The Dragon Collective - Jessie Donovan Page 0,1

let me get Aimee packed up and I'll go."

The lass had often been staying with Finn and his mate, Arabella. So her clan leader couldn't get mad at her for taking a few minutes to get Aimee sorted and home safely.

Connor cleared his throat. "I can stay until she's finished. I'll even try to stay quiet."

She looked at him askance. "I doubt that's possible. Besides, she doesn't do well with males." He opened his mouth, but she beat him to it. "Not right now, Connor. The longer you argue with me, the tardier I'll be. And do you really want to explain to Finn why that is?"

He rolled his eyes. "Just trying to be helpful, but whatever. I'll let them know you're coming."

As her brother walked away, she wondered a second about his sudden interest in Aimee.

But then she remembered she needed to hurry—Lachlan would no doubt already give her a superior look for taking so long—and she focused on getting the room cleaned up and guiding Aimee toward Finn's house.

Lachlan MacKintosh sat in a chair opposite Lochguard's blond clan leader, Finn Stewart, and did his best not to tap his fingers against his thigh.

All he wanted to do was get started. There were a million things he needed to research on the Scottish dragons' land before he could start setting up the accommodations and workspaces for the artists due to come in the fall.

Two months. That was all he had to learn everything he could about this clan and find a way to make it work for his pet project.

If Lachlan's plan to invite human and dragon artists to this place failed, he could lose his job. He'd bet everything on this event, which meant it needed to go smoothly.

And Lachlan refused to fail.

His job was his life, his purpose, and kept him from returning to his former way of life—that of an angry, irresponsible drunk who hurt everyone close to him.

No. He wouldn't go back there. He couldn't.

So as Finn stared at him silently—going against everything Lachlan had heard about the Scottish dragonman's chattiness—he stared back. He'd worked with dragon-shifters long enough not to be intimidated by them very often.

But as even more minutes ticked by, Lachlan finally cleared his throat and said, "She's late. I'm more than happy to talk with someone else, someone less busy."

Finn raised his dark blond brows. "Are you telling me that you never had something unexpected come up? It's only five minutes, MacKintosh. The world won't end."

True, it wouldn't. But Lachlan needed structure. Ten minutes late one day, then an hour another, making excuses for the little things until he eventually ended up pissed in a pub somewhere, losing track of not only time but also himself.

Maybe someone would say it was hyperbole, given how he'd been sober for ten years. But Lachlan knew himself, and he also refused to tempt himself again. Because next time, he might not ask for help or have the strength to fight his self-imposed hell.

And the next time, he could end up like his father.

Not wanting to go down that road—he needed to keep his wits around the dragons—he replied, "I'm sure you don't need me to repeat how important this is and how we both need to get it right. If this is my first impression of working with Ms. MacAllister on this project, I may need another contact."

Finn leaned back in his chair. "Cat has more on her plate than almost anyone else not in a leadership position, and yet she somehow still finds a way to balance it all." An almost warning threaded through Finn's voice as he said, "Don't dare question her work ethic."

Lachlan knew firsthand from the previous exhibition event she'd participated in that Cat did what needed to be done, even if she did it in a laissez-faire way he didn't quite understand.

But there was another reason he was harsh concerning her tardiness, something he'd never tell the dragon leader, not even if he threatened to cut off his bollocks.

He'd spent a full month after his last encounter with Cat dreaming of her smile, her laughter, and how she teased him.

Dreams resulting in him doing much more than kissing her, leaving him hard and frustrated with only his hand for comfort.

She was everything he should avoid, and yet his dreams didn't seem to care.

No, more accurately, his lust and desire didn't care.

So working with her for months on end would most definitely test his resolve. And he needed to resist