It had been a dragon, a real, live, mythological dragon of pure gold. The dragon’s scales glistened under the moon like mother of pearl, waxing through yellow and white gold as it moved. He hadn’t had any wings. Looking at the dragon had reminded her of the artwork she’d seen of Asian dragons that were long and sleek, with faces that reminded her of a bearded dog, and five thick claws that gripped the earth. Something in the back of her mind whispered to her, but she couldn’t grasp it, and didn’t try too hard. She was looking at a living, breathing, dragon, and she wished she could feel his scales under her fingertips. She wondered if they would be cool to the touch like a serpent, or warm like flesh. She stared until her eyes went dry, but she couldn’t blink, couldn’t look away…especially when the dragon melted into a man.

He was one of the most beautiful men she had ever seen in her life. Thick, tawny hair fell around his shoulders—and such broad shoulders they were. They looked like they were large enough to carry the world on them, or at the very least able to carry her troubles, and she had plenty of them. She hadn’t been able to make out his face as he walked to his back door—looking left and right as if checking if anyone could see him—she was too far away. But he moved with a confidence and grace that said he was the lord of all he surveyed and knew it. His broad chest flexed as he moved, open to the elements around him. Even as far away as she was, she knew that he was tall. He towered over the bushes between their yards, and those same bushes came to her diaphragm and she was not short at just a couple inches under six feet tall. The moon danced on his pale flesh like a lover. He was magnificent. If her mouth had gone dry at the sight, she attributed it to fear and not desire. Then he’d disappeared into his home all while she’d been simply staring in awe.

Maybe she hadn’t seen what she thought she’d seen. She was nearsighted. She had the diagnosis and the paperwork to match. Deep inside though, she hoped she had seen what she thought because if she had, then her life was saved. Nose pressed to her bedroom window’s pane, she waited in the darkness for another flash of gold to glitter against the hedges edged in silver under the moonlight. She didn’t know how long she waited there, hope dwindling every second, but finally the coldness of her limbs forced her from the window and to her dresser. She tossed on some sweats as quickly as possible and ran from her room. She refused to let her hope die. She needed it. She hadn’t felt hope in what felt like ages, and if anyone needed it she did.

For the last two years she’d been plagued by a stalker who’d made her leave everything she’d every known behind. He’d taken away her spirit, independence, life, and worst of all, her family. She didn’t contact them out of fear that he would go after them because she continued to elude him. She’d learned not to make friends, to keep her head down, to take menial jobs that may or may not report her earnings, and to keep on the move. Somehow Roach had still been able to stay just steps behind her. Just tonight she’d received a phone call with nothing but the sound of his breathing, and she knew she was going to have to leave, to get out before his little game turned deadly for her.

Brook knew it would.

Deep inside she felt like she was nearing the end of the string he so conveniently had her on. If she didn’t get some sort of protection she was going to die. Funny how she was so numb now that she didn’t freeze at the thought. She knew she was desperate then. Desperate enough to believe the golden scales she’d seen turn into a man could be her salvation. She didn’t have enough time to be afraid, to think that this was absolutely idiotic. All she knew was she wanted to survive, by any means necessary, and the man who couldn’t possibly be of this world was the way to go.

She didn’t know who Roach was or how she’d come into contact with him. All she knew was that she’d had a good life that had suddenly come crashing down. Dead flowers on her door step, one time a sliced up cat in her bed, and notes expressing love and death at once appearing in her mailbox had become normal events in her life. After going to the police and realizing that there wasn’t much they could do as the stalker hadn’t actually committed a crime against her, she’d chosen to run, run as fast as she could and never look back. She’d named him Roach in her mind because he was just as abhorrent and hard to get rid of like the critter. She’d kept running until it led her to windy and open White Peaks Colorado, and next door to a man who could save her. If she could just reach him.

The blast of cold that shot over her when she raced out of her door was bracing but she kept moving. Kept running despite not having closed her door. She didn’t have much in her temporary housing. It was furnished with the bare necessities to live. She leapt smoothly over the bushes separating her from her neighbor’s land. Running from Roach had taught her to be athletic, to trust in her power enough to know how to get away, to hide. She just couldn’t beat him. Each of her muscles worked as a well-oiled machine as she ate up the distance between their houses. She’d chosen her location for its wide open spaces. It was surrounded by woods and she could only see the back of the dragon’s door, and another neighbor to the opposite side, if she was on the other side of her house.

Some may have thought she should have purchased housing around people, something in the low rent district where she could work in cash only, or near to a police station. She’s learned though, not too long after she’d first started running, that she was safer where she could hide. If she was farther of the grid, it took longer for Roach to find her, and there were more places to hide when she had to escape. Places way out of the way like this could also come free of rent. Abandoned and hard to sell, she could take up residence for months before anyone knew any better. She knew how to survive.

Brook pushed her body faster, somehow more hopeful than she had been in a long time. If she could just reach that door, that seemed miles away when it was maybe only half a mile, she would be okay. She tucked her chin against the cold and ran right up to his back door. She pounded on it with stiff fists, tears freezing her face. She didn’t know what she would find but at least trying would be better than taking her fate lying down. She didn’t know when she had started crying, she just knew she couldn’t stop it. She felt like she was cracking inside, shattering into a million pieces, all because she wanted to hope. All because she wanted to live. To be free of Roach once and for all. Something in her was dying, something in her that said she didn’t even have the humanity she’d once had before because she wanted Roach dead. She wanted him to go out with the fear that he had given her, as painfully as he could into that dark night.

If she didn’t get help she may lose her very soul.

A light blared on and the door opened. She lost her balance as she’d been leaning on the door and fell into a wall of a chest. It was warm. So very warm, and she hadn’t been warm in forever. Strong hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her, and, somehow, she wanted to lean into that strength. She wanted to wrap it around her like a security blanket so that she could wake up and realize this was a dream. All of her fear, depression, and loneliness nearly overwhelmed her as she leaned into his touch. His heat was warming the cold center of ice that had become her insides. She felt something deep inside flare, right under her skin, like the brush of feathers reaching for this man. She felt his body tense as he sucked in a breath, and she feared he would turn her away. That he would not help her. She dug her nails into his chest, feeling the muscles ripple. On the edge of her vision white dots were floating and she knew she had only seconds to say something, anything to make this man take her in. It had to count, or she would slip away and would not be safe. She took a deep breath and forced herself to speak.

“Help me,” was all she could whisper before darkness, sweet oblivion, claimed her.

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