cult,” Nicholas said again. “But the short version of things is that we need you to help save our kind.”