Shifter - Book Eight
Natasha Millard never knew what hit her when she caught the eye of Drake Draeger. She didn't understand the hunger that his dark eyes held for her, or comprehend how much that hunger would consume her. And she had no clue what to do when he claimed her for himself, forsaking her father.
The Draeger Legacy has come full circle. The claim has been made. Who will survive the burn of the mating?
Hanging lights broke through the darkness of the night. A band played soft music and shifters both male and female danced and talked, reacquainted themselves with old friends and new. It was a special party, one that eighteen-year-old Natasha Millard was determined to enjoy.
Finally, she was able to join in the special parties her father held. Finally, she was allowed to dress up and come out of her room to drink the sweet wine and sample the fine pastries. And yet, even thought she was of age, her father still made it very clear that she was not to engage in conversation with the males unless her nanny stood next to her.
Ah, her nanny. Just the thought of that bitter old woman following her around, keeping her cold icy eyes on Natasha’s every move had her wanting to sigh and return to her room. The old woman just refused to let her have any fun. Always harping about the place of a lady such as herself. Hell, this was the modern days, not the old days where you had the coming out balls and chaperons everywhere you went. Yet, that was how her father still treated her. At eighteen, she still had to have her nanny on her heels, guarding her.
“You drink too much of that, then you’ll be a silly as the rest of them.” As usual, Elli Piper, her nanny and faithful lap dog to her father, took the wine glass from her hand before she could take a sip of the refreshing drink. “A lady never—”
“Yes, I know,” Natasha snapped, turning on the woman. “A lady never drinks, talks to people she doesn’t know and shuts up in a corner until someone might notice her.” She crossed her arms over her breasts, narrowing her eyes on her. “I’ve heard it all before and so many times I’m sick of hearing it. Elli, I’m eighteen. I think I can have a drink at my father’s party.”
Elli smiled. A chilling sight with all the wrinkles on her face and the coldness in her gray eyes. The way she looked, Natasha wondered if the woman was ever pretty or always a fright for sore eyes.
At five-three, Elli had a slight hunch to her back. She always had her salt and pepper hair pulled back into a tight bun at the back of her head, pulling the sides of her wrinkled face back. Sometimes her hair was so tight her eyes would slit, and those were the days Natasha really worked at staying away from her. Just because, every time she saw her she would start to laugh.
Oval shape face, thin lips, it was a wonder at times how she became a nanny in the first place. Natasha swore that it was the only thing she could do since she appeared so drab in the black dresses she wore.
“Oh, so you think just because you’re eighteen that you can drink and flop around with whomever you please?” Her shrill voice had Natasha rolling her eyes. At one time, she would’ve cringed at the sound, but tonight it just irritated the hell out of her. “Not on my watch. You’re a lady and you’re going to stay one until your father sees fit for you to mate.”
“I doubt that day will ever come, thank you very much.” She took the glass back out of her hand, drinking a large amount of the liquid.
“Never doubt a thing, young lady,” once more her glass was taken from her hands, but this time it was by her father. “And Elli is right. You shouldn’t be drinking. You’re still too young.”
Philip Millard glared hard at Natasha. She instantly lowered her eyes to the ground, hands fisted into the long cream silk of her dress. As always, her father could make her feel like a small child with a glare—his show of disapproval.
Her father just turned fifty and still he moved like a shifter of youth. He stood at six foot even, built strong, tough, and carried himself as a man who silently demanded respect. His thick black hair only recently showed a hint of his age. Specks of gray touched the sides and a few wrinkles around the eyes. Besides that, her father still looked like he was in his thirties.
“If you didn’t want to me to at least enjoy myself, why did you bring me home?” she asked, holding back her anger. For the past three years, she spent away from home in a boarding school, only coming home for weekends and holiday. And then she was guarded by her childhood nanny.
“Not now, Natasha,” he snapped, causing her to jump at the sharpness of his tone. “We’ll discuss this later.”
She looked up at him. Pain deep inside her chest hit, just as it always did when he brushed her aside. “It’s funny how each time you push me away it always feels like the first. You think by now I would be use to it.”
She brushed away from him quickly, leaving her father to stand with her nanny. With each step she took, she kept telling herself not to cry. To cry would be to show weakness, and weakness was never tolerated. But how could she not cry when she was once again brought home for a fancy party only for her father to show his friends what a perfect little home he had.
Their home was anything but happy or perfect. He wanted a son. She knew that from the day she turned five and heard him in a drunken slumber bitching to one of his friends. His mate failed him. She died giving him a daughter, not the son she promised. A daughter was fragile, needed to be protected from the monsters like himself. Useless, you found a reason for them.
Natasha was fragile, delicate, just like her mother, Amy Millard. Natasha even looked like her. They both were only five-three. Heart shaped faces, sensual lips, narrow cheekbones, dainty hands, and body. Some used to say Natasha was a porcelain e doll and her father treated her as if she might break like one any second. But where Amy had the dark colored hair, Natasha had her father’s soft wheat silk upon her head. She kept it long, parted in the middle, cascading down her back in a drape of silk. It was the only thing of her father’s she had. The only thing reminding her at times that she was his daughter.
Hugging herself as she walked, Natasha smiled at the few who seemed to have the courage to speak to her. It was another thing she noticed the last few times she was home. People around her seemed afraid to talk to her. It was as if she had this sign over head telling all around, Beware. Philip Millard’s daughter was home. Keep at least one hundred feet away if you valued your life.
She hated how they all treated her. Don’t talk, or daddy will get upset. Don’t look at her, or her father will growl and demand you back off. Pretend she isn’t around, and everything will be just fine. That was her life and it didn’t seem like things were going to get any better.
* * * *
“You think you can keep it in your pants tonight?” Allen Draeger asked his son while reading the paper. They were together in the back seat of the limo, facing each other, or, as Drake like to think of it— facing the paper.
Drake Draeger glanced from the tinted window to his father. One eyebrow went up in small amusement. His father had made it clear that the last girl Drake enjoyed his father didn’t approve.
“Why, would you like to join me next time?” Drake tossed back, slumping down low in the seat.
With a snap of the paper it closed, Allen looked hard at Drake, and Drake smiled back in his cool manner. For the past few months a battle of wills had been raging in the house. At twenty-two, Drake was trying to make his own way in the world and thought he was doing a pretty damn fine job of it. He had his own money, grounds with a house and the start of his own business in the stock market. It was amazing to him how well he learned how to buy, sell and trade stock and make a shitload of money doing it. Money his father didn’t know about it.
“Your smart ass ways, the playboy shit stops now, Drake,” Allen growled. “I’m tired of bailing your ass out of messes like the last one.”
Drake shrugged his shoulders. “There wasn’t anything to bail my ass out of. She was willing, the mood hit me. I fucked her. End of story.”
“That girl was the daughter of one of my good friends,” Allen’s voice rumbled in his anger over being reminded about what Drake did.
“Come on, Dad,” Drake sighed, “I didn’t ruin her. I wasn’t her first and sure I’m not going to be the last.”
His father growled louder this time and Drake backed off. He liked to push his father to a certain point and always knew when to pull back before things got too far out of hand.
“This is going to stop,” Allen stated in his authoritative voice. “You’re too damn old to be out playing like a bitch in heat. Its time you went to a Gathering and found a mate.”
Drake resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the man. For the past six months all he wanted to talk about was Drake going to a Gathering and finding a mate. Have babies, settle down. That was it. Live life to the fullest was out of the question. Too many responsibilities for a man like him. blablabla! He was sick to death of hearing this crap.
“I’m not interested in the Gathering,” Drake breathed out. “Watching the public matings makes me sick. Don’t understand how any male could let his daughter go through with that.”
“It’s our way, Drake.”
“Well maybe the way needs to be changed.” He couldn’t keep the passion from his voice or the interest. “Would you let a daughter be publicly mated?” He stared straight into his father’s eyes, cocking his head to the side. “Didn’t think so. So why in the hell would you want me to do it to another man? The ways can be changed,” Drake said, then blew out a ragged breath and went back to looking out the window.
They were heading to the Millard home. Philip Millard was one of those guys who believed that the Gatherings were an important part of their history. To bring your children together in the natural way with a public screwing was okay. And yet, his own daughter had yet to show her face at one. Drake thought of him as a hypercritic in the biggest manner.
There were rumors that his daughter was too fragile to go to any of the Gatherings. Others said she was still too young and wouldn’t be able to handle the demands of a male. Drake would put money down that the bastard just didn’t want his daughter there. That like so many other fathers with some money, he wanted to save his only child for something important—treat her as a damned investment. That had him snorting to himself.
The limo turned into the drive. It stopped and the backdoors opened. Drake stepped out, looked up at the night sky, and closed his eyes. He took in the fresh scent of the night deep into his lungs. He could make out all the sweet scents of the night and the warm bodies of many young ladies around—ladies that he had no desire to greet or meet—mostly because tonight was a meeting as well as a party for the new members of the Gathering Cabinet.
His father wanted to join the cabinet with the intention of putting some civilization into it. It was all too barbaric, too harsh for the females, too raw. And without any kind of order in it then more fathers were going to keep their daughters away, and that would lead to many new problems. One being, males would start hunting again, taking females from their families without a care to anyone or anything around them.
“Let’s find our host,” Allen remarked, getting Drake’s full attention.
Drake followed his father out into the grounds. Trees were lit with hanging lights. Pits held roasting meat, tables lined with food and many bins with ice cold drinks sat around in spots all over. Shifters a many stood around talking, eating, and drinking. They laughed, joked, teased, and flirted. Drake could feel the relaxed manner in which they celebrated the night.
As he walked behind his father, Drake ran his hand through the long locks of dark black hair from his eyes. He kept it long on top, parted and feathered back, somewhat shorter around his neck to irate his father. Allen liked all things in order, including one’s appearance. But Drake liked his hair long, free blowing in the wind.
He stopped when the soft breeze of the night blew the most subtle, sweetest scent he ever did smell right up his nose. It went through his body, tantalizing each cell, each nerve ending and pooled together right between his legs. His cock thickened, hardened, and became so painfully hard he almost moaned aloud in pain.