Night’s Blaze

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Lily loved her job. It was an odd thing, especially since she grew up with money. Neither she nor her siblings had ever wanted for anything. Yet, there was something fulfilling in doing a job to earn an income. Even when those jobs were terrible or dirty.

As soon as she arrived at Dreagan months ago, she knew it was a special place. Its beauty was unrivaled, and the people were unlike any she had ever come across. Perhaps that’s why she liked going into work every day. While at Dreagan, she learned to forget the past a little every day. She also realized that she was the only one affected by what she couldn’t let go of or face.

Lily walked out the back of the shop and stacked the crates that workers would pick up to refill with bottles of the world-famous Scotch. She lifted her face to the sun and closed her eyes. It was a perfect day. Her life was on track, and she was slowly gaining back her confidence. The only thing that could make it better would be Rhys.

Rhys with his charming smile and tantalizing body. She wanted to run her fingers along his hard jaw, square chin, and lean cheeks and feel the bristle of his dark stubble from his five o’clock shadow.

She wanted to trace his nose and his straight brows a shade lighter than his dark brown hair. She would then sink her fingers into the cool length of his long hair that hung to his shoulders. All the while looking into his aqua-ringed dark blue eyes, wondering when she would feel the soft touch of his lips again.

Ah, his lips. A man shouldn’t have such a mouth. His smile could melt hearts, but his kiss could reduce anyone to ash. It was his bottom lip, fuller than the top, that made his mouth so irresistible.

She sighed and opened her eyes as she lowered her face. Who was she kidding? The women Rhys preferred were the exact opposite of her—tall, leggy, blonde, and big chested. Those women exuded sexuality, and she could barely muster a smile in Rhys’s presence she was so nervous.

But she could still dream.

No one could touch her dreams. No one could take them away.

Lily looked down at her sweater and skirt. It was one of several outfits she had left over from a time she yearned to forget. Dennis had been a jealous boyfriend. He hated when anyone looked at her, and most times when it happened, he would get into a fight.

She sought to divert some of his anger by asking him what he wanted her to wear. Soon, her closet was full of loose, baggy clothes that were meant for someone six sizes larger than her. The clothes became a habit, but she hated them. She had changed her fate. It was time to do the same with her meager wardrobe.

Lily turned to retrace her steps, but halted when she caught sight of Dreagan Manor through the tall hedgerow. All she had ever seen was a glimpse of the manor, but she knew it had to be impressive, like everything else on Dreagan.

It was also where Rhys lived.

She discovered that fact by accident when she overheard a conversation between Cassie and Jane. Lily felt awful for eavesdropping, but how could she not once she heard Rhys’s name? Knowing that tidbit was like holding a special secret.

Then again, everything about Dreagan was unique.

Not just because they were selective about who they allowed to sell their whisky, but because they kept the distillery small instead of growing it, which kept the staff intimate. In her first week of work, she learned she was the newest hire in over two years. That didn’t count any of the Dreagan wives, as she called them.

The wives were a close group, closer than was normal. They were also careful never to talk too much about their lives in front of others. They were kind, giving, friendly, and welcoming, and yet Lily knew they were hiding something.

It wasn’t obvious to most, but her time with them made her see what others did not. Curious since childhood, Lily had gotten out of that habit quick enough with Dennis. She didn’t need to know the Dreagan wives’ secret. It was enough that she was part of Dreagan in her very small way. The people had no idea how they helped to change her. The land healed her with its simple and wild splendor.

All she needed was a little bit more time to find the girl she had once been. Then, she would gather her courage and return to her family.

Lily pivoted and walked back into the shop since Cassie and Jane were gone to lunch. She smiled as she looked at the walls lined with whisky that brought in scores of people each day. The distillery wasn’t open for tours all year round, but the shop rarely closed. It allowed the people of the nearby villages to buy the whisky.

She made her way to the shelves nearest the door. The two sections of shelving six feet wide and seven feet high were the only portion of the shop that didn’t have whisky.

Lily ran her hand down the spine of a book titled Dreagan Whisky: How it All Came to Be. She straightened the book with the others of the same title. It was one of the most popular sellers. Everyone wanted to know Dreagan’s secret so they could repeat it. As if Dreagan would tell anyone their secret.

She moved to the next set of books, which contained pictures of Dreagan from the distillery to the sheep and cattle. She knew every picture by heart since she looked at the book often enough.

There were several other sets of books, all about Dreagan in some way, shape, or form. What wasn’t in any of them? Anyone associated with Dreagan. Constantine’s name was mentioned, but there was no photograph of him. The books—all of them—focused on the whisky.

Next, Lily straightened the stickers. Dragons were apparently popular. They sold dozens of stickers every day. Then again, the Dreagan logo of the double dragons back-to-back was beautifully done. All anyone had to see were those double dragons, and they knew it was Dreagan. It was smart marketing.

Just another way Dreagan cornered the market where others failed.

Lily walked to the back to get another box, this one holding the whisky glasses that sold as well as the whisky itself. The glasses were short and wide with the double dragon logo etched into the glass. She was stocking the shelf with more of the glasses when the chime over the door dinged, letting her know someone had entered.

“Welcome to Dreagan,” Lily said over her shoulder. “I’ll be right with you.”

“Take your time.”

She froze. That voice, gravelly and a little whiny, sounded just like Dennis.