Happy Tuesday, Sweetlings! Here are the first few chapters of Winning Paradise to help you escape Covid land. If you decide you need some more Nat and Gage in your life, click HERE .
“Ladies and gentleman, we will be starting our descent shortly. We ask that you please return your seats and trays to their upright position at this time.”
Nat followed the flight attendant’s instructions and tried to stretch in the little space she had stuck in the middle of two MMA fighters. Mark and Shawn, identical twins with deep brown eyes and shaved heads, had been pleasant enough travel companions. On their way to a fight, they’d both been chatty and obviously excited to get to their destination. She had started out sitting in the aisle as requested, but had quickly given up that seat to Mark who had admitted to being claustrophobic. The relief on his face had been proof enough he hadn’t been lying.
“Are you sure we can’t buy you a drink to say thanks for the seat swap once we land?” Mark tightened his seatbelt and Shawn handed Nat hers before doing up his.
She shook her head. “I would have loved to, but I need to get to my hotel and check in. My winner’s letter had specific instructions to be there by two and I do not want to miss my chance to ride in a limo.” She instinctively glanced at her watch. The butterflies in her stomach were starting to flitter about.
“I can’t believe you just won a trip by answering a radio station quiz.” Shawn grinned. “That’s movie plot material.”
She laughed. “Yeah. My life is definitely not movie material.” Well, maybe it was. She just didn’t have the time or desire to tell them about it. Certain things were better left untold.
Nat tucked strands of long dark brown hair behind her ears, catching her breath as the plane touched down on the runway. She hated landing. Landing was always the worst part. It didn’t matter how many times she flew, she always imagined the wheels breaking off on impact and the plane skidding sideways until the wings broke off and it rolled to a stop. She’d seen it once in a movie when she was small and the horror that had implanted itself into her six-year-old brain had refused to leave her.
“All right. Quick selfie before we get off this thing, okay?”
The brothers agreed and crowded in even more to get into the shot. Her sea green eyes were a huge contrast compared to their dark ones. Most people who met her assumed she wore contacts. They were wrong.
“Don’t forget to send that to us later when you have a minute.” Shawn had given her both of their numbers in case she found some time during her vacation to get a drink with them.
Mark nodded. “And don’t forget. If you decide to come watch the fight, tell them you’re with the Hanson brothers.
“Absolutely. You have my word.” Nat was fairly certain she wasn’t going to have time to go see them. She’d won a six-night stay at the amazing five-star Crimson Moon Hideaway Resort and her Elven ass wasn’t planning on leaving the magically hidden piece of heaven reserved strictly for magical folk. Six days of not having to hide who and what she was. It seemed surreal.
The flight attendants had given the okay for everyone to get off the plane and they followed along until they found themselves at the baggage claim. She stretched a proper stretch and shook out her legs.
It’s a good thing I’m only 5’3”, otherwise I’d be dealing with some major leg cramps.
Pulling her good camera out of her carry on, Nat motioned to the pair to get closer together so she could get a decent picture of them.
More than one person stopped to watch as the twins goofed around while she snapped pictures of them.
Taking a step back, her shoulder exploded with pain and she found herself falling, the camera flying out of her hands. Her hip hit the hard floor and she slid a short distance. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Shawn dive through the air, catching the camera before it fell to the ground. He was quick for a big mountain of a man.
“Jesus, lady. Pay attention.”
Nat looked up and found herself staring at a tall man with light blond hair and blue eyes so light they were almost white. A little more than a five o’clock shadow covered his jaw line. He’d have passed as damn good looking if he hadn’t just knocked her on her ass. She could sense the glamour coming off of him and knew instantly; Fae.
“Typical,” she mumbled to no one in particular.
“Dude. What the fuck.” Mark picked her up and set her down as though she’d been a bag of feathers.
Her body checker grabbed her bag off the ground and handed it back. “I’m going to be late.”
Nat put a hand on Mark’s arm when he took a step to go after the quickly disappearing man. “Don’t worry about it. I’m all right.” She took the camera from Shawn, thanking him.
The brothers walked her to the airport exit where one of them flagged down a cab.
“Are you sure you don’t need a ride?” Shawn seemed so worried, it was adorable.
“I’m fine. There’s going to be someone picking me up at the limo spot.” She gave them both hugs. It was crazy how attached she’d gotten to them in just a few hours.
Mark tapped his phone with his finger. “Make sure you phone if you need anything.”
“I will,” she promised, smiling.
Her heart fell as she watched their cab drive away.
“You’re an idiot,” she scolded herself. It wasn’t the Hanson brothers she was so sad to see leave. It was her brothers.
The only girl in a set of triplets, she’d always had a couple of overprotective bodyguards hovering around her. Even as adults, she could always count on Stephen and Erik to have her back.
Nat cleared her throat and pushed some terrible memories away. Hiking her backpack over her shoulder, she took a hold of her suitcase and started walking towards the limousines.
The thought of riding in a limo for the first time in her whole 34 years lightened her mood. She spotted one of the drivers with a sign with her name on it.
He smiled as she approached. “Miss Natalie Greenleaf?”
Nat nodded. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Not a problem. We’ll get to the resort with plenty of time to spare.” He took her luggage and placed it in the trunk before opening one of the doors on the long, sleek, white car. “Help yourself to refreshments.”
“Thank you.” She slipped into the vehicle and sat, surprised at the sight before her. The hot asshole who had run her over at the luggage pickup was sitting at the far end of the car, a beer in his hand.
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Hi.”
At least he had the decency to look embarrassed.
“I’m sorry about before. I’ve never won a trip like this and I was worried I’d lose out if I was late.”
She nodded. “I get that.”
“I shouldn’t have been a dick.”
She couldn’t help but smile at his discomfort.
He gestured to the mini fridge beside him. “Want a drink? There’s everything in there.”
“A beer will do.”
He handed it to her. “You really do need to look where you’re going though.” His lopsided grin let her know he thought he was being cute and charming.
She scoffed and took the drink from him. “And what were you doing that you just bowled me over like that?”
His face turned red.
Yeah. That’s right, buddy. Your hot and cocky look doesn’t work here. She was on this trip to relax, not meet a potential mate.
The small window between the cab and the back of the limo slid open.
“The ride should take us approximately forty-five minutes. Should you need anything, simply let me know.”
Nat smiled and nodded as the window slid shut again.
“Have you been to the Crimson Moon before?” inquired Luther.
She shook her head. “Never. I won this trip from the Magick Network. I was listening to the Stacey Kyle show.”
He grinned. “Me too!”
Taking a sip of her beer, she felt her phone buzz in her pocket. She put it up to her ear. “Detective Greenleaf, here.”
She noticed Luther’s eyebrows shoot up his face.
“Yes, Matt. I’m in the limo. You can quit worrying that I’m going to skip out on this vacation. You watched me get on the bloody plane.” She laughed. “I know I’m quick, but fast enough to dodge out of a plane before you can see me, that’s a bit ridiculous even for your imagination.”
Her partner grunted.
“Now, stay out of trouble until I get home. I’ll be back in a week.”
He hung up on her in his usual fashion. Detective Matthew Cain was a fifty-two-year-old widower who was dead set in his ways and fuck anyone who was bothered by it. It had taken a few years for him to warm up to her as his partner, but they now understood each other perfectly. At this point in her life, he was the closest thing she had to family.
“So, Matt is your boyfriend?”
Luther nodded thoughtfully. “So, does he know….”
Nat shook her head. “No.” Of course, he didn’t know she was an Elf. It was probably the only thing the man didn’t know about her. But the rules were strict and this one was more important than all of them when it came to the supernatural in this world. Humans couldn’t find out about the paranormal. Quite frankly, they just couldn’t accept the possibility that they weren’t the only species at the top of the food chain. Did it sometimes happen that one of them found out? It did. When that happened, that particular human wasn’t allowed to disclose that secret. Did she want to tell Matt about it? Sometimes, but being in the dark was one of the things keeping her partner safe from some of the evils in her past.
“Another beer?” Luther’s question snapped her out of her thoughts.
She glanced at the empty beer in her hand and took another from him. “Thanks.” She took a sip. “So, what do you do when you’re not on vacation?”
“I’m a laywer.”
“Let me guess. Defense.”
“How did you know?”
A wave of goosebumps ran over her entire body and her glamour evaporated. Not that she needed to use much. All she really had to hide from humans was her ears. Luther, on the other hand, was in need of much more magic to hide his true self. A shiver ran though him and it took some effort not to show her surprise. Damn! If she’d thought he was good looking before… His pointed ears poked though his almost white hair, his eyes became glowing pools of blue, and his wings were beautiful iridescent mixes of blues and greens. Fucking Fae with their gorgeous everything. Did she think he was smoking? Absolutely. But Fae would always remind her of terrible things.
“Oh, well, pure hatred isn’t usually the reaction get when the magic slips…” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Sorry. It’s not you.”
Nat shook her head. “I’m not talking about it.” She swallowed the rest of her beer and smiled an apology.
The limo slowed and she glanced out the window. They’d arrived.
Stepping out of the limo, all Nat could do was gawk. The resort was a stunning, massive, six story building surrounded by wilderness. It was amazing. Nat took in the array of beings walking in and out of the doors. Elves, Fae, shifters, elemental spirits…
“Holy shit,” she whispered. She’d never seen a centaur in person before. The man in question called out to someone else and a young boy/foal came galloping around the corner of the building. The pair trotted into the lobby.
A tall, curvy, African American woman with curly black hair strode out of the resort entrance. Nat did a double take at the large white wolf at her side. The woman spread her arms, her entire being beaming with her smile.
“Welcome to Crimson Moon Hideaway! My name is Jianna and this is Ruin.”
The wolf tilted her head in silent greeting.
“Congratulations on winning our contest! Let’s get you signed in so you can get settled into your rooms. You’ll be able to have a rest before supper. The rest of our winners will be here shortly.”
Nat turned to grab her luggage only to find that it was already being whisked away.
“Please. Follow me.” Jianna turned and led them into the building.
The lobby was breathtaking. Tall ceilings adorned with chandeliers had Nat whistling her amazement. The main area had an immense four-sided fireplace with seating and tables. There were redwood accents everywhere making Nat feel as though the building was really just a part of the forest around them.
“This is gorgeous!”
Jianna turned back to her, beaming. “Thank you! It’s my little piece of heaven.”
Once signed in, the pair made their way to the sixth floor where they were booked into some of the junior suites. Nat walked into hers and grinned.
The place was massive. It had a living room, breakfast nook off of the bedroom, and a bathroom bigger than half of her apartment back home. She set her bags down and stretched out on the bed.
This bed right here was officially her little piece of heaven. She wondered if there was any way to sneak an entire mattress out of the room on check out day.
“Or you could just ask where they got the beds and order one for yourself.”
Rolling over, she reached for the agenda on the night table. There were no plans set in stone for the rest of today. Jianna had mentioned the rest of the winners would arrive later in the day and they would all meet at the bar around seven to make introductions before being free to do as they pleased for the rest of the evening.
Nat checked her watch. Four o’clock. Her stomach growled and she was reminded it was past supper time back home.
She decided to change into her bikini in case she decided to take a swim after eating. Getting ready, she put her phone in her back pocket and made her way back to the elevator.
Luther was getting into it as she stepped out of the room. He kept the door open for her.
Nat smiled. “Thanks.”
“I’m heading to the restaurant. You?”
She nodded. “Same.”
“Care to eat together?”
She laughed when he made a big show of holding his arm out to her so she could hook elbows with him.
The maître de sat them at a table for two and left them with the food and drink specials.
Nat read through the selections deciding first on the honey glazed chicken breast before settling on the steak Neptune with shrimp skewer.
Luther ordered pan seared salmon.
“And what can I get you to drink,” inquired their waitress.
“I’ll have a glass of house red, please,” answered Nat.
“I’ll have a glass of Chablis.”
Nat had a look around the restaurant. It was gorgeous and perfectly named; Lumberjacks. The walls were made to look like redwoods. The tables were made from the giant trees. She especially loved how the staff wore jeans and flannel. They looked so comfortable in their boots.
“This might be my new favorite restaurant,” she announced.
Luther laughed. “It is definitely homey and comfortable.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “You probably eat at all the hoity toity hot shot restaurants back home.”
He grinned and shrugged. “I do enjoy fine dining, though probably not as much as you assume.”
Their wine appeared and they took a sip.
“What are you most excited about on our itinerary?” she inquired.
“I think that would have to be the snorkeling. I love swimming, but I don’t get many chances to do it. You?”
“Zip lines. I’ve never done it.”
He nodded. “It’s a rush. If you’re not scared of heights, you’ll love it.”
The rest of the meal was quiet as their food was put down on the table and the pair dug in. Nat made short work of her steak and sat back with a groan.
“That was amazing.”
Luther laughed. “How you destroyed that steak was amazing.” He watched her intently as she took a sip of her second glass of wine.
“So, is there a Mrs. Luther waiting at home?”
He shook his head. “I’m not a settle down kind of Fae. You?”
He nodded. “I imagine it takes a lot of overtime to become a detective by your age.”
“Well, should you be interested, I do find law enforcement to be quite a turn on.” He flashed her a lopsided grin and she had to laugh.
“I’m good, thanks.”
He seemed about to argue his case and she was grateful when he simply shrugged and changed the topic.
“Luther, Nat!” Jianna strode towards the pair, two other people following behind her. “How are your drinks?”
“Delicious.” Nat took a drink of hers to emphasize the point. She couldn’t remember what it was called, but it tasted like sour peach candies.
“Perfect!” She stepped to the side and gestured to the group that had come to stand with them. “I’d like to introduce you to the other winners of our Paradise for a Week Contest. Venice won though an online ad.”
Venice grinned. “It’s crazy, right? I mean, I never win anything!” She wasn’t very old. Twenty-two? Twenty-three? Nat wasn’t betting older than twenty-five. At least look wise. She had to remind herself she was at a Paranormal resort and quite honestly, she could have been looking at a three-hundred-year-old witch. Venice’s straight, shoulder length auburn hair, light brown eyes, and petite stature revealed nothing of her supernatural status.
Jianna turned to the woman standing beside Venice. She was tall with pale skin, straight bright red hair that reached just past her ass, and green eyes that glowed like Luther’s. Her wings were an iridescent mix of pinks and blues. Fae. There was no mistaking them for anything else. “I’d like to introduce Mishael. She won answering a quiz in a magazine.”
Mishael laughed. “I was actually runner up. Well, my friend won the trip, but she couldn’t make it, so I got to come in her place. This is so exciting!”
Nat smiled, determined not to let her previous experience with the Fae folk to lead her to judge those she met here.
Jianna frowned and glanced back the way she’d just come. “It seems we lost Gage somewhere along the way. Venice, Mishael, why don’t you join Nat and Luther and I’ll go track down our lost friend.”
“No worries. I’m here.”
Everyone turned to look at the man who had somehow snuck up on them.
“I got sidetracked at the fish tank.”
His dark brown eyes met Nat’s sea green ones and the pair froze. She swallowed the sip of the drink she’d just taken purely on reflex. Her heart, her lungs, her muscles… nothing seemed to work properly. She was going to die from lack of oxygen if she couldn’t manage to take a breath soon.
Luther’s hand on her arm shocked her back to her body. “Are you ok?”
She nodded and cleared her throat, still unable to look away. He wasn’t tall. Maybe five foot eight or nine. His hair was thick and dark brown, almost black, just like his eyes. He was muscled. But not ‘hit the gym and fuck around with steroids’ kind of muscled. It was work his ass off at a physical job kind of muscled. She could see it in his arms under his dark green t-shirt and his calves sticking out of his black board shorts.
She fought the urge to reach forward to touch his chest. What the fuck was wrong with her?
He cleared his throat, his tongue wetting his lips. She barely hid her groan.
“I’m, uh… hi. I’m Gage.”
“Natalie. Nat.” She knew there were other people around them. She could still see a Luther shaped shadow in her peripherals and the rest… the rest of the room was a blur. The only thing in focus was him. Gage.
He’d heard the expression ‘feeling like you hit a brick wall’ and up until this very moment, he’d had no idea exactly what that would be like. But this was it. This was driving down the highway at full speed and running into a brick wall that suddenly appeared. There was no warning. The instant his eyes met hers, there was nothing to be done. He was stuck in place, his heart racing, his lungs winded.
This was her. How was it possible? Here? Now? He’d gone thirty-five years barely giving a second to the thought of finding his mate and she just happened to be one of the other winners of the contest?
He took in her long dark hair and sea green eyes. Her ears poked through her luscious waves and he managed to gain a bit of control over himself. Elf. She was an Elf. He cleared his throat and wet his lips.
“I’m, uh… hi. I’m Gage.”
“Nat,” he whispered the name to no one in particular.
He felt his bear fighting to come to the surface. They needed to claim her here and now.
He swallowed hard and glanced to Jianna. “You’ll have to excuse me.”
It took every ounce of will power to turn on his heels and walk out of the room. One part of him wanted to run back to her, throw her over his shoulder and haul ass to his suite. The other part of him wanted to run out of the hotel as fast as he could before the first part won. He managed to speed walk out of the hotel before he lost control and his bear took over.
Magic flowed through him, the transformation taking mere seconds. A few of the guests who were outside stopped to watch as his form changed and a grizzly stood in his place.
RUN! He screamed.
The bear hesitated a fraction of a second before breaking into a run, heading into the redwood forest.
What was wrong with him? He’d never lost control of his bear before. He could feel his other half’s confusion as well, though the bear’s was much more primal. They had found their mate. Why were they leaving her behind? Why were they running away?
Because we aren’t a fucking rapist and bending an unwilling woman over a bar stool in front of a crowd is illegal and wrong on so many levels!
The bear snorted.
Gage’s mind wandered back to the scenario he’d just described, but this time, she was willing and they were alone. The thought of her bent over, her legs spread, her eyes meeting his as she looked back over her shoulder while he claimed her…
Fuck me. There’s no way I can be anywhere near her. There’s no way I’ll stay in control.
He reached a small lake and stopped. The sun had almost finished setting and the water shimmered a deep fuchsia. Huffing in frustration, he paced back and forth, his claws digging into the damp earth. There really was no other choice. He’d stay in the woods until early morning and when all the other guests were sleeping, he’d checkout and head home.
His bear growled.
I know it’s been a long time coming, but I can’t do this! Look at us! We’re a fucking mess!
He stopped short, his nostrils flaring.
Holy shit, it’s her.
He turned towards her, trying to calm the shaking in his legs.
Fuck me, she’s gorgeous.