Sea Pilot Dragon’s Forbidden Mate by Brittany White

1

Daisy

Daisy Ashford’s cell phone buzzed at the same time that her office phone rang. Her emails rolled in, one after the other. And as soon as she answered one text, a new one would pop up.

She sat in her plush office chair in her high-rise office content in the knowledge that her life was full, and would continue to be so, for as long as she wanted.

Her accounting firm, Ashford Accounting, was bursting with more business than she could handle, just the way she liked it. She’d gained a reputation for always being available for her clients. She didn’t foist them off on her secretary or an intern. If they wanted to speak to an accountant, then that’s what they got. It was certainly what they paid for.

She charged a premium for her services, but she also donated several hours a week to pro bono work for nonprofits that couldn't afford to pay an accountant.

She was a workaholic and proud of it.

Her friends hated it when their work piled up. They claimed it overwhelmed them and stressed them out and made them want to run away and hide in the woods. Not Daisy. She knew what it was like to live in the wilderness, and she never wanted to do it again. Ever. Even just seeing a photo of a tent or a sleeping bag would send a wave of revulsion right down her spine.

At first, not a single one of her friends took her seriously when she tried to explain why she never wanted to leave the city. Later on, they had believed her, but it had taken a lot of convincing.

“Did they abuse you?” was the most frequent question.

No. Her parents had not abused her. They had even loved her, in their own peculiar way. Not as much as they loved themselves, of course. Or even as much as they had loved adventure. But they had doted on her, the same way a person spoils a new kitten—when it was convenient for them.

She had never gone to school, or owned a television, or seen a movie in a theater. She’d also never flown in a plane or eaten in a restaurant, not until she left home. She’d never had a single friend outside the commune.

Yes, she’d grown up in a commune; she had to repeat it over and over to herself. No one from New York would really be able to imagine it. Her parents had joined before she was born. It was a group of like-minded people who’d joined together. What bound them together wasn’t a shared religion—there were all sorts of faiths that were practiced within the commune—but a shared outlook on life. Some people considered it a life of idyllic pleasure. No schedules, no traffic, no demands from the outside world.

Those people were thankful every day for the commune. Not Daisy.

And didn’t she feel like a total ass when she retold the story? Because she sounded like an ungrateful brat. It did sound perfect. Growing their own food, living a sustainable life, not contributing to pollution…

But there were drawbacks too. They didn’t see doctors. She’d nearly died from strep throat when she was seven. They didn’t see dentists either, and as a result, she’d had to pull a tooth herself, one that clearly had a cavity. She’d needed glasses for years, but that was something else they didn’t believe in. They didn’t have any books, other than guides on raising crops or natural remedies.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. She watched her uncle waste away from kidney failure, and she watched her grandmother struggle with diabetes.

And then she watched her aunt die in childbirth.

The baby lived while its mother did not.

Her aunt had four other children who she left behind. After her aunt had died, Daisy had been put in charge of helping raise the youngest two of those five children. Daisy learned to change cloth diapers and make food for babies and rock a little one to sleep. She swaddled her youngest cousin up in a blanket and wore him in a cloth sling for over a year. She took good care of him, but she had only been fourteen.

She planted peas and okra and corn, then picked it all too. She learned to kill a rabbit and skin it, and how to make stew. She could live off the land.

There was a darker side too, one that no one liked to talk about. When someone inside the commune screwed up, the commune took care of it. There was no access to social workers, nurses, counselors, police officers, or judges who might help. Who might investigate. Daisy knew that all too well.

When she was ten, she’d figured out how to sneak off to the public library. It wasn’t a fancy place. There were no glass panes or steel shelves. It was just a small brick building, but it was full of books. She read for hours. When she got back, no one noticed she’d been gone.

Daisy pulled herself from her memories. They weren’t productive. She’d gone to therapy, and she’d dealt with her anger.

She glanced at her calendar. She had a 3:00 p.m. meeting with a client. She opened the spreadsheet for their file and started analyzing the data. She would be able to recommend that they open a Roth IRA plan to save money on their taxes. She would advise them to contribute the maximum amount.

Her phone rang, and that time one of the few numbers she dreaded flashed across the screen. Very few calls bothered her. She didn’t mind scammers looking for a quick mark; she didn’t mind courtesy callers who were selling some vague product, and she didn’t mind hysterical clients who needed some firm reassurance. But she very much minded that her mother was calling.

“Hello, Mom,” Daisy said, bracing herself.

“Hello, honey. Do you think you might come home for Christmas? We miss you.”

Home. It sure as hell wasn’t the commune. Daisy stared listlessly out the window at the lights twinkling below. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to get away for Christmas. But I’d be happy to fly you guys up here for a few days.”

“Oh, you know we can’t be away from the animals that long.”

This was a song and dance that always went through, each of them playing their role. Her mother always wanted her to come back to the commune for any holiday.

Daisy wasn’t going anywhere. The last time she’d gone back to the commune had been a disaster. She hadn’t wanted to, not at all. But she’d been guilted into it. Her parents expected her to come back for visits, yet they adamantly refused to come to the city, citing their objections to air pollution and plastic waste. Sick of hearing them moan about the evils of the city, she’d offered to meet them anywhere of their choosing, as long as it was outside the commune.

Guess who had a million and one excuses for why they couldn’t leave? Her parents. They were selfish in their own weird ways, and she refused to indulge them. They sure had never indulged her. But they were still her parents, and she loved them.

“I can’t get away right now, Mom, but if you change your mind, the offer is open.”

“Thanks, honey. I had one more thing to ask.”

Oh God. It was going to happen again. It was mortifying for Daisy, although she wasn’t sure her mother felt any sort of chagrin at all. Daisy braced herself, squeezing her eyes closed as if that could somehow fix the hot rush of second-hand embarrassment.

“Do you think you could lend us some money again? The last batch was so helpful. We’ve bought some goats now, and we’re making goat cheese. It’s really good with tomatoes.”

“That does sound good, Mom. Have you thought about selling it? I’ve heard people will drive for miles to get fresh goat cheese or milk, especially if the goats are raised on a free-range farm.”

“Oh. Well. You know we don’t want strangers to know where we live.”

Of course not. And she knew better to suggest that they set up a booth at a local fair or farmer’s market. There was always an excuse. But they didn’t mind taking Daisy’s money. The money she made in the big, evil city. Daisy rolled her eyes.

“Yes. I’ll send a check tomorrow.” She cut her mother off. She didn’t need to hear any more justifications. She had plenty of money, and she might as well share it. Maybe Daisy was enabling them, but they weren’t going to change.

But the truth was, Daisy was tired of funding her entire family. If they’d really needed the help, she’d have been happy to assist them, but they didn’t. They liked the money; they’d all clearly become dependent on it. It came with zero effort, and no strings attached. Daisy never brought it up. It was easy for them to be disdainful of her lifestyle, but they were happy to cash the checks she sent.

One of her employees, as well as her best friend, Eden, breezed into Daisy’s office.

“I’ll call you back later,” Daisy said to her mother and pressed the end button on the call. If Eden knew she was talking to her mother, she’d have a lecture ready for Daisy. Eden and Daisy’s two other employees, Charlotte and Jeni, were the only people in New York who knew the truth about Daisy’s upbringing.

Eden had been her friend first. They’d met in college and then she’d come to work for Daisy years later. Befriending Eden had been the best thing Daisy had ever done. Now if only Eden would quit hounding her to go out and date, then life would be perfect.