Brad reached out for Lyrian with his mind, not to speak, there was nothing to say, just to feel her presence. His awareness of her grew fainter and fainter the further the police drove from the lair until his mind’s fingers just brushed hers, then she was gone.
The loss of the dragon he’d only just accepted as his mate tore at his heart. The fear that she might not forgive him only made it worse. Had he done the right thing? Her sadness and concern at his choice to leave pervaded her thoughts. He hoped she didn’t hold it against him, but he couldn’t find it in him to regret what he’d done.
If he hadn’t left, then the police would be swarming the lair right now. He’d had no choice. Surely she could see that. He just wished there had been more time to talk about it, to come to a decision together. But there wasn’t time for regrets right now, no matter how heavy his heart was.
He wanted to pace, to growl in frustration, preferably to fight his way out of here and return to his mate. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything that might give away the fact that he was mated to her at all. He had to sit and pretend that he felt nothing.
He needed to convince the police officers in the front seat that he and his twin brother, Nate, were just ordinary humans who had accidentally seen a dragon. They had to convince the police that there was no reason for them to continue searching for dragons anywhere near the Rian lair. Let them focus all their attention on the Trima lair, out near the mountain.
Nate was silent beside him, not giving away any more of what he was feeling than Brad was. Brad hesitated for a moment, then reached out for his brother telepathically. “How are you doing?”
Nate didn’t move so much as a muscle, or look in Brad’s direction, but somehow, Brad imagined that he shrugged. “I’ve been worse.”
Brad couldn’t imagine that. Perhaps it was just a figure of speech, or an attempt to keep his spirits up. But it didn’t make him feel any better.
He wanted to make a plan, to figure out what they were going to do when they arrived at the police station, but how could he when they didn’t know what would happen? He already knew his brother was as committed to protecting Rian clan as he was, so really, there was nothing more to be said.
Brad stared out the window, watching the dry, red plains flash by, and tried not to fidget. Tried not to worry about what was coming. But as they pulled into the small police station in Mungaloo, his heartrate kicked up a notch.
Brad followed the police officer up the stairs, another following behind Nate. As though they thought he was going to run. No one had actually said they were under arrest, but it sure felt like it.
He glanced sideways at Nate, wondering if his brother had any more idea what was going to happen than he did. As far as he knew, Nate had never had any trouble with the law either, so he should be feeling as nervous as Brad was. But Nate gave him a cocky grin, his confidence unmarred.
Brad straightened his shoulders, trying to project the same air of confidence. He knew that acting confident was half the battle to actually being confident. And every bit counted in this situation. Surely he could figure a way out of this situation once he knew what they were up against?
After all, the police had no reason to hold them. He and Nate had just seen a dragon, same as many other people in the last few days. Probably the police would ask them a few questions, and then let them go.
As they walked in the door and everyone turned to stare at them, a little of his nerves returned. The small room was crowded and hectic. A space that probably only ever held one or two officers at a time, tonight, now held half a dozen. Some sitting at computers at desks, and a few with laptops on folding tables.
On the wall opposite the counter, a television was on, its sound muted. Brad didn’t need sound to figure out that the scene was one from the Trima lair though. The blond haired man being led away to a police car and all the men and women watching from the mountain couldn’t be anything else. The ticker rolling along the bottom mentioned Ultrima by name.
No one spoke as the officer lead them between the desks to a door at the back of the room. The hallway beyond was empty, and Brad felt a little better to be away from the prying eyes. The police officer opened one of the doors and waved them into a room with a heavy wooden table surrounded by chairs. “Take a seat, the inspector will be with you in a moment.”
Brad sat down, and Nate sat next to him. Neither of them said anything. Brad had no idea if the police were listening or not, the room was sure to have a camera somewhere. Every moment they waited, Brad’s nerves ratcheted up a notch. He forced himself to take a few, deep breaths to calm himself. The waiting was just a tactic to make him nervous. Nothing more.
A middle aged police officer came in and sat down opposite him and Nate. A woman followed him in with a recorder of some kind, set it up on the table, and switched it on, then stood with her hands behind her back.
“I’m Detective Inspector Williams,” the first man said. “For the purposes of the record, please state your full name and date of birth.”
Brad tried to remain calm, giving the man his details. Beside him, Nate did the same.
The detective folded his arms and looked at them both. “What were you doing out at Wave Rock?”
Brad bit back a sigh. “We were chasing a dragon,” he repeated. “It led us out past that wave cliff, then went up over the top and disappeared. I think it knew we couldn’t drive there and was trying to lose us. We left the cars to look for it and got lost.”
Detective Inspector Williams’ expression was unreadable. Did he believe the story? Brad hoped so.
“Exactly why were you chasing a dragon?”
Brad’s mind drew a blank at that question. Why on earth would they be chasing a dragon?
Why had he come up with that stupid lie anyway? That’s right, to get the police away from the lair. And it was all going to fall apart if he didn’t back it up with something believable. If only his brain would offer him something.
“I wanted to get a photo,” Nate said. “I’m a photographer. And no one out there has a decent picture of a dragon. It’d make me famous.”
Brad breathed a sigh of relief that his brother was far better at thinking on his feet than he was.
Not that the inspector looked convinced. He shuffled a few pages in front of him, and said flatly, “Yet only a few days ago, you were running from one. At least, you were.” This time, he looked directly at Brad.
Of course, they had a record of that. “Well, chasing one wasn’t exactly my idea,” Brad said, following through his brother’s story. “But my brother can be quite persuasive. Do you have a brother, sir?”
The inspector ignored his question. “How about we start at the beginning. What were you doing in Mungaloo, Mr Cotting? You’re not from around here. America, wasn’t it?”
“Dr Cotting,” Brad corrected. “Yes, I am an American citizen. My uncle died recently, leaving me a house in Mungaloo. I came to check it out.”
Detective Inspector Williams stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Why did your uncle leave the house to you?”
Brad couldn’t help a raised eyebrow. “I fail to see how that’s relevant?”
The inspector stared at him for a moment and it was hard for Brad not to break eye contact. Did they know about Lyrian? They couldn’t possibly have seen the mention of her in the letter his uncle wrote to him. It had been sealed, even the lawyer didn’t know what was in it.
“We have a record of gunshots fired out at the house,” the inspector prodded. “Was that you?”
Brad hesitated, wondering how much trouble he could get into for shooting at a dragon.
Nate answered before he could. “I made that call. I was talking to my brother, when I heard gunshots and the phone cut out.”
The inspector ignored Nate. He stared at Brad, waiting for an answer.
Brad hesitated. Surely no one could blame him for shooting at a dragon?
“Yes,” he admitted. “I shot at a dragon when it was flying straight at me spewing lightning. Is that a problem?”
His heart thudded as he waited for an answer.
The inspector stared at Brad, his narrowed eyes not helping his pounding heart.
“Why was the dragon attacking you?” he demanded
Brad stared at him. “How would I know? I didn’t exactly stop and ask it.”
Detective Inspector Williams leaned back in his chair, folded his arms, and regarded Brad. “Come on, I’m sure you have some idea. A dragon didn’t just show up and attack you out of the blue one afternoon.”
Except that was pretty much what had happened. Or that was how it had felt at the time. He’d had no idea Lyrian was also a dragon at that point.
He mimicked the inspector’s posture, leaning back slightly and folding his arms, and stared back at him. “I didn’t even know dragons existed until I saw that one. I thought they were a fairy tale.”
“Are you sure about that?” the inspector prodded. He leaned forwards and shuffled through his papers again. “I have a record that you were pulled over on your way to your uncle’s house, with a phone from one of the dragon supporters in your car.”
Brad’s stomach dropped. He’d forgotten about that. It seemed so long ago, almost as though it were from a different lifetime. That one truly had been a coincidence. Not that the inspector was going to believe that for one second.
Brad had to try anyway. “I have no idea how that phone ended up in my car. I can only assume someone threw it there. Either way, when the man with the officer started talking about dragons, I thought he was crazy. It never entered my head that there was any truth to his ramblings.”
Detective Inspector Williams didn’t look convinced, but instead he changed his questions again. “Were you alone out at your uncle’s house, or was there perhaps someone with you?”
Brad stared at him, caught off guard, not sure what to say. If he revealed Lyrian’s presence…
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Brad tried. Well, it had worked before.
This time though, Detective Inspector Williams gave a short laugh. “You don’t see how having a dragon in the house could cause other dragons to attack? You don’t know much about them, do you. Were you aware there was a dragon war going on?”
The inspector watched him closely.
Brad did his best to look nonchalant as he shrugged. “It appears you know more than I do.”
The inspector gave a disbelieving grunt. “We have a record of you showing up at the Mungaloo pub with a woman less than an hour after the shots were recorded. A woman with…” he shuffled his papers again, and Brad hoped the noise hid the sound of his pounding heart, “…blue hair and strangely pale skin? We have a few records of you being with her actually. At the pub, buying a carseat, and then finally, at a house on Stephen Street, where you punched a man.”
By now, Brad was pretty sure there was no way the inspector could miss the pounding of his guilty heart. They knew everything.
How was he going to get out of this?
The inspector didn’t let up with his questions. It was almost like he didn’t expected Brad to answer, because he only waited a few seconds before saying, “We have suggestions that the woman is a dragon. And the baby too. Is it yours?”
The thunder of Brad’s heart made it hard to breathe and the blood rushing in his ears made it hard to think. He needed to say something clever, find some way to turn the conversation back on them, but his mind was blank.
“What on earth makes you think she’s a dragon?” Nate asked, his voice containing just a touch of scorn. “Just because she has blue hair? We have hundreds of people with blue hair in Sydney. Surely the colour of someone’s hair doesn’t indicate they’re a dragon?”
The inspector turned to him with a frown. “Were you at the pub too?”
“No, I was driving up from Sydney at the time, but…”
“Then stay quiet, you’ll have a chance to tell your story in a minute,” Inspector Williams said firmly.
Nate subsided, though from the mutinous look on his face, he wasn’t happy about it.
But his brother’s interruption had bought Brad enough time to calm himself a little. Enough time to consider the inspector’s question. He couldn’t risk lying, they knew too much, but nor could he tell them the truth and give them more rope to hang him with. What he needed was to buy time…
The answer hit him, so obvious, he wasn’t sure how he’d missed it until now.
“I think it’s time I spoke to my lawyer,” he said firmly, his voice holding a tone of confidence and command that made even the inspector sit up a little.
The inspector regarded him for a moment, his lips pursed. He wasn’t pleased. But would he accede to the request? Brad was pretty sure he had to, that it was well within his rights to request a lawyer. Australia couldn’t be that different to America, could it?
He tried to stare back at the inspector as though he had nothing to hide, all the while being aware of the bond to Lyrian, pulling him back towards the lair. He was half afraid that the inspector would sense it somehow, even though he knew that was impossible.
He needed to get out of this so that he could get back to her. Back to his family. Back to his clan. The urgency of his need filled him for a moment, blotting out all else. Brad forced himself to take a quiet breath so he could look at the inspector in front of him with a semblance of calm.
“Of course,” Detective Inspector Williams said, his voice suddenly conciliatory. “First thing in the morning. I’m afraid none are available at the moment, they’re all closed. But I’m sure you must realise we have quite a situation on our hands, and it’s urgent we figure out what is going on. We don’t intend these dragons any harm, we just need to know where they are so we can keep an eye on them.” He even gave Brad a smile, though the expression didn’t reach all the way up to his eyes.
Brad could understand the situation the police were in, even feel sympathy for it. They were way over their heads, and just trying to figure out how to protect everyone. But that didn’t mean he had any intention of putting his family or clan at risk.
“I thought you already knew where the dragons were? There were a whole heap of police out at that mountain on the television. I saw it as I came in.”
Detective Inspector Williams’ eyes narrowed. “That’s only one lair. There are two.”
So they knew that much. Had Ultrima talked? If so, how much had he given away? He knew exactly where the Rian lair was. Had he told the police that?
If he had, why would they be asking him?
“I think I’ll wait for my lawyer,” he repeated firmly.
The inspector turned to Nate. “How about you? We don’t have any reason to hold you. If you’ll just answer a few questions, you can be on your way.”
Nate didn’t even waver. “I think I’ll wait for a lawyer too.”
The inspector stared at them for a moment, then heaved a dramatic sigh. “Look, I want to help both of you, but you’re making it difficult. We get that there is a lot going on here. No one expected dragons to suddenly appear in the world, and we’re prepared to overlook a few indiscretions if you’ll just help us out. These creatures are dangerous, and we need to know what we’re up against so that we can keep people safe. Surely you want that as much as we do?”
His voice and words were reasonable. Brad might even have agreed with him a few days ago.
“No one is under any threat from Rian clan,” he said quietly. “They just want to be left alone to live their lives in peace.”
For the first time, Detective Inspector Williams gave a genuine smile. “See, that wasn’t so hard,” he encouraged. “Now how about you tell us where they are? They’re out at the wave rock where we found you, aren’t they?”
Brad’s heart pounded. He’d said too much. Given away too much. All this would be in vain if the police found out where the lair was.
He took a deep breath. He needed to stay calm if he was to have any chance of convincing the police of his story. “No, we told you the truth about the wave rock. Mostly anyway. Although we weren’t trying to get a photo of the dragon. We were chasing it away from our clan.”
“I might just believe your story,” Detective Inspector Williams said, “if you follow it up with the location of the lair.”
Which was just what Brad couldn’t do. “Why do you want to know?” he demanded. Maybe, just maybe, he could get some answers out of the police in return. If not, at least he could stall a little longer. If only he could figure out how to get word to Rian clan, to warn them at the very least.
“We just want to keep an eye on them,” the inspector insisted. “Make sure they’re not threatening Mungaloo. We don’t want to hurt them. The leader of the other clan is cooperating with us, maybe the leader of this one can too.”
It all seemed so reasonable, on the surface.
In Brad’s previously ordered world, he would have trusted the police, told them everything he knew, and believed they would do the right thing.
But in his ordered world, something as unexpected as dragons would never have existed. That changed everything. People were scared, and that meant he couldn’t trust them.
He needed to do everything he could to keep the location of Rian lair a secret as long as he could. “You really just want to talk to them?” Brad asked. “You’re not going to arrest them all too?”
“Of course not,” the inspector said, his voice cheery. “Where would we put all those dragons anyway?”
Brad tried to look uncertain. It wasn’t too hard, he was uncertain. Just not about telling them where the lair was
“There’s a road out of town, running near a creek. If you follow the creek along, there’s a cave. They’re in there.”
That should be suitably vague enough to keep them searching for a while, shouldn’t it?
The inspector looked pleased, at least. “Thanks, gentlemen. You’ve been most helpful. If your story checks out.”
“Are you going to let us go then?” Brad said, though truthfully, he didn’t hold out much hope.
How was he going to warn Lyrian and Rian clan that they had only a very short time to get out of there?
“Not yet,” the inspector said. “But cooperating is a good start.”
He stood up and waved to the officer still standing near the wall. “Senior Constable Lyons, can you show these two men to a room?”
Brad’s heart pounded. They fact that they’d been granted a reprieve did little to alleviate his panic. Once the police realised he’d sent them on a while goose chase, he’d be in exactly the same situation again. Worse actually, because he was pretty sure lying to the police would get him in a lot more trouble than he was already in.
And once they realised he’d been lying, the police would return to wave rock to search there again.
How was he going to warn Lyrian?