Leia

Logan: Skyborn prequel

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Some readers are having trouble finding it for free on Amazon. So here it is! Enjoy.

 

Chapter One: Logan

 

THE SNOW WAS falling in soft white clumps, barely any light out yet on the dark winter morning. I took another sip of my black coffee and stretched my neck. For a little over one hundred years I’d never had a problem with sleeping and now … tossing and turning every night this week.

Because of the dreams.

God, the dreams seemed so real that I awoke so restless, nearly on the verge of shifting. It had been over a century since I last felt like I wasn’t in control of my dragon, but now … now I awoke and my first instinct was to shed my human form and take flight, to soar the skies, breathing fire and looking for … for her … the woman from my dreams, that bright red hair, those soft yet terrified green eyes. My body ached just thinking of her small pouty mouth. I’d been alone for so long, the only dragon left, that even a dream of another dragon was messing with my mind.

Maybe I need to see a shrink.

I chuckled at the thought. Even if I did ever go talk to a professional, which I wouldn’t, there wasn’t a human alive that could help me with my problem: last dragon shifter alive, in and out of superficial relationships and at risk of going extinct if I didn’t stay under the radar and away from the hunters—and the druids who sought to kill me and steal my magic. Keegan might understand, but he had enough on his plate with so many shifters under his command—all of them duty-bound to protect me.

Something had to change. I couldn’t keep living this life, day after day … alone. I’d heard rumors about what happened when immortals lived too long, and now I was witnessing it firsthand—affecting me so badly I was dreaming up another dragon, as if that would make her real.

I shook off the final remnants of the dream and crossed into the bathroom to brush my teeth. After removing the taste of coffee from my mouth, I took a swift glance at the mirror. I had looked in this mirror for the last century to see a twenty-five-year-old looking back. Not a wrinkle around my green eyes, not one gray hair in my trimmed beard; my hair, black and thick, would never bald or recede.

I should be grateful. Many would love to be gifted with immortality, but it was starting to wear me down. The endless years, the lack of purpose—and if I was being honest, the loneliness. Keegan had the pack; he was in charge of them and that was his purpose. They protected me and that was their purpose. What did I have? What was I doing? I knew I had a purpose, a big one. Without me, humanity would fall into disease and chaos; they needed my magic to survive. But I just didn’t know how much I cared anymore. I wanted something else to live for.

The moment I had that thought, guilt crashed over me. Ah man, maybe I was finally having that midlife crisis? Unfortunately, I didn’t think a new sports car would cure it.

“Same shit, different day,” I told the mirror. My own voice haunted me; it had changed over the decades. I’d become bitter, cynical. I was mad at the world. Why was it left up to me to keep all of humanity alive? To keep my half-human shifters alive? I knew the “why me?” argument was petty, but I didn’t give a shit. I wanted to go back to the old days where hundreds of thousands of skyborn roamed the Earth, bringing dragon magic to the human race and keeping the balance between the magic and non-magical beings.

As I stepped out into the living room, I saw Mittens, my orange tabby kitten, staring at the corner of the room with her fur on end. She backed up two steps, her body in a high arch, and then hissed.

“Get it, Mitsy!” I encouraged her, and she leapt up into the air, coming down hard on a chunk of fuzz and shredding it to bits.

I chuckled, feeling genuine happiness spread throughout my heavy limbs. God damn I loved that silly cat. Best thing to have come into my life in a long time. If she hadn’t showed up on my door a month ago, I don’t know what state I would be in. She appeared to be a stray, but when I took her to the vet he said she was recently spayed and seemed to have had all of her shots. I think Nadine left her for me; she knew I needed something to pull me out of this funk.

As Mittens tore through the chunk of fuzz like it was a deadly rattlesnake, my cell rang. I pulled it out of my pocket to see Keegan’s name flash across the screen. He was rarely up this early. As alpha, he usually slept in and made the rest of the pack get up early and do the grunt work. Not that there was much grunt work nowadays. We only had a run-in with the hunters a couple times a year, when a druid happened to scent me out. Not like in the old days.

“What’s up?” I greeted one of my oldest friends. “Hell must have broken loose to get you up before the sun.”

“Pretty close. Half a dozen hunters just walked into Eva’s bar,” he said in his typical no-nonsense tone.

Every muscle in my body clenched. Hunters worked for the earthbound. The druids. If they were here, they were looking for me. Wiping the last dragon from the face of the Earth would complete their sick pureblood race plan, and take all of humanity with me.

“Are you sure? We’ve been careful. I haven’t shifted. I—”

Keegan cut me off. “Danny texted me. He’s sure. But they aren’t looking for you. They’re asking about a girl. A redhead.”

The room spun; adrenaline rushed through my body. Danny was Keegan’s recent ex-boyfriend. He was a solid guy and I trusted him. He didn’t know what I was, but he wouldn’t lie about this. Any time hunters showed up anywhere, it was the gossip of the supernatural community. We all knew what they were looking for, the last dragon. Just no one knew it was me. To their supernatural noses I was a wolf shifter in Keegan’s pack and nothing more—thanks to Eva, a powerful witch who was an expert with this type of spell craft.

“Bring the pack over,” I told him. He agreed and we both hung up.

Holy dragon shifter. The girl from my dream. Was she real?

*

The moment the pack stepped inside, Sophie bee-lined it for me, tossing her blond hair over her shoulder to expose her perky cleavage.

“Do you really think there’s another one? A female?” She said the word “female” like it was a disease; jealousy rolled off of her in waves. I never should have dated Sophie. Keegan told me not to, but I went against my better judgment and did it anyway. We’d been a pack for about twenty years, and Sophie had joined more recently. She had been new, fresh, and the physical attraction had been undeniable. Unfortunately, it stopped there. There wasn’t much beneath Sophie’s surface. She was too catty and didn’t have an altruistic bone in her body. It made her a good hook-up, but I needed a woman with something more than epic cleavage and a venomous personality.

“I hope so,” I told her honestly, and her face fell into a mask of anger, and then detachment. She hadn’t taken the break-up well, even though it was over six months ago.

Nadine, my little sister for all intents and purposes, came up and gave me a side hug. I’d opened up a little to Nadine about my loneliness and loss of enthusiasm for life, but it only made her worry, so I never brought it up again.

I’d met her ten years ago; she’d been rummaging for food behind a supernatural bar. She was a twelve-year-old runaway then, broken free from a possessive and abusive pack. Orphaned. I’d brought her home and Keegan took her in and trained her. She’d flourished and grown up to be quite the little protector with quite the tattoo collection.

“If this is real, and not some hunters blowing smoke, then this girl might need our help,” Keegan told the group. We were seven. Six shifters of various animal races and me. Together we had killed dozens of druids and hundreds of hunters. All in the name of keeping me alive, and therefore the human race.

“It’s real,” I told them and Keegan looked over at me with confusion in his eyes.

I took in a deep breath. Dragon magic worked in mysterious ways, and it wasn’t unheard of for us to have prophetic dreams. I’d had a handful in my lifetime. I just thought I was dreaming about a hot redheaded dragon shifter because I was lonely, not because she was real.

“I dreamt about her. The past few nights…” I cleared my throat in embarrassment as Sophie’s jaw hit the floor and Nadine grinned.

“Holy shit, another dragon.” That comment came from the world’s most unlikely source: Dom. Dominic Rossi was the most quiet, mysterious person I had ever met. I nearly asked Keegan to kick him out of the pack the first year he joined because he was so private; it made me not trust him. Once I learned that he had been a slave to the underground fighting ring, I understood his silence all too well. That would make me stack brick walls around myself and never let anyone in too. A rare lion shifter, his captors had pitted him against hundreds of other shifters in a bid to make millions. Meanwhile, they’d half-starved and magically tortured him. He had turned out to be, hands down, the strongest fighter among us, and the most loyal friend.

I nodded. “If it’s the same girl … she’s a dragon.”

My mind went to my dream, seeing her small red dragon combing the skies, looking for safety—shifting into her petite nude form and running through snow and trees in search of clothes.

“How do we find her?” Keegan’s eyes were glowing yellow. Keegan was descended from a long line of skyborn protectors. His great-great grandfather had been around for the druid-dragon war of 1918 that wiped out most of our population. Keegan was a diehard dragon protector. I trusted no one in this pack more than him. He would protect me and this girl with his last breath if it came to it. They all would, but Keegan took it the most seriously.

I didn’t realize my hand was shaking until I brought it up to brush my hair away from my face. I couldn’t believe this was happening. “I’ve never sought out hunters before. Always ran from them. It would be easier to try and track her.”

Keegan nodded. “So … there’s a way?”

It wasn’t pretty but there was a way. Back in the beginning, before Keegan or any of the pack, I was on my own, too scared to tell anyone what I was. Only Eva knew. I was too scared to even look for a protection team. I still believed there would be more of me out there. That if I could just find another, we could band together. That’s when Eva taught me the dangerous art of “glimpsing.” I did it for years trying to find other dragons, but always saw nothing. Eva said in order to glimpse another of my kind, I would have to be near them.

So, I traveled the world doing the spell and never saw anyone. That’s when I knew I was the only one left. Nearly killed myself the last time I did it too, so I decided to stop, but if it would lead us to this girl, then it was worth the risk.

“I can’t detect the hunters, but I can detect the girl. It’s dangerous though. It can lead the druids to me.”

Keegan knew me, and knew I didn’t say “dangerous” unless it was damn near suicidal. Bringing the druids to us was damn near suicidal. Cooper gave a low whistle, his long red beard bobbing as he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. “Whatever it is, I will help.” It was a nice offer, and I didn’t correct him, but this wasn’t something the pack could do together. It was all me.

Sophie was lingering close to me, trying to make me take notice of her perky chest, while Nadine was staring at Gear, probably unaware that we all knew how in love with him she was. He had a silly mohawk, but he was a good guy.

“We all will,” Nadine said, stepping forward, and the others nodded. Sometimes I forgot how much I loved these people. At times Keegan would call me, tell me hunters were in town and I needed to go into isolation and hide. Those periods, not seeing them for a week or more, were so lonely that I really missed this crazy bunch. We were family.

“Let’s do it,” I said.

In order to glimpse, I had to output such a large burst of magic that I passed out. It was only in that semi-conscious state, mixed with the magic floating around me, that my awareness superseded all possible laws of nature, magic, or physics. For a tiny second I became God. But the earthbound were always watching; the powerful druids had their magical hooks into everything.

Well, I had woken up this morning wanting a change. I hadn’t been expecting this. But if the beautiful woman from my dream was real, then anything was worth the risk to find her.

 

Chapter Two: Logan

 

WE ALL jumped into the back of Keegan’s pickup truck and he drove us twenty miles south to Kachina Village. I didn’t want to lead the druids to my own back yard, but I also didn’t want to drive too far; otherwise I might not be able to connect with the redhead from my dreams. If the hunters were at Eva’s bar, it was because the girl was in Flagstaff. Keegan pulled over onto the side of the road and drove about a half mile into the thick forest. The last thing I needed were some humans seeing my green dragon magic and calling the cops thinking they were illegal fireworks or something. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Keegan and I had an interesting pack hierarchy. He was the alpha and was in charge of the pack. He gave them orders, broke up fights, and dealt with their issues. I, however, at times gave Keegan the orders, paid the pack’s salary, and made all of the important decisions. I had never pulled rank on him, but if need be, I could. Dragons were … above shifters. I hated that type of purist bullshit thinking, but it was true. If Keegan and I ever went into a dominance fight, I would be the one walking out. Shifters were half human after all, and dragon shifters were not. Thanks to Fae magic, I was one hundred percent supernatural no matter how many times I wished I wasn’t.

But a dominance fight between us would never happen. We both liked our place and things ran smoothly that way. I was happy to stay out of the way while he ran the pack, and he was happy to have me pipe in when I wanted too. Keegan and I were a team and I was damn lucky to have him. He had saved my life more times that I could count, and vice versa.

He and I huddled at the back of the car while I told him my plan.

“I want Gear in the sky just in case the hunters are closer than I think. Let’s definitely get Dom to shift, and maybe Nadine too. I need you and Sophie human so you can watch my back while I’m out.”

Gear was a falcon shifter, and Dom was unmatched in his lion form. They would be good ground crew if this went south. On the way over, I had roughly explained that I might zone out or lose consciousness, so Keegan knew I would need protection in that case. Keegan nodded, rubbing the tip of his chin, lost in thought. “I think Coop should shift too. He’s fast, and if the girl is nearby he could get to her on foot before we could.”

I bobbed my head in agreement; he was right. Cooper was a red fox shifter and lived for the snowy winters of Flagstaff. He could pounce through this snow faster than any of us, save for Gear in the skies. Me shifting was never an option. I only shifted in a life or death situation. My shift left a magical trace that drew the hunters right to me.

Keegan called out the orders, instructing Sophie to load up with weapons as she would be the only one staying human with him. The rest of the pack slowly peeled off their clothes, standing naked in the freezing snow, and started their shift. No matter how long I lived, the sound of cracking bones never ceased to shock me. Nadine was the fastest. Her all-black wolf was beautiful and deadly. Dom’s cat chuffing behind me always elevated my heart rate a little. His sable and orange lion was littered with scars, and every time I saw them I wanted to kill the bastards who’d held him hostage. I made a promise to him once, that if we ever happened upon his captors again, they would die in a gruesome fight.

Cooper’s little red fox always made me smile, because out of all of us Cooper looked the most like his animal while in human form. He peered up at me now with silver eyes and that fluffy red fur that reminded me so much of his beard. Once I heard Gear’s cry from the sky, I knew we were ready.

As a pack bound in magic, we could speak to each others’ minds while in animal form. We rarely used it because it was rude and an intrusion, and we couldn’t read each others’ thoughts or anything, but when we were hunting druids or running for our lives, we used it constantly. I was the exception. Since I rarely ever shifted, and because the pack was bound to me as my protectors, I could communicate with their animal forms while I was still human. So if Gear saw something in the skies while I was doing this spell, he could let me know through our link. Not all Shifter packs could communicate with each other like this. Only those with very powerful sorceress friends like Eva.

“Let’s do it!” I clasped my hands together to pump myself up. What I didn’t tell the guys was that this spell was extremely painful. Expending enough dragon energy in one burst, all in an effort to make yourself pass out … it hurt like hell.

Keegan strapped two blades across his chest and holstered his weapon of choice, a sawed-off shotgun. Keegan didn’t mess around. If you went after the pack, he blew your head off first and asked questions later. That’s why I initially hired him. Sophie stepped forward then, holding her harpoon gun. Hunters had shot her with one once and now she tried to get them with it every chance she got.

“Be careful,” she told me in that whispery, have-sex-with-me voice.

I tried not to roll my eyes, and nodded, ignoring her half-lidded gaze. I thought sleeping with Monica from Eva’s bar would give Sophie the message that I had moved on. Instead, it only served to make her come after me more aggressively. Standing in the snow, holding his sawed-off shotgun, Keegan just gave me that look, that “I told you so—you never should have dated within the pack” look. I asked him once if being gay made relationship problems easier, because, ya know, you didn’t have girly emotions to deal with. He had laughed and laughed and told me there was nothing worse than dealing with a pissed-off male lover. I didn’t understand it. But now was not the time to think about that. I needed to know—to confirm that I wasn’t alone anymore.

That the redhead from my dreams was real.

I shook off thoughts of Sophie and walked over to a flat rock, mercifully covered by trees and so snow free. There, I placed my focus right where it needed to be—the girl—those piercing green eyes, wide with terror, her pouty mouth and that unforgettable fire-red hair. She was real and I was going to find her. Protect her.

Getting myself comfortable on the rock, I sat cross-legged and began the process of glimpsing. I arched my back and squared my shoulders, preparing my body for the onslaught of dragon magic. Magic was a wild thing. It reminded me of fire; if you let it get out of hand, it would burn all in its path. I’d had over a century to train my magic, so I felt for that deep humming in my gut, near where my dragon rested, coiled and content. I prodded it, making my dragon stir. He hated when I awoke the magic like this. The buzzing feeling intensified, making my skin tighten as I took a deep breath, forcing my dragon not to shift. Then I set the magic free. I tore at it like a wild beast and my dragon awoke fully within me, roaring in anger at what I was doing.

I didn’t necessarily talk to my dragon. We were one; he knew what I knew, but I sent him thoughts now, of the girl, another dragon. She needed us, and if I was being honest, I needed her too. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, needed to help settle that terrified look I’d seen in her eyes. My dragon relaxed then, and I let the rush of magic consume me, the green fire erupting from my palms and out of my mouth with a scream.

“Jesus Christ,” Keegan said.

I ignored him, keeping my eyes closed, feeling my temperature rise, feeling the magic looking for that outlet, that place to unleash. Eva told me that when I did the glimpsing, it was like watching the aurora borealis consume a human being. That’s sure as hell what it felt like too.

My dragon helped push the magic harder and faster; a wave of dizziness consumed me, magic searing along my every nerve and fiber. It was too hot—I was going to burn up if I didn’t stop.

The green fire scalded my throat and singed my arms as it made its way out of my body. Come on, you bastard, take me, I told the magic. Eva also confessed once that magic was conscious, and I was banking on that now. It was my magic, and hopefully it would do as I pleased. I hadn’t glimpsed in forever, and I was afraid if I didn’t pass out soon, I would burn up and die.

Killed by my own magic.

“Logan!” Sophie’s emotional plea came just as the blackness took me. My back arched and weightlessness took over my body. In that one moment before losing consciousness, I honed my intention, put all of my focus on the girl.

Sloane…

Her name came to me as if it rode on the wind. I was in the otherworld now, the place where you go when you are no longer in your body.

I was glimpsing, high in the sky above Flagstaff, looking around for that sign that there was another of my kind nearby. My body was still down below, lying awkwardly half on the flat rock and half on the snow. As I expanded my awareness and looked around, I could see humans as dark blobs of energy, witches barely a glow, shifters nearly nothing but, there … to the north … a red glowing ball of fiery dragon energy.

My breath caught in my throat as I looked at the evidence of the end to my loneliness.

She is real.

I focused my awareness there, and within seconds I was hovering over a cabin on Ash Lane. I knew this area; it was near Gear’s motorcycle shop. Surrounding the cabin were three deadly hunters, armed with magical weapons and intent to kill. She didn’t know yet. I could see her glowing energy inside; she was upset, crying, trying to control her shift. She probably didn’t know that’s what brought them to us.

But how could that be…?

“Watch out!” I shouted, unsure if I could do anything from the place I was. Her energy inside of the home stiffened, and that’s when I felt the druid nearby hone in on my location. His dark energy washed over me, trying to pin me to the spot.

Shit.

I’d seen enough. Zooming back above my body only took seconds. I had to only think my intent and it was made manifest. Like I said, when I was here, I was God.

Sophie was freaking out, pacing over my body, while Keegan sniffed the air, no doubt already on the trail of that druid.

There was melted snow and scorch marks around my body where the magic had concentrated the most, but the majority of my body was unharmed. I focused my energy on my physical body and slammed back with the force of a bullet. It was weird, coming back from unconsciousness. It was my sense of smell that always came back first, and then the loud popping noise in my ears. I groaned, feeling every muscle in my body ache as I sat up and opened my eyes.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment. Gear, she’s real. She’s in a cabin on Ash Lane, by your bike shop.

I’m on it! he called back through our bond, and I knew he would get there in time. He had to.

I stood with a wince, waiting for my dragon healing to kick in as Keegan tossed me a gun. “Smell that?” he asked.

I nodded. “The druid that’s after her saw me. He’s coming here now, but he left his hunters with her. We need to finish him off, and then save her from those hunters. He’s going to try and get both of us today.”

Sophie looked absolutely aghast at the proclamation that there was really another dragon, but she snapped out of it quickly, tightening her grip on her harpoon gun. Keegan stood there for a second, thinking.

“I fear it could be too late,” he said. “I don’t think the girl has any training. She wouldn’t be on the run like this. Leading them to her so easily.”

He was right. She was doing some rookie stuff, but that didn’t make sense. There couldn’t be any new dragons, and if she was twenty-something years old, like she looked in my dream, then she had been shifting for twenty years and should know better how to control her dragon. Something didn’t add up.

“We need to lead that druid away from her,” I told Keegan. He would be here any minute, I could smell him. He’d left his hunters to take her and now he was after me.

He cocked his gun. “Leave that to me. Let’s save this girl.”

It was decided. Keegan gave the order for Sophie to shift and for everyone else to haul ass to the cabin on Ash Lane. I just hoped my dream girl could hang on until we got there.

 

Chapter Three: Logan

 

SOPHIE TOSSED HER harpoon gun in the truck with her clothes, lingering for a moment to see if I would glance at her naked form, and then when I didn’t, she shifted into her coyote shape. I needed to do something about her advances, but now wasn’t the time.

The second I jumped into the truck, Keegan peeled out, leaving the pack in animal form behind. They would travel on foot and meet us at the girl’s cabin. Hopefully the druid wouldn’t find us until we killed his hunters and saved the girl. Either way, splitting up was a good plan. Keegan and I could take care of the druid; the pack could take care of the girl.

Keegan kept a detachable police siren for moments just like these. He pulled it out now and stuck it on the roof of the truck as we hauled ass onto the I-17.

I see her! She’s in human form, but the hunters are chasing her, Gear reported to the pack.

Help her! I commanded, as if I needed too. I knew Gear would do everything in his power to help the girl, but I couldn’t just sit there and say nothing. Gear was a good guy, and his falcon was useful, but not usually in the sense that it could take out hunters. He was our tracker, but not one of our best fighters. Keegan pushed the truck harder, tapping her out at the max speed. If we blew a tire at this speed, we would be ground meat.

My hope was that the druid was going to my glimpsing location. That would give us time to get to Sloane. Her name … it did something I couldn’t explain to my insides.

Our exit came then and Keegan took it, barely slowing to make a left at the light, tires screeching as he careened onto the main road. We were minutes from her, but if the hunters were good and she was as rookie as it seemed, she could already be dead. Keegan flipped the siren off and weaved in and out of traffic—no use in letting the hunters know we were coming.

What’s happening? I shouted to Gear.

His reply was delayed; no doubt he was trying to fight and help her. She shifted to her dragon form. They’ve harpooned her wing.

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head. She’d shifted in broad daylight!

We’re here! Nadine told me just as Keegan pulled the truck down Ash Lane. I saw the tail end of Sophie’s coyote disappear into a walking trail between two houses, and Keegan pulled over.

Without waiting for the car to fully stop, I grabbed Keegan’s sawed-off shotgun and leapt from the car, crossing into the woods at a full-on sprint.

I’m going to shift, Keegan yelled behind me. I could smell the druid nearby, so it was probably best that Keegan did. Then we would be at our strongest. Keegan’s wolf was nearly as large as Dom’s lion.

It was still early in the morning, and I needed to try my best to keep the humans from seeing this. As I burst deeper into the walking path and through the thick trees that led to the community park, I skidded to a stop. Sophie, Cooper, Nadine and Dom were stalking towards the hunters. The hunters were surrounding a beautiful red dragon—the dragon from my dreams.

I let the shotgun hang loosely at my side and tried to mask my shock. She was real. I wasn’t alone. And the goddamn bastards had harpooned her wing! I cocked the shotgun and stalked forward.

The hunter with the harpoon faced Nadine. “We don’t want trouble with your kind. Get out of here!”

Not on a cold day in hell. The girl’s dragon was covered in blood—too much blood. Why wasn’t she healing? As I thought it, I could see her shifting back to human form. Bad idea, I wanted to tell her. She had to be new at this—but that wasn’t possible—she looked to be in her early twenties. Dragon younglings started shifting right after birth…

The girl collapsed into a heap of blood and my dragon coiled inside of me, rattling my skin like a cage, dying to get out and pick her up and fly her to safety. Seeing her delicate naked form, vulnerable and bleeding … it tore me in two.

“Keep the shifters out of my way while I finish her off!” one of the hunters yelled to his buddy, who looked to have been burned. She could breathe fire? That was an impressive skill that took practice.

Or a life or death situation would do it also.

Kill them, I commanded, just as Keegan’s gray wolf walked up behind me to join the hunt.

Dom leapt for one of the hunters, knocking him down quickly so Nadine could go for the kill. I could see that the burned hunter just beyond the girl had collapsed; no doubt the dragon fire had finished him off. With one hunter left, Sophie and Keegan took him down quickly.

The girl … Sloane … was panting and looking around with wide, terrified eyes. I didn’t want to spook her walking at her with my shotgun, so I told Nadine to shift and approach her.

Nadine left the hunter’s dead body and walked slowly to where Sloane lay. She was dying, dammit! Why isn’t she healing? As Nadine got closer, Sloane grabbed the arrow that was once in her shoulder and held it up, thinking Nadine was a threat.

“Stay back.” Her voice warbled. She was fighter; even in death she held that harpoon arrow with an iron grip.

Nadine quickly shifted, shedding her wolf form for her lithe human body. Sloane’s mouth popped open and she dropped the arrow. “What the fu—?”

She didn’t finish; she passed out into Nadine’s open arms. Her head lying limp to the side, her crimson hair matched the pool of blood at her feet. She had looked at Nadine shifting like she was surprised … like she’d never seen a shifter before. What the hell was going on?

“I need help! She’s lost a ton of blood!” Nadine shouted behind her, and I spurred into action.

I was stalking towards Nadine, to help her with Sloane, when I sensed the druid almost a second too late. I spun quickly, bringing my shotgun up just as the druid skidded to a halt before me. Without question I pulled the trigger, blowing a hole in his chest and dropping him to the ground like a bag of bricks. By the look of his three hunters and how simple his fighting tactic was, he wasn’t a powerful druid. Maybe a novice, one level up from an apprentice hunter, barely into his entry-level training. He should have thrown a shield over himself before approaching me.

“We got lucky,” Keegan said over my shoulder, observing the dead druid on the ground. The earth had already begun her job of disposing of his carcass. All earthbound were exactly that, bound to the earth, and when they died she took their burden. It was a good thing too, because with how loud that shotgun blast was, cops would be here any minute. I didn’t need a body to explain.

I handed Keegan the gun and ran to help Nadine and Dom, who were now both stark naked and carrying a pale and bleeding woman through the woods. If the humans saw this, we were screwed.

“Give her to me.” I hadn’t meant to sound so growly, but my dragon had taken over. Nadine and Dom obliged, setting a limp Sloane into my arms. The moment my skin touched hers, a bolt of magic ran through her and right into my gut, shaking my dragon awake. It saturated every fiber of my being, making my body hum with ecstasy. I stood there trembling, staring at her pale lips, her limp head flopped over my arm. The magic climbed from my gut into my chest and a tingling spread throughout my limbs. My dragon was roaring now, desperate to shed my human form to better protect her. Recognizing the burst of magic for what it was rocked me to my core.

Holy Shit.

Sloane was my mate.

*

“Why isn’t she healing?” Nadine asked as she held gauze over the wound in Sloane’s shoulder. We didn’t have a pack doctor, but Keegan had some EMT training, and Nadine usually assisted as his nurse. She did some community college classes to get her nursing certificate, before dropping out and declaring her desire to become a tattoo artist.

“Something’s wrong with her magic,” I stated, rubbing the scruff on my beard. On the exterior, I was relatively calm and in control; no one in the pack knew what was going on. Internally, I was freaking out. Sloane was my mate. How was that possible? How was she even here? I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t sure I fully believed it. I couldn’t tell the pack, and if she survived—which she needed to; I wasn’t sure I could live the rest of my life knowing I had met and lost my mate in the same day—then I couldn’t tell her either. Dragon mates were rare—hell, dragons were rare—and telling anyone would just freak them out and make everything too weird.

She’d be no one’s mate if I couldn’t keep her alive.

Keegan looked at the blood pressure cuff on her arm. “We’re losing her!” he growled.

Everything within me jacked up a notch. “No, we’re not! Do something. Take my blood.” I offered my arm, blurting out the first thing that came to my mind. Sloane’s body was draped limply over the bed in my guestroom, sweat beading her brow, her breathing shallow. Keegan had hooked her up to an IV of fluids, hoping to wait out her healing, but it wasn’t coming. Something was broken.

Nadine and Keegan shared a look.

“It might work,” Keegan said. “Dragon blood, in a dragon that isn’t healing, might jumpstart her powers or something.”

“Well, hurry up, then!” I stepped closer, shoving my arm in his face. The worst possible thing I could think of in the world would be to meet my mate, after so long of being the only dragon left, and then have her die.

Keegan fumbled with a blood-draw kit, and then asked me to sit down. Taking the chair next to the bed, I let him take my blood as I kept an eye on the slow rise and fall of her chest. Once he was done, I stood and we both approached the bed. This had to work. It would be beyond painful to watch the first dragon I had met in decades die of a shoulder wound.

My mate.

I let that last thought slide away. I still wasn’t sure what I thought of that, or if it was real. Maybe it was some weird connection I felt because she was dying or whatever, not because she was my mate. I had been feeling pretty desperate lately, so I had probably imagined it.

Keegan loaded her IV line with my blood, and I leaned closer, watching for any reaction. Nadine was at the foot of the bed, fiddling with some monitor that measured her oxygen.

“Here goes…” Keegan said, hanging the bag.

I watched as the blood slowly flooded the IV line. It made its way into her arm and I held my breath. Dragon scales were one of the most healing things on earth, but dragon blood … nothing rivaled it. This would work.

Almost a full minute after the blood had reached her arm, I had to remind myself to breathe. Finally she stirred, moaning, and then moving her legs.

“Calm down. You’re okay, you don’t need to be afraid,” Keegan said in a soothing voice.

Her eyes snapped open and she bolted into a sitting position, before I reached an arm out to gently push her back.

“Hey, hey, relax. You’re injured,” I told her, careful not to press on her too hard.

She looked at me panicked, then pain exploded in my face as in one blurring motion her left fist came up and clocked me in the jaw. She fell backward into an unconscious heap.

Ow! Jesus. My hand came up to rub my jaw. Keegan and Nadine were both looking at me wide-eyed, biting their lips to keep from laughing. She’d punched me in the freaking face! Unbelievable.

“Oh shit! She’s shifting,” Keegan muttered. Sure enough, she was moaning and her skin was breaking out in red scales.

“No! Stop that! You’ll lead the druids right to us,” I told her. But she was too out of it. Clearly unaware. She was turning out to be a major pain in the ass that was going to get us all killed.

“What do I do?” Nadine asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Tell Gear to take to the skies. The spells around my house should hold so long as she doesn’t do a full shift.” I didn’t know if that was true. It had been years since Eva had put protection spells on the house. I forgot what they were all for. I knew they kept hunters and human eyes away from the house, but I was so in control of my dragon that accidentally shifting wasn’t even a possibility for me.

Her hands were lengthening to claws and Keegan’s eyes were bulging. “What do we do?”

Sloane’s eyes snapped open again and she kicked out at me, connecting with my ribs. Pain exploded beneath my breast bone and I growled. This woman was going to be the death of me.

“I’m going to have to knock her out!” I shouted, at a loss of options. If she fully shifted and brought druids here, I couldn’t fight and protect an unconscious dragon shifter at the same time. People would die. I brought my hand up to her face, the dragon magic pulsing from my core up into my chest and down my arm. The bluish green hue shot from my palm and I focused it on her face. She bucked and tried to snap her head forward in a head-butting motion, but Keegan shoved her shoulders down, as careful as possible not to injure her further.

My dragon magic covered her face, and as she breathed it in I leaned forward, whispering softly: “Sleep…” It had been decades since I’d put another of my kind into a dragon sleep. I was surprised it worked. Her face crumpled in frustration for a moment, then she slipped into unconsciousness.

We all collectively released the breath we had been holding, watching her scales retreat and turn back into pale skin.

Nadine stepped forward and peeled the bandage on Sloane’s shoulder back. She chewed her lip in an act of frustration. “She’s healing, but not as fast as I would like. We may need another pint of blood,” she told me.

“At least she’s alive,” Keegan said, running his hands through his short-cropped blond hair.

I chuckled. “Alive but a major pain in the ass.” She was like a toddler, hitting, kicking, and shifting! This is not what I had expected when I found out there was another dragon.

Keegan grinned. “Agreed.”

How was she possible? It seemed like she hadn’t ever shifted before … but dragon shifters began shifting at birth as a youngling. Something wasn’t adding up here.

I sat down as Keegan took another pint of my blood. The sudden loss of so much blood was making me lightheaded. I needed to eat, to rest. But something told me I wouldn’t be sleeping well for a long time. I had a brand-new baby dragon to watch over, and she was my freaking mate, feisty and full of fire.

Just how I liked them.

***

-If you enjoyed this glimpse into Logan’s story read what happens next in Skyborn available on December 26th. SmartLink: http://smarturl.it/LeiaStone

Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you can get exclusive sneak peeks, new releases and free stuff. No spam, leave anytime. https://goo.gl/8z7CVD

 

 

Skyborn!

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Hey guys. Skyborn is the first book in a new series for me. It will be available December 28th exclusive on Amazon. Here are the first two chapters to get you excited <3

 

SkyBorn

A Dragons and Druids Saga

By Leia Stone

 

Guide:

Skyborn – Dragon shifters.

Earthbound – Druids.

Sorcerer – Witches diluted with human DNA, but purebloods still exist, although it’s rare.

Animal Shifters – various human/animal shifters of all different Earth-type animals.

Faery- Land of the Fae that is long dead and forgotten.

 

Chapter One

MY FEET POUNDED the ground as I ran down the secluded street that housed the cabin I had been hiding out in. I thought this plan would have lasted longer, but only two days and the hunters had found me. Dammit! As the rage and fear mixed within me, I could sense my skin tightening, the pearlescent scales forming along my arms. No! It had been two weeks since I’d fallen off of the ledge while hiking the Grand Canyon and ignited some freak power that had shifted my body into a dragon.

Yes, a dragon.

I didn’t know how to control it. I didn’t know how it happened, or if I was living with a really bad case of schizophrenia. I just knew that ever since that day I had been running for my life from these hunters who kept trying to kill me. I didn’t fancy dying at the tender age of twenty-one, so I just kept running. The whizzing sound of bullets snapped around me, only serving to make me go faster.

Screw it.

I let the shift come. It was probably the only way I could get out of here alive at this point anyway. Trying to keep my dragon down in a time like this was painful. Not that I had much control over her at all.

Hah! “My” dragon. Sloane, you’ve lost your damn mind.

“Get her!” one of the men growled behind me, and that’s when I allowed the burning heat along my spine to ignite.

I screamed as my limbs ripped with a searing agony and my bones broke, snapping and tearing; the pain nearly made me pass out. Sweat glistened on my skin as a splitting sensation exploded along my shoulder blades sprouting wings out of my back. Bones rearranged, skin moved, muscle bulked, and in less than forty-five seconds I was an eight-foot-tall dragon with red pearlescent scales that matched my flaming red human hair.

One of the hunters yelled and I looked back just in time to see a black falcon dive from the skies and take a chunk out of one of his ears. Yes! I’d always liked birds—maybe he recognized me as one of his high-flying friends and had decided to help. Either way, he bought me some time. Using my back talons, I leapt up off of the snow-packed ground and took flight. I was a mere two feet off the ground when I felt the slice of a harpoon tear into my wing, piercing the leathery flesh.

A shriek tore from my lungs as the sharp hot pain dug into the rubbery hide of my dragon wing. I frantically flapped, trying to rip free of the harpoon, but with a yank I was pulled hard back to the ground. My body slammed into a bed of pine needles with such force that I heard one of my ribs snap. Dammit.

The hunters had me; there was no getting away this time. As I lay there panting in pain, rage built up inside me. How dare these bastards try to hunt me like a deer! I was a person— Kind of—but I didn’t ask for this freak thing to happen, and how the hell did they even keep finding me? I just wanted to be left alone, but they were always one step behind me, as if they could smell or sense me. I was living a nightmare and I just wanted it to stop.

At these thoughts, a low, deep, pressure built in my belly. One of the black-clad hunters pulled a sharp blade from his thigh holster. He had short-cropped, sandy-blond hair, standing over six feet tall with a muscular build akin to a linebacker; he looked at me with such hate in his eyes. I didn’t understand it. What did I do to deserve such malice? The blade in his hands glowed with a red fire-like hue, and something deep in my gut told me that if that thing cut me, I was done for. As two more of the hunters stalked towards me from each side, the heaviness building in my stomach turned so hot I thought I might melt.

“Get her other wing!” one of the other hunters called in a gravelly voice.

Oh. Hell. No. I would not go out like this, like a freaking animal that posed a risk to society. I had done nothing wrong! I hadn’t hurt anyone! I just wanted to be left alone to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. There was no way I was letting this group of douchebags take me out.

The pressure that had been building in my belly started moving up to my chest, and then to my throat. Pain laced around my esophagus. The burning pressure threatening to suffocate me if I didn’t release it, I opened my mouth and let all of the heaviness that had been building out in one big yell. Except no sound came out, only a bright red streak of fire.

Holy shit!

Warm hot liquid shot out of my dragon’s mouth, spraying down the two men advancing on me. Their bodies were doused in hot flames and chaos erupted. They dropped into the snow and started rolling away from me as I fell backward in shock. The force of my fall pulled on the rope that held the harpoon in my wing, making me flinch in pain as the rope pulled taut. I could smell burning flesh and saw that the hunter who had been holding the glowing knife had dropped it when he stumbled back, ablaze, to throw himself into the snow.

Thank God for small favors.

That knife belonged in a really weird kitchen, not in me.

With no time to waste, I yanked hard on my right wing, tearing the harpoon out of the hunter’s hands. The man holding my harpoon let go, stumbling backward, no doubt in fear that I would spray him with fire next. I wouldn’t be able to fly now, not with a broken wing and busted ribs—but holy shit I could breathe fire! Little did these jerks know, I had no idea how to replicate that, or if it could be done back to back, but it seemed like the odds had turned in my favor.

Best to keep that information to myself and let them think I was a fire-breathing badass.

Turning, I planned to continue running, when one of the hunters stepped in front of my path with a huge rock in his hands. His hair was half burned and his face was red and shiny with fresh blisters, but the hatred in his eyes were what had me nervous.

Oops, I pissed him off.

I barely moved my head out of the way in time, and the rock he held crashed down on my injured wing. I let out a shriek that must have been heard for miles. The neighbors would no doubt be coming out of their cabins to find out what sounded like ten cats being tortured. Dragon screeches were a unique sound.

Mother Fricker

Pain exploded in my shoulder and I realized I had no idea how to fight in this dragon body. Not that I was a prizefighter in my human form, but I could certainly knee these bastards in the balls. As a dragon, I didn’t have arms to punch, didn’t have legs to kick. I only had four clawed stumps that didn’t work as well as arms and legs. I had fire that wasn’t working right now and a busted wing. I was screwed. If this was some really long paranoid delusion, now would be the time for it to stop.

As the hunter advanced on me, my thoughts went dark. Maybe I should just let them kill me, or take me, or drain me, or whatever it was they were trying to do. I was sick of running. My great idea for graduation was to hike the Grand Canyon by myself for five days and this is where it had got me—on the run, and ten minutes from being dead. Ever since the Grand Canyon, I hadn’t slept more than two hours a night without jerking awake from nightmares or paranoia that they were coming for me. I hadn’t eaten much, and didn’t have proper clothes because mine kept tearing when I transformed; I had to steal them when I shifted back.

I had nine dollars in my bank account, no job, and no one I could turn to. This was some messed up weird life I was living and I didn’t even know how it happened. One fall. One fall and I thought I was done for, splat on the rocks; people would read about it in the news. But no, my body … transformed … and this was my life now.

The hunter took two steps forward and I took one step back, looking over my shoulder. Great. I was surrounded. Since when did fire not kill people? Damn snow. The thought did strike me that these guys were un-killable, that they were somehow not human, but I let it go to the deep dark place where I kept those freaky thoughts and told it to stay there.

Just when I had resolved to roll over and let them have me, a pack of … animals … appeared out of the trees not twenty feet from me. I blinked my eyes rapidly; I couldn’t process what I was seeing—a lion, a coyote, a wolf, and a red fox were walking towards me—creeping out in a slow, stalking type of walk, fanning out in a formation that looked choreographed. What the ever-loving hell…? The circus had arrived. I had officially lost it.

If I were a human, I would have barked out in laughter, but in my dragon form a weird snort came out. Running up behind the animals was a tall guy in his mid-twenties with black hair, scruffy stubble, and piercing green eyes. I could feel the heat of his gaze from here. His face was covered in shock as his eyes roamed over my red dragon. Great. The bearded guy had a shotgun in one hand and I wondered who he wanted to shoot first—the circus animals trespassing his property, the weird bleeding dragon, or the hunters with glowing red knives? By the way he was looking at me, it was probably me that would take the first bullet.

Even though I was an eight-foot-tall fire-breathing dragon, I was still a twenty-one-year-old girl inside, and those wild animals stalking slowly towards made me freeze in fear. It was perfect, really. I get killed by human hunters only to have my remains be eaten by a freaking lion. I must have done something really crappy in a past life to deserve this.

The hunter nearest me spun away, facing the animals with his harpoon raised. “We don’t want trouble with your kind. Get out of here!” the hunter yelled, and my vision began to blur. Was he talking to them? Trying to reason with wild animals was even crazier than breathing fire.

Almost.

A wave of dizziness crashed over me and I looked down to see that I had lost a ton of blood, like a bucketful. My heart raced at the sight of all that thick crimson fluid. Dammit, while the hunters were distracted with the circus was a great time for me to run and get the hell out of here, but I felt like I was going to faint. I just had to be a fire-breathing dragon with no special healing abilities, didn’t I? A defective dragon. Any mythical dragon I had read about or seen in movies had healing powers, so what the hell?

Please, God, don’t let me die like this, I begged in panic. I hadn’t been to church since my mom died of breast cancer when I was sixteen, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask for God’s help now. If the big man upstairs was real, maybe he would have mercy on me. The sudden cracking of bones startled me, until I realized they were my own. I was changing form, back to human. I had zero control over this; my dragon seemed to be the one in control, which terrified me the most. Well, I came into this world as a naked human, best to die as one too.

As my body finished its change, I collapsed naked on the snow and pine needles in a puddle of blood, and looked up at the bright blue sky. That falcon was circling above me, cawing as if calling out to his family. The way his wings gilded across the sky looked so free, and I longed to be up there with him. Damn, the Earth could really be beautiful. Humans weren’t so bad either, although I preferred animals. Maybe if reincarnation was real I could come back as a bird, or even a dolphin…

My mind was going spacey, and I knew with one hundred percent certainty that I was going to die. A wolf growl pulled my attention from the sky to the drama unfolding before me. I watched in fascination as the … pack of circus animals … stalked around me and the three hunters, forming a circle. Make that two hunters; the one who had the knife was definitely burned to a crisp. So they could die? Good to know. One of the hunters, the one with the gravelly voice wearing a ski mask, bent down and picked up the red glowing dagger and advanced on me.

“Keep the shifters out of my way while I finish her off!” he yelled to his partner.

What could I do? The trees surrounding me were blurring at the tips and I knew I was moments from passing out and leaving this body. Still, I’d grown up poor, without a father, and I’d lost my mother at sixteen, so I wasn’t weak. I’d taken care of my dying mother for two years at the tender age of fourteen, until she became a living skeleton and passed away. At that point, you just wanted them out of pain. But I had grown up way faster than the other kids my age and I wasn’t dying now without a fight. I didn’t have it within me to give up. I reached my arm out, blindly grasping until I had the harpoon grasped in my weak left hand. If I was going to die naked in the woods, this freaking arrow was going to be shoved in some douchebag’s eyeball.

I propped myself up on my elbow and raised the arrow at the oncoming hunter like a spear. That’s when the circus attacked. They charged in unison, both horrifying and beautiful. The lion leaped into the air, knocking one of the hunters down. Then the smaller coyote went in for the kill, going right for the throat. I’d never seen anything like it, and my favorite show was Animal Planet. It was as if they shared one mind. The hunters fought back but they were no match for the pack of wild animals.

The hunter holding the glowing red knife screamed as the small black wolf tore into his neck, coming away with a chunk of flesh. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. I was both terrified and fascinated with these creatures. Once the circus had killed the hunters, one of them, the black wolf, turned on me, approaching slowly with her head down. I instinctively knew it was a female. Or my dragon knew and I got it from her; it must have been one of my new senses. Hardly practical. Hardly going to keep me alive when she attacked me.

“Stay … back…” I fought to speak, my voice deep and warbled. Too must blood lost. This wolf was beautiful, so beautiful that I wanted to reach out and touch her silky black fur. Stupid idea, but clearly my blood loss had taken my brain cells with it.

Then my delusion ramped up a notch. Before my eyes, the wolf began to … transform. Like I did. Her bones cracked and shifted as her body slimmed down, until kneeling before me was a young girl in her early twenties, with long raven-black hair, and a body covered in tattoos, naked as the day she was born.

“What the fu—?” Before I could finish that thought, the darkness took me into her sweet embrace and I welcomed death.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

I CAME TO in snippets. First I awoke in a car, moaning; the man who held me was screaming, “Drive faster!” Then I was back out. When I awoke again I was clothed and fighting the strong bearded guy, the same one who’d been holding the shotgun. He was pinning me down, and I panicked, punching him in the jaw. Then I went unconscious again. The last thing I remembered was fighting the raven-haired girl as she helped the bearded guy force me into a cage.

Finally, I felt full consciousness come to me. I sat upright, startled, heart racing and head pounding with an ache that rivaled the one I’d got recently after my twenty-first birthday. I looked down at my body. I was wearing jeans and a flannel button-down shirt; my shoulder and ribs were wrapped in gauze and smelled of some weird earthy paste. My shoulder blade felt like it was on fire, and tears pricked the edge of my vision as I tried to move. Panic shot through me as I saw that I was locked in a steel cage. Just outside was a nearly-empty blood bag and an IV drip line that led to my arm. Oh God. Oh shit. With one yank, I ripped the IV out and looked around, panicked.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to hurt you,” said a deep voice that made my body involuntarily flush with heat.

I looked up and was met with piercing green eyes that were surrounded by thick dark lashes. My hands went around the bars of the cage and I gripped them tightly.

“Says the guy holding me in a cage.”

He was the same guy who’d been holding the shotgun from the woods. He was at least 6’4, standing with his arms crossed, which made his large biceps bulge. His body was packed with tight, corded muscles, and he had a trimmed dark-black beard and shaggy hair. He looked like the spawn of a fireman, a boxer, and a professional model. Alright … not okay to be checking out my captor. Why did all of the hot ones have to be such psychopaths?

Get it together, Sloane.

“I couldn’t risk you running off, and I couldn’t babysit you twenty-four seven. I’ve been too busy making sure you didn’t carelessly lead them to us,” he said with a trace of annoyance.

Hah! I annoyed him? I was the one in a freaking cage! I noticed that he stood in front of a door that was ajar and looked like it led to set of steps. Looked like I was in a basement. Nothing good ever happened in a basement.

Anger flared inside of me, making the pain my body was feeling ebb a little. “Let me out!” I barked, shaking the cage. Was he a hunter? My brain struggled with recalling what had happened—those hunters … I breathed fire … and they almost killed me, but then the animals … the girl, she had changed from a wolf to a person right before my eyes. I would say it was ludicrous, but not after what I knew my body could do. Fear began to saturate my body as I stared at the blood bag and the cage. I was super freaking claustrophobic and had seen enough horror movies to know this ended with me raped or dead. Scales began to appear on my arms as my dragon started to take over, and the guys eyes bugged out of his head. He flew forward with his hands out.

“Stop that! Calm down or you’ll shift and tip off the hunters!” he growled, his pupils forming thin lizard-like slits. What the…?

His words shocked me, they actually shocked me enough to calm me down and the scales started to retreat. What he said … tipping the hunters off if I shifted. Oh my God! It made so much sense! Every time I had shifted to my dragon form, the hunters came! That must be what alerted them. This was crazy. How did he know about that? I took a deep settling breath, looked down, and was happy to see the scales fully gone.

The guy still looked like I had sprouted two heads; he was standing there, mouth agape.

“How do you know about the hunters? And shifting?” I asked.

He was shaking his head, looking off into the distance. “It isn’t possible. You’re not possible.”

Great, he was crazy to boot.

Any hope I had that this guy might be able to help me was dashed. I didn’t know how to respond, so I kept my mouth shut. The guy moved with the grace and speed of a leopard. One minute he was across the room peering at me like I was the most fascinating thing on earth, and the next he was in front of my cage, pulling keys out of his pocket.

I scrambled to sit up, excited at the thought that he might let me go. As he brought the keys into the lock I noticed his black and white checked flannel shirt was rolled up at the sleeves and he had an intricate sleeve of tattoos on his left forearm. In this closeness I could smell him; he smelled of freshly-fallen snow, and earth, of the woods and a campfire on a cold night. A heat uncoiled deep in my belly, bringing a pressure with it that had my legs throbbing. What the hell was going on with my lady parts? This guy was bad news. I needed to get the heck out of here, not be falling to pieces because I smelled him.

He put the key into the lock and then crouched down to meet my gaze, bringing more of his man scent with him, and I actually had to clear my throat to keep from moaning. “My name is Logan,” he said. “I’m going to let you out now, but don’t run. We need to talk, okay? I can help you.”

Sure thing, buddy. Then he unclicked the lock, swinging the barred cage door wide open, and I gingerly stepped out. My muscles were on fire from being cramped in that cage for so long, but I didn’t think about it. I just slowly measured how far it was from where I was standing to the open door. He backed up several steps, seemingly so he wouldn’t spook me, and I met his gaze straight on.

“No one can help me,” I said as I bolted for the open door, faster than I had ever run before. Despite my injuries, I was halfway up the staircase in seconds before I heard him grunt behind me, then his heavy footsteps pounded after me. I reached the top of the stairs and had a moment of confusion as I stepped out into a hallway. I took off to the left, where I could see sunlight, and fear laced through me as I heard the guy right behind me.

Reaching an open living room, I was halfway across the space before he took me down.

“Umph!” I fell to the ground in a thud as his massive body crashed on top of me. His strong arms grasped my shoulders, and in one swift movement he flipped me over so that we were face to face and he was straddling me. I whimpered at the pain his hand caused to my shoulder and he immediately loosened his grip, his face falling.

“I told you not to run!” he ground out in anger. His jaw was clenched, his face only inches away from mine. Warmth spread throughout my body and I felt my dragon rustle inside of me. Heat was pulsing from my belly to my groin and throughout my legs. Jesus, Sloane take a cold shower. What was going on with my body? I couldn’t control it.

Logan paled, his eyes widening as he climbed off of me. What happened? Did he feel that? Shit. Red colored my cheeks, no doubt rivaling my crimson hair.

“Just relax or you will get us both killed,” he told me as he backed as far away from me as possible. He hadn’t yet tried to kill me, so … I slowly stood, favoring my injured shoulder, and watched as his green eyes raked leisurely over my body, making the heat inside of me feel all-consuming.

What the hell was going on? I felt like I was going to start breathing fire if I didn’t cool down. That, or jump this psychopathic stranger right here on the living room floor. Did he drug me? Oh man. I was really losing it; it was so warm in here I thought I might die.

“I need air,” I managed to say as I started walking to the front door, which was now visible beyond him.

He silently followed me, watching me, his body stiff and alert as if he was ready to pounce if I ran again. I flung the large door open, and as I stepped outside my face was blasted with frigid, wonderful, snowy air. Taking huge lungfuls of air, I felt that heat inside of me cool a tiny bit. Thank the heavens. Taking stock of my surroundings, I saw that I was on a beautiful, heavily-treed lot, with only a few cabins visible nearby. It was secluded and the roads were covered in freshly-fallen snow.

It also looked like a house where you would have to scream really loud for someone to hear you.

I spun around to face Logan and noticed the porch I stood on was mammoth, wrapping all the way around to the back of the large two-story cabin. But I could easily jump over the railing if needed.

“Start talking,” I told him. “Because I’m going to lose my shit. I don’t appreciate being caged and experimented on.” So far, he hadn’t tried to kill me, so I didn’t think he was a hunter, but that didn’t mean he was a good guy.

He looked offended, his eyebrows shooting upwards into his messy dark hair. “Experiment on you?”

I pointed to the bruise on my arm where I had ripped the IV out.

He sighed and shook his head, giving me an eye roll as if I was a child having a tantrum and he needed to talk me down. “That was my blood. I was trying to expedite your healing. Something is wrong with you. I don’t know why you don’t heal.”

He wasn’t the first guy to tell me something was wrong with me and probably wouldn’t be the last, but it still stung. I was starting to put things together, and it sent fear and hope through me. “And why would your blood help me?” This creep better not have STDs or anything strange that he just gave me.

He puffed out air and shook his head. “Where do I begin?”

I frowned. “How about with the girl who was a wolf but then…” I let my words trail off.

“Nadine … a wolf shifter,” he said as if it was no big deal.

My mouth dropped open. “Like a werewolf? But…” Okay. Fair enough. I was a dragon shifter, so I guess wolf shifters could be real. I was going to go with the flow, because anything more threatened to take my sanity completely.

“And that’s what you are?” I questioned him, assuming now that he was some big bad alpha wolf with magic healing blood or something, but he just shook his head.

“No. The other animals … work for me.”

“Work for you? What do you do?” Please don’t say you capture dragons and eat them. I took a step back in case that was his answer.

He stood there for forever, unmoving, unbreathing, those piercing green eyes just boring into me. I was about to ask him again when he finally spoke.

“I am a skyborn. A dragon shifter. The last of my kind … until you.”

Skyborn?

He stepped closer and his words slammed into me; heat flared to life like nothing I had ever experienced before. I tried so badly to push it down but I couldn’t. It consumed me and I fell to my knees, sweating, hair stuck to my forehead, leaving me panting for breath.

“What’s happening to me?” I whimpered as his hand came gently to rest on my shoulder. A throbbing hit my groin with the force of a bullet. I couldn’t help the moan that escaped me.

He cleared his throat and I looked up to meet his eyes. They were nearly glowing and the pupils were slits. Dragon eyes. He tried to hide it but I saw desire flare in his face. “It’s been a while but I think you’re … in heat.” His voice was so gruff it made my toes curl as embarrassment flushed through me.

“What?” I shrieked, as my body inched closer to him. Oh my God. My period was about two weeks ago, right around when I had the fall, so I could be ovulating, but since when did that do this?! Kill me now. My eyes fell on his lips, examining them. They were thick and glistening, just waiting to be kissed. I licked my lips then as the fire exploded inside of me and I felt the familiar tingle along my skin as scales began to tighten on my arms.

Logan’s eyes bugged.

“Your dragon has no control, and being near me in heat will make it worse.” He sounded panicked, like the thought of sleeping with me repulsed him. That should make me move away, back off—clearly, I was unwanted. But my body only tightened. I moved closer to him, my hips pressing against his side. I whimpered, unable to stop whatever was happening. I only wanted to put out this fire and I wanted to do it with him.

Logan brought his left arm up to hover over my face; I could see the tattoos more closely now. Were they different than before? “I can put you in a deep sleep until the heat is over,” he said. “It will keep your dragon from shifting and leading hunters to us. Then I will train you to control your dragon.”

A deep sleep? Where? What if the hunters came? I would have no way of fighting back. He must have read the anxiety in my face. “I won’t let anything happen to you.” His breath brushed across my face and I moaned, desperate to taste him. The thoughts I was having now— and what my body was doing—were epic levels of embarrassment. I had no control over this and it terrified me.

“Okay,” I breathed. Yesterday I had wished the hunters would just kill me, so I didn’t have much to lose now. Besides, if what he said was true, that he too was a dragon, then maybe he really could help me.

A deep green light emanated from his left palm and covered my face.

“Sleep,” he whispered in my ear, his lips brushing against my neck, and then I was out, taken by the darkness as it snuffed out my fire.

 

If you want to read a prequel to this for FREE from Logan’s perspective. Check it out here.

YA Scavenger Hunt #129

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Welcome treasure hunters! 

Queen Heir is FREE today only, grab it while you still can.

The Red Queen has fallen. Four heirs will battle it out for the crown. May the best shifter win.

KINDLE UNLIMITED
AU – http://amzn.to/2hh1aau
UK – http://amzn.eu/g6DJ2Y8
US – http://a.co/6vYveDA

 

 

You can also win these three books by leaving a comment on my Facebook page here.

Gratitude Giveaway!!! Who wants these??? Comment below what you are grateful for and I will pick a winner! *Giveaway has nothing to do with Facebook.

Posted by Leia Stone Author on Tuesday, May 30, 2017

 

If you love urban fantasy and paranormal romance, sign up to my newsletter and get exclusive news and VIP-access!

>>Sign up here.<<

***********

The secret keyword #129 is….

“EYES,”

***********

 

Good luck, thanks for visiting!

PS. Make sure you read the rules and find the treasure map for the scavenger hunt here: www.theYAshelf.com/jointhehunt

ASH – Hive trilogy Book 1

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Ash is top 50 Amazon bestseller! Go get your copy!

Jaymin and I have had so many fans write us and tell us how much they love the Ash: Hive Trilogy book! We are so grateful and wanted to let you know we are working on book 2 right now. Stay tuned and thanks for falling in love with this new series as much as we did. <3

Are you an Ash?
*Increased stamina
*Lack of appetite
*Anger outbursts
*Insatiable thirst
*Beauty & Strength
*Male
Call the hotline if these symptoms come on suddenly!

Turns out Charlie Bennet was all of those things except the last. Don’t let the name fool you, Charlie was all woman and she wanted nothing to do with the ash … until the day she found out she was one.
It all started when infected bats bit a small group of humans and created what are now called vampires. Then, the male vampires knocked up some female humans and the result was a gorgeous race of all male ash. Superhuman freaks that had looks to kill.
Charlie is the first female ash, aka unicorn of the Hive – the gated compound in Portland that the humans have designated to isolate vampires and ash from society.
Problem? The Hive is full and only a select few will be allowed to live there. To live at all, really. If Charlie wants to earn the right to become a citizen of the Hive, she will have to survive the culling – a series of fights to the death. And guess what? Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she’ll get special treatment.
Good thing there’s Ryder, the mysterious lead ash enforcer, who seems to always have her back. But when secrets bubble to the surface, it will take more than one guy to save her.

ASH: a new series by Jamin Eve and Leia Stone

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ASH is up on Amazon – go get it!

To be released in first half of 2016. Jaymin Eve and Leia Stone have been secretly collaborating on this project for a long time now and are excited to reveal the cover and blurb. This is a series you will NOT want to miss!

unnamed

Are you an Ash?

*Increased stamina
*Lack of appetite
*Anger outbursts
*Insatiable thirst
*Beauty & Strength
*Male

Call the hotline if these symptoms come on suddenly!

Turns out Charlie Bennet was all of those things except the last. Don’t let the name fool you, Charlie was all woman and she wanted nothing to do with the ash … until the day she found out she was one.

It all started when infected bats bit a small group of humans and created what are now called vampires. Then, the male vampires knocked up some female humans and the result was a gorgeous race of all male ash. Superhuman freaks that had looks to kill.

Charlie is the first female ash, aka unicorn of the Hive – the gated compound in Portland that the humans have designated to isolate vampires and ash from society.

Problem? The Hive is full and only a select few will be allowed to live there. To live at all, really. If Charlie wants to earn the right to become a citizen of the Hive, she will have to survive the culling – a series of fights to the death. And guess what? Just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she’ll get special treatment.

Good thing there’s Ryder, the mysterious lead ash enforcer, who seems to always have her back. But when secrets bubble to the surface, it will take more than one guy to save her.

Matefinder 3 : Balance up for presale!

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Balance is LIVE and has been in the top 500 all week!

Click here to get your copy on Amazon.

Here’s the summary:

Ever since Kai revealed the supernatural race to the humans, riots and chaos have reigned down on Mount Hood. Aurora is going crazy just sitting around and waiting for Layla to show up so that Aurora can finish her task and kill her, bringing peace to her pack. Kai does everything in his power to keep Aurora safe and confined on the heavily guarded mountain. But he should know that no one can really keep Aurora from the things she wants in life. She is determined to find Layla and end this war, forever. But at what cost?

Now go get it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matefinder 3 page Prequel =)

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So I decided to give my readers a little snippet of BEFORE the car accident. This new little snippet has been added to the first chapter and is now a part of the Matefinder book for people just now buying it. I’m making the changes free here for anyone who wants to see.

 

Changed

 

My black Jetta’s headlights lit up the dark night as I crept up the winding road that led to Mount Hood. My roommate had convinced me to take a break from my hectic life and go stay at her parents’ vacation home on the mountain. I still wore the yoga pants and tight crop top I had on from teaching my women’s self-defense class. I pulled into a gas station to grab a coffee. It was near midnight and the hour drive to Mount Hood from Portland was making me fall asleep.

I stepped out into the light falling of rain and jogged across the parking lot, clutching my credit card and keys. Jumping up on the curb, I tripped and dropped my keys but caught myself before face planting. As I bent down to grab my keys, the glass door opened. Afraid of getting stepped on, I stood quickly and came face to face with a gorgeous guy in his mid-twenties. He was a mere six inches from me and we were locked in an intense stare. His had medium-dark East Indian skin. His wild chocolate colored hair framed his strong jaw, he stood over six feet tall and was made from rock hard muscle. He was shirtless and wearing cut off sweatpants, and I tried my hardest not to completely check him out. Was that an 8 pack? I blushed as he caught me looking.

“Hi.” He flashed a gorgeous smile full of white teeth and dimples.

I swallowed hard. “Hi.” The air was heavy with some sort of tangible connection.

A dirty blonde haired, equally gorgeous guy behind him clapped him on the shoulder. “Shall we get back to our run?” the friend asked.

Snapped from my trance, I smiled weakly and brushed past him. As his arm skin brushed against mine, I felt my stomach warm. Damn, how long had it been since I’d been with a guy? My hormones were going crazy. Down girl. This guy could have been an axe murderer for all I knew.

The door shut behind me and I poured my coffee. After paying for it, I walked back out to my car to see the two guys were walking into the thick woods and out of my sight. Not many people roamed the mountain after midnight. Hmm weird. Maybe they lived nearby.

I sipped my coffee and sighed. Thirty more minutes and I would be snuggled up in my mountain retreat, hopefully drinking wine and not coffee.

I pulled back out onto the main road. It was single lane and windy. A thick fog had settled on the ground, leaving me low visibility. Typical Oregon weather. I kept thinking about that guy, he seemed different. Maybe I should have stayed and talked to him. The road curved up ahead and I glanced at the clock on my dash for a split second. When I looked back up, I spotted a mother deer with two babies right in front of me. SHIT! I didn’t think, I just reacted. I slammed on my brakes and swerved hard to the left and then my car was airborne, flying off the mountain.

Car accidents are so weird. They take seconds to the observer but when you’re in them, they feel really long and drawn out. My car was airborne and I knew this was bad. It was going to be a horrible accident and there was nothing I could do. Why the hell did I have to be a vegetarian? A meat-eater might have taken those deer out no problem. My car hit the ground with such force that my head cracked into the dash and all went black.

I came to and realized I was hanging halfway out the open car door. I felt a warm wet sensation in my abdomen and screamed when I saw a thick tree branch protruding from it. Oh God. No.

Footsteps caught my attention and I looked up to see someone, that guy from the gas station. His eyes were wide and … yellow? I was starting to feel faint and cold.

Suddenly the man dropped his pants, standing completely naked before me. What the hell!? Before I could process his nakedness, his body transformed right before my eyes. All of a sudden he was… a huge, black wolf, standing on all fours.

I was hallucinating, this was what happened before you died. You entered some insane dream world. He padded over to me with those yellow eyes and bared his teeth.

“No, please,” I whimpered. There was so much I wanted to do with my life, so much. As he lunged for me, a scream ripped from my throat and pain exploded in my body where his teeth clamped down.

‘Mine,’ his voice in my head took hold before I collapsed again.

*

I never asked for this. To be changed. To be on the brink of death, waiting for release from the pain, only to wake and find out I was a monster, an impossible thing, an animal. The thought was funny, really. As I lay there going in and out of consciousness, I laughed. I was a vegetarian. I couldn’t be a werewolf, I just couldn’t. But there was no denying what I was becoming. I could feel my inner wolf lingering inside me, waiting to break the surface.

That’s when a steely voice broke through my thoughts. His voice, my savior and my maker. ‘You are a werewolf and you’re mine.’  My insides turned over at the mental invasion. Yet, it felt like he was a part of me. ‘Pack.’ Something inside me whispered. The searing pain that burned on my abdomen threatened to make me go unconscious again.

“Stay with me. Please survive,” his voice said aloud this time, and I felt a hand cup my face. The last thing I thought of before losing consciousness again was the memory of my body lying by the winding road that led to Mt. Hood. Of the tall dark man that changed into a werewolf and ripped me to shreds with his teeth.

I awoke some time later and sat up, fully expecting to be sore or to have stitches all over my body; bandages, a cast, something. I looked down and saw my pale skin. I had a t-shirt on and it smelled like him. I pulled it up and traced my fingers along the white jagged scar that marked my belly. That’s where he bit me first. Other than that bite mark, my skin was flawless. I looked around. I was in a simple room. There were hardwood floors, a small bed and a dresser.

My mind flashed back to the scene, to last night. The dark-skinned man that turned into a… a wolf, and attacked me. Well, that wasn’t quite right. I had been in an accident. Oh god, it was bad. I grabbed my head remembering the pain I had felt. My leg had been twisted at an odd angle. Blood had poured freely from my abdomen. I was waiting to die. If I hadn’t tried to swerve and miss that deer, I wouldn’t have crashed my Jetta. What do they tell you? Swerve into the mountain? Away from the mountain? Don’t swerve? Hit the deer? I couldn’t remember, and I was a vegetarian, so I had gone on instinct. My instinct said not to hit the cute baby deer, and it got me killed. Well… I would have died but then He attacked me. He changed me. I knew it. I could feel it. I was like him. I was….. a shapeshifter?

‘You’re a werewolf.’ The man spoke into my mind, and I jumped startled and looked around. My heart was racing. I looked down at my body once more. No marks other than the bite mark on my stomach. I healed, like in the movies. Like Hollywood werewolves do. I wanted to believe that it was all a hallucination but I couldn’t deny the facts. I had been near death, horribly injured and then he… bit me. Now, here, I stood fully healed. A soft knock came at the door and I covered my legs, which were bare.

“Come in?” I said, unsure. It’s not like it was my room. A girl who looked to be about twenty years old poked her head in. She had bright red hair that was cut in a short pixie style and spiked up all over with long bangs in front. She had a heart-shaped face and green eyes. ‘Pack,’ I thought, and shivered at the new feelings. The voice.

“Hi,” she said tentatively as she came in and softly closed the door behind her. In her hand was a bag.

“Hi,” I croaked back, unsure of what to say.

She tossed the bag onto the bed. “We seem to be the same size, so I hope they fit.” She gestured with her hands as I opened the bag and saw clean clothes and a pair of flip-flops.

“Thanks.”

“Kai sent me to check on you. To help you get accustomed. I can’t believe you survived.” She sat at the edge of the bed.

“Kai?” Somehow the name resonated deep inside me.

“The guy who saved your life. Our Alpha.” She seemed unsure of what to say next.

Hottie 8-pack gas station guy was my new Alpha?  My stomach dropped. Everything I had ever heard or read about Alphas was not good.

“Does he own us?” I shuttered at the thought. I worked very hard to get my college degree and become an independent woman. The last thing I needed, on top of becoming a flesh-eating monster, was to have some psycho hopped on steroids bossing me around.

The girl barked out a laugh. “Well, that’s funny. I hadn’t thought of it that way. He protects us, keeps us safe from rival packs and others. Keeps us fed, happy, and takes care of all of our needs. He keeps peace within the pack. He’s a good Alpha, the strongest man in the pack. We’re lucky to have him. My name is Emma.”

She held out her hand to me. I shook it. I noticed she didn’t exactly answer my question. “I’m Aurora. You will have to excuse me but… twenty four hours ago werewolves didn’t exist to me.”

She looked at me with pity. “I’m sure it’s hard to believe. Want me to shift and prove it?”

My eyes went wide. “No, I’m good.”

Seeing it once was enough for now and I hated to admit that I felt something lurking just beneath the surface of my skin. My wolf. It was a knowing that needed no proof. I was different and there was no going back. Oh God.

“How old are you?” she inquired.

“Twenty-two, how old are you?” I enjoyed the normalcy of the question.

“Nineteen.” She sat there in silence for a few minutes biting her lip. “Look, I’m sorry about your accident. This must be really overwhelming. I can take you out to meet the others but first we should go over some things. Kind of like werewolf 101.”

“Werewolf 101?” I queried.

“Yeah, let’s start with the rules. When you’re around Kai, you don’t look him directly in the eyes for more than a few seconds. You actually wouldn’t be able to hold a staring contest with him; it’s physically impossible for less dominant wolves. You don’t want him to think you are challenging his strength to lead us. How’re you doing, you okay?”

I picked this odd moment to think of my roommate and my mother. How worried they must be that they hadn’t heard from me. “When can I go home?” I asked shakily.

Emma’s face fell. “Aurora, you’re pack now.” She rested her hand on my knee and it felt oddly comforting.

‘Pack,’ a small voice inside me said and I tried not to jump.

“You can’t leave. Kai wouldn’t let you. If he cut ties with you, then you wouldn’t last a week as a lone wolf before another pack found you. Female werewolves are rare. Most of them don’t survive the change and only a handful are born to werewolf couples. If another pack claimed you, they might not treat you properly. Kai’s pack is respectful of females, they cherish us, protect us. Not all packs are like that.” Something dark crossed her face but before I could figure it out, it was gone.

“I can’t go home. I can’t stare the Alpha in the eye. Okay, keep going.” I took a deep breath. Werewolves existed. I was one of them. I would have been dead if Kai hadn’t changed me. I couldn’t go home. Okay. Just breathe.

Emma nodded. “That small voice you are probably hearing, that’s letting you know that I’m pack, or that you’re in danger. That’s your wolf, your instinct. She will barely speak to you now but as you get to know her better and trust her more, you and she will become one.”

I could only nod.

Emma smiled. “You’re doing great. Now that big booming voice in your head, that’s Kai. He can pick up on your thoughts, emotions, and he can speak directly into your mind. You’ll get used to it. In a moment, I want you to change into the clothes I brought you. Then I’m going to take you out to meet everyone and we can establish your place in the pack. The sooner we do that, the better off everyone will feel.”

“My place?” I could feel something inside me thrumming with excitement. My inner wolf, I recognized.

“Every pack functions smoothly because we all have a place in the pack. There’s no need for me to get into a dominance battle with Sadie because I know she’s ninth in the pack of dominants. I’m twenty-sixth; the last and most submissive wolf. Everyone protects me and that’s my place. That’s where I feel most comfortable. That’s why Kai sent me in here, so that there was no chance that your inner wolf would feel threatened.”

I nodded. Something about what she said felt right. I would go out there, establish my place and then talk to Kai about my old life. I needed to at least call my mother… and my roommate, Lexi.

“And how do I establish my place?” I stared into Emma’s green eyes.

She quickly lowered hers after a few seconds. She swallowed hard. “A staring contest. You will start with me. If I lower my eyes first, then you are more dominant than I am and you move to the next person in the pack and so on and so on. You do this until you lower your eyes. Then we all know your place. No fights. Kai runs a clean pack.”

I nodded. That didn’t seem so hard.

She elbowed me. “I can already tell you are more dominant than me. For a human female to survive the change, you have to at least be in the middle. You might even be higher than Sadie.” She grinned like that would bring her immense joy.

I felt nauseous. “Well, you survived, so you must be pretty strong, too.” I added, trying to make her feel better.

“Oh, Aurora, I wasn’t changed. I was born this way. Both of my parents are wolves.”

“Oh. Well, how many females do you have in the pack that have survived the change?” My heart raced in anticipation.

She fiddled with her hands. “Just you.”

Emma cocked her head to the side. “Kai says everyone is waiting, so go get dressed, okay?” She smiled sweetly.

I picked up my new clothes and went to get dressed. It was time to do a staring contest.

When Emma led me out of the room, I realized we were in a huge house that overlooked Mt. Hood. The ceilings were vaulted with exposed wood beams, and one of the living room’s walls was entirely made of glass. I could see through the glass that a large gathering of people stood outside. They were all lined up in a row and talking. Once I came closer and Emma led me outside, they became silent.

‘Pack. Pack. Pack,’ my inner wolf chanted.

I scanned the faces. Some smiled at me, some scowled. Then my eyes rested on Him. Kai. I glanced at his chestnut eyes and then quickly looked down towards his full lips remembering Emma’s advice not to meet his eyes. If I wasn’t feeling like I had been abducted by aliens and taken to a new werewolf planet, I might actually admit that my new Alpha was extremely sexy. His lips smirked up to a smile and I realized the other thing Emma had said, that he could read my emotions, my thoughts. Just kill me. His smirk disappeared and he stepped forward placing a warm, possessive hand on my shoulder. Emma took her place at the end of the line.

“Brothers and sisters, a new pup has joined our ranks!” His voice commanded attention and oozed with power. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “This strong female survived a horrific accident and the change. I feel your anxiety about her. Is she submissive, should I protect her? Is she dominant, more dominant than me? Could she be my mate? I think it’s best to establish her place before we have celebrations to welcome her. This will ease your minds.”

I balked inside when he said mate but kept my face a mask of calm. Werewolves could smell fear, right? Well, I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.

Kai walked me towards the end of the line to where Emma stood. She smiled.

“Emma, you have explained how this will go?” Kai spoke to her as if she was a cherished little sister, something to protect.

She nodded. “…and you can start with Sammy. I already know she’s more dom than me.”

Kai let go of my shoulder and Sammy stepped forward. He looked about fourteen years old and had blonde hair and brown eyes. I stared, heart pounding, not out of fear but out of nerves. Where would I fall in the pack? What would it mean? If I was low, did that make me weak? If I was high, did that make me more of a monster than I already thought I was? After about five seconds, Sammy looked down. Sweat beaded on his forehead and I wondered if that was from me. I went to the next person. A tall and lanky man with kind eyes stepped forward. After a few seconds he, too, looked down. Sweat shown on his brow as well. I kept moving up the line. Once I got to the middle, I could hear murmuring.

‘Silence.’ Kai commanded. It was so alien to hear someone speak in my mind.

I looked back at Kai, unsure.

“Keep going, Aurora. You’re doing exactly what Emma and I told you. Don’t worry.”

I turned to face the next person and then the next, until I met who I assumed to be Sadie. She was ninth from the top of the pack and had long, ink black hair and medium dark skin. She looked Native American. Maybe mixed. She was beautiful, exotic. As we stared, I began to feel my pulse pick up the longer we locked eyes. A bit of sweat beaded on my upper lip but Sadie looked down after about ten seconds. She was panting. She cursed under her breath and shot me a death look. She wasn’t happy about my place in the pack being above hers. I swallowed hard and moved on.

It began to get harder to hold their gaze but I was able to. Three pack members from the top, whispers had started. Kai had to quiet everyone multiple times. He kept reassuring me that I was doing fine and needed to continue. I continued on until I was standing in front of the last man. It was the guy that was with Kai at the gas station. He was tall, broad shouldered and his arms were littered with scars. What would be so bad that it would scar a werewolf? His ice blue eyes met mine. He stepped forward and puffed up his chest.

“My name is Max and I have been Kai’s second in command for forty-six years.” His voice could cut paper. I swallowed. Forty-six years? He didn’t look a day over twenty-five, neither did Kai. Kai put his hand on Max’s shoulder.

“My name is Max and I have been Kai’s second in command for forty-six years.” His voice could cut paper. I swallowed. Forty-six years? He didn’t look a day over twenty-five, neither did Kai. Kai put his hand on Max’s shoulder.

“Yes you have, and a great second you have been. I know this is a bit of a shock to all of us, to have a newly changed female so high up in the pack. As you know, nothing will feel settled with you about Aurora until we know how dominant she is. Your wolf will wonder if you could take her in a fight and I can’t have that. Not in my pack. Max, Aurora. Continue.”

I was already sweating because the last two stare downs had been very difficult. I felt like looking down multiple times but I didn’t. Not before they did. But with Max I was scared. What would this mean? If I was more dominant than him would I become the second in command of some new pack I knew nothing about? Some life I didn’t ask for? Maybe I should just look down halfway through so I didn’t have to deal with this.

‘If you do that, his wolf will always wonder where you stand, and a fight will break out eventually.’ Kai. In my head. Great. I stepped forward. I had to be brave or at least try to be. I looked Max in the eyes. I didn’t blink. I barely breathed. After about thirty seconds he started panting and I began to feel weak in the knees. I felt the strongest urge to bow my head in submission. I pushed the urge back. I was strong.

I had been through a lot in my short twenty-two years on this planet, enough to give me a thick skin. I’d been through things that still gave me nightmares. Things no person should ever have to endure. I didn’t know what this meant for my future; didn’t know what being a werewolf meant for what I had planned for my life but it was better than being dead, and if Kai hadn’t saved me, I would be. If being this high up in the pack was where I was meant to be, then I would be. I stared. He stared. Sweat broke out on my forehead and his as well. He bit his lip and with a grunt he dropped his eyes, bowing his head down low.

I took a step back, startled. I wiped my forehead and tried to catch my breath. Max looked at Kai and something unspoken seemed to pass between them. Anger was coming off of Max in waves. Kai nodded slightly and Max scowled at me and then took off running into the woods. He shed his shirt and slowly changed into his wolf form, his body was contorting and cracking. I sucked in a breath at the sight and turned to see Kai open his arms wide.

“Brothers and sisters, I welcome Aurora into my pack as my second in command.”

There was murmuring among the wolves. ‘Pack,’ they told me, as they looked me up and down. Kai’s warm body pushed up against me as he whispered in my ear. “You have their inner wolves’ respect. Any one of them would die in a fight for you, but now you need to get their human side’s respect. That’s a whole other ballgame as you Americans like to say.” His breath against my neck made my stomach drop, but his words flushed cold water through my veins.

“Let’s eat! Steaks are on the grill out back,” Kai announced and motioned for us to move to the back of the house. My inner wolf was pleased with our new place in the pack. I was scared shitless.

Water Blessed

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First Chapter of my new book Water Blessed.

Water

I tossed and turned all night, too warm in my mud hut to get any restful sleep. The summer had come and we hadn’t had rain in 211 days. I sat up and wrapped a cloth loosely around my slender frame. I didn’t put on undergarments, so the breeze could flow through the thin fabric and offer me some relief from the heat. My mouth was parched. I swallowed and my tongue felt swollen. I crept through the mud hut, careful not to wake my mother’s husband. His anger streak seemed to always be pointed at me. I grabbed the ladle and took one small spoonful of water, tipping my head back and gulping it down in one big swallow. The pot was nearly empty. I would leave the rest for my mother, her husband, and his second wife. I exited my mud hut and looked to the sky. The sun was still asleep as I gripped the three large steel water pots in my hands from our front porch.
My best friend, Lake, was trudging down the dirt road of our village with five huge pots. I loaded my pots on my head, balanced perfectly after years of practice, and met up with her.
“Lake, five pots is too many. You will never make the four-hour journey home with that much water,” I scolded her.
She looked weary. It had been a month since she was sold as a water wife. Her new husband was not kind. Men in our village took wives, up to five each, with the sole purpose of fetching water from the crowded and dangerous water well that was hours away.
She strained to carry the three pots on her head and two in her arms. “Rain is sick. I have to manage five today or my husband will beat me.”
I sucked in a breath and took one of the pots from her. “Lake, you said he was mean, not that he beat you. Tell your parents. We will manage the extra pots together for today.”
Our families sold us as young as fourteen to be water wives, but the men were expected to treat us well. My mother was holding out. She wanted better for me. At eighteen winters old, I was pushing it. She would have to agree to a deal soon. Water wives had a shelf life. It was hard work and took its toll on our bodies.
Lake’s lip quivered. Her long mousy brown hair was tied in a knot at the base of her neck so it would not interfere with pot balance. Her hazel eyes looked sad. Being a water wife did not serve my friend well. Rage boiled up inside of me. Was this what my best friend deserved after walking twenty miles a day to fetch water for her husband? Water wives were supposed to be cherished. They brought life to the family.
“Ocean, what do you expect me to do? I’m seventeen winters old, a third wife and I have no skills,” she pleaded with me. The tone in her voice, defeat; it broke my heart.
I sighed, resigned. “We’ll figure something out,” I told her and began walking the ten miles through the driest, hottest stretch of land in the realm. I looked out at the sea of brown. Dry, flat dirt for as far as the eye could see.
We made small talk on the walk over. My tongue was beginning to swell with thirst and the sun had completely risen.
“It’s getting too hot to do day walks, we should try to do our water collection at night for the rest of the summer.” Lake groaned.
Sweat was pouring down both of our backs. The cloth covering my body was soaked and sticking to my skin.
I managed a laugh. “We would be killed. Two young women at the watering hole at night?” I shivered. She knew the stories of the thugs that policed the watering hole at night. She knew what happened to me; what I had endured. No thank you. I will take my chance with the sun.
Within a mile from the watering hole, I realized Lake wasn’t beside me. I turned around to see her sitting against her large pots, head drooped. I dropped the pot in my hand and lowered the three from my head and ran to her.
“Are you hurt? What’s wrong? Is it the heat death?” I fawned over her, feeling her head.
She shook her head and stared out into the flat, arid land, void of any green, of any beauty.
“Ocean?” she asked me, “will this be my whole life? Will I just fetch water for a husband who beats me until the heat death takes me?”
I seized her in a hug as tears somehow managed to fall from my parched skin.
“Oh, Lake.” I had no hope to give her. Then something struck me.
“The Summer Solstice festival is tomorrow night. It’s been twenty years since the Fates gifted us with a Water Blessed. Maybe it will be you.” The second the words left my lips, a glimmer of hope twinkled in her eye.
“Really?” She pleaded with her eyes.
I nodded. Every woman in my village was named after a body of water in hopes of gaining favor with the Fates. For every twenty years, the power to create water from nothing was given to a young girl. Lake stood with renewed energy and hope. She balanced her pots on her head and began the final walk to the watering hole. I smiled. It was a nice thought. To be given such a power would be worth all of the jewels in Jewel Mountain. Water was life, to have it, to create it at will. It made you a God.
I caught up to Lake at the watering hole. The line was long. We stood for more than an hour and finally Lake was next. She disrobed and soaked her cloth to wear on the walk back. Some of the village boys and the water thugs stared at her naked breasts. I unhooked the blade from the holster attached to my inner thigh and let the sun glint off the steel edge. I shined the light in a thug’s face. He raised an arm to block the light, and looked at me.
I gave him a stony-faced expression, any kindness at the watering hole was mistaken for weakness. His name was Marques, and he had a long scar on his forearm to remember me by. And I had a stolen innocence to remember him by. Some girls went to bed with the watering hole thugs willingly, some were forced. My stepfather was a village elder and paid the thugs to keep other villages away, but they still wanted to have their fun with the girls. Not Lake. Not me. Never again.
When Lake had dressed and filled all of her pots, it was my turn. I filled my pots and disrobed. I kept my eyes on Marques as I soaked my cloth. His gaze roamed the length of my body and he licked his lips.
“How’s your arm?” I taunted him and wrapped my body in the cool wet cloth.
He sneered. “If your stepfather wasn’t an elder, I would have my way with you every day.”
“One time was enough to make me sick,” I told him, as some of the other thugs laughed. He lunged for me but I was quick. I whipped out my knife and had it wedged between his legs before he could do anything. I could smell his sweaty skin and acidic breath. I wanted to kill him, but politics kept me from it.
“If you touch me again, I will take your manhood. Not in the way you want,” I threatened. I hate that this was who I had become. It was the only way to get respect at the watering hole. He spat into one of my water pots and backed off.
I rolled my eyes and stacked my full pots on top of my head. The extra pot, I grasped in my arms and hugged to my body. I had never made the walk with four large pots, neither had Lake.
I followed her back up the hill and we began our trek home, passing many other women from our village.
It took us nearly twice as long with the extra pots. They were heavy and women we passed earlier while leaving the watering hole, passed us going home. I groaned as we finally made it to Lake’s hut. My arms felt like rubber, my neck was stiff. I wanted nothing more than to collapse and drink an entire water pot on my own.
“Thank you.” Lake hugged me. “You’re a good friend, Ocean.”
I was too tired to speak, so I smiled instead.
I took my three pots home and my stepfather, Bernie, was waiting for me. He didn’t look happy. Lake’s husband, Byron, was sitting with him. Why was he here? My mother was cooking dinner and my stepfather’s second wife, Creek, was sweeping the floors.
“There you are, Ocean!” my stepfather roared.
I set down the water and bowed. “I’m sorry, I had to help Lake carry an extra pot. Rain is sick.”
Lake’s husband looked drunk. “Rain passed away from the heat death today. May the Fates keep her soul.”
“May the fates keep her soul,” my stepfather echoed.
My hand went to my mouth. Poor Rain. She was older than us, just by a few winters. Far too young to meet death. Lake would be crushed.
“Byron is here to offer us something.” The gleam in my stepfather’s eye made me nervous. My mother and I shared a look. Oh please, no.
Byron sloppily pulled out a parchment ledger. “I would like to take Ocean as my new water wife. I can offer you three sacks of wheat, five sacks of potatoes, one live oxen and ten full pots of water.”
My mother dropped a pan in the kitchen and it crashed to the floor. My stepfather glared at her.
The wind had been taken out of me. I couldn’t speak. I knew a proposal would come. We had two already, but this offer was good. Too good. No one had ever paid so much for a water wife. Ten water pots. Poor Lake would be trudging to the watering hole twice a day to stock up for that. Byron was the only farmer in our village. He hoarded his family’s secret about how to plant and yield crop in drought conditions. All of the younger men worked for him and his land was at least a thousand oxen wide and two thousand long. He was a rich bastard and everyone did what he said. I never expected an offer from him.
I cleared my throat and approached the subject carefully.
“Stepfather, who will fetch your water?” I asked sweetly.
My stepfather gave me a glare that told me I would be getting a belting later. “Your mother or Creek. They have become lazy since you began fetching anyway.”
I looked at my mother’s mangled hands, the hump at the back of her neck. She was too old and tired to be a water wife. She had done her days of fetching water. No! Anger boiled up inside me.
My stepfather shook hands with Byron. “The wedding will commence next full moon,” he agreed.
“I haven’t said yes,” I told them incredulously. My fists balled.
“Dear, let’s talk in private, as a family, before we give Master Byron an answer,” my mother pleaded and rubbed her husband’s shoulders.
He threw her hand off. “You’re lucky I married you and took your daughter as my own after your husband died,” he told my mother. “She’s become a burden. I’m agreeing to the deal.” He nodded to Byron. That was that. No more would be said or there would be hell to pay. Unless I could afford my own hut, food, and water, which I couldn’t, I had no say.
Byron stood and approached me, his eyes scanned my long, dark, black hair, my emerald green eyes, down my sun-kissed skin and then to my full breasts. I wanted to vomit. That disgusting man would never be my husband. How had Lake’s parents agreed to him? He was at least forty-five winters old. I was younger than his own daughter.
He smiled and left.
My mother grabbed some dirty kitchen utensils and looked at me. “Ocean, help me with the washing.”
I followed my mother to the back of our hut and outside into the small courtyard. It was a luxury to have an enclosed private space. My stepfather being on the elder council had its perks.
My mother poured some precious water into the cleaning basin and washed the utensils. I sat near her, ready for her counsel. Ready for her to tell me to be a good water wife and do the only thing that a woman could do in our village. Fetch water.
“Tomorrow, during the revelry of the summer solstice, the men will be drowning in mead, the village will be bustling,” she told me.
I nodded. My arms and legs were sore from carrying the extra pot with Lake. My mother leaned in very close, her faint whisper could barely be heard. “That’s when you will sneak away.”
My mouth dropped open in shock. I sat rigid, unsure if I heard her correct.
She continued, “Take my traveling canteen, some food, and your stepfather’s gold Kings Coin. You can reach the city of Mule in two nights’ brisk walk. The darkness will cloak you at night and you can sleep in the day to avoid the sun. You’re strong and good with your blade. You can fight off a thug or two, pay them the Kings Coin if you must.”
“Mother, what are you saying?” Had she lost her mind? Mule was far. If I made it, once there what would I do? Mule had their own water well in town. They guarded it and had no need for water fetchers. I had no other skills. I had also never heard of anyone who traveled to Mule in the hot summer. People died on that walk.
She grabbed my face and stared into my eyes. Looking at her green eyes and ink black hair peppered with strands of silver, I realized how much we looked alike. My mother was beautiful once, but the sun and hard work had taken its toll.
“I’m saying I want more for you. Sell your hair, get an apprenticeship with a seamstress or try to sell your paintings at market. Anything but being a water wife. Anything.” Tears rolled down her face and left tracks in her dusty skin.
My throat pinched. “What about you and Lake? Bernie will kill you.”
“Lake and I will be fine. We both want a better life for you. I will play coy with your stepfather and the elders. I will disown you. Say you acted without my knowledge.”
Even though it was a lie, hearing her casually say she would disown me, hurt. Disowning someone in my village was the worst thing you could do and brought great dishonor to the family. But something else stirred inside of me. Could I really? Could I get an apprenticeship? Learn a trade? Sell my paintings? A thrill of excitement washed through me. My mother saw it in my eyes. I nodded. Stream, a sixteen-winters-old girl, once left the village five years ago. The elders said she died in the Death Valley before making it to Mule, but her mother told differently. She had made it to Mule, fell in love with a cobbler’s son and they got married, for love not for water.
“Okay, Mama,” I told her with certainty.
She cupped my face sadly. “Okay.”
Because I knew how horrible Byron was, I didn’t think I could leave Lake. If I left alone, unmarried, no one would come for me. If I took Lake with me, Byron would send for her, we would be found. The smart thing to do would be to leave without her. I tossed and turned all night and finally in the early hours, sleep took me.

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