Ok guys! Here is a bit of the beginning of a new paranormal series I’m working on. Be gentle – it’s very rough!!!!!! Oh, and I should mention: I swear like a trucker in my early drafts, then take out much of it later so this has some language in it!
Humara, youngest of the three goddesses, was ruled by lust and folly. She loved freely and often, and took too many lovers to count. Her children were made in her image, with nothing in them of their fathers. The weakest of the goddesses, she hadn’t any magic to give them, but humans were many in number and they prospered and multiplied. They claimed vast portions of the earth as their own and fed upon its land.
Gariana, middle of the goddesses and most powerful, was ruled by balance and mercy. She took three lovers: The Dragon God, the Keeper of the Elements, and the God of Four Legged Creatures. She bore children of each, and gave her children strength and power. The gar prospered on the earth as well, feeding from the energy at its core.
Pyrina, eldest of the goddesses loved nothing and no one, producing no children of her own. She watched human and gar share the earth, commingling and thriving, and was filled with bitter rage. She sent creatures to prey upon them. Vampyr to feed on humans, and Xiampyr to feed on gar. Her creatures infected the earth.
Gar and human each blamed the other and waged war. As the death toll rose, Gariana and Humara watched their children bleed and die. Humara wept. Gariana swept the earth in a desperate spell erasing gar from the minds of humans and replacing the knowledge with myth and legend, but the cost of the remedy was high. Gar gave up the ability to reproduce, becoming dependent on humans to produce offspring, forever tying them to the weaker species. Humans gave up knowledge of the goddesses and their ways, of their mother and creator.
The fighting stopped but the earth was forever changed.
Adak held to the shadows and inhaled deeply, focusing on the scent of the two beings in the small house. One human. One gar.
It was wrong. The male should be alone by now.
“Vadim,” he said, opening his mind to the link with his second in command. As Drygar males of the same pack, they didn’t need to use words to speak. They had the ability to speak with only their minds—subspeak—provided they were close enough to one another.
“I see them, Adak,” Vadim referred to the two energy signatures he could detect from his position near the front of the property. Two where there should be one. The quiet murmur of voices. A human woman was with the male, and the voices were getting louder by the minute.
“Not his mother.” Vadim reasoned. “But related.”
Adak agreed. The energy pulsing through the male nearly matched that of the woman to a tee. She had to be a relative. An aunt? Sister?
Sister. The knowledge hit him with certainty, as though she’d whispered it straight into his ear. But knowing who she was didn’t do anything to explain why she was there. A fledgling should be alone by the time they reached the change. It was always that way. No one understood why, but by the time the innate fledglings reached the point of maturity, they were alone in the world. Orphaned and isolated, waiting for the gar to claim them. To help them understand who they truly were. What they truly are.
Adak had sensed the male days ago when the male’s body had begun the change and tracked him here. He could see the intensity, the nearly blinding heat signature of his energy, an intensity all innates seemed to share. And the woman’s energy level was equally strong. Which made no sense. Humans had a weak bio signal. They were weak creatures, not tapped into the earth’s energy signal to any measurable degree. Yet, this woman was far from weak.
“And human,” Vadim said, voicing what Adak had been thinking. “Should we come back later? She’ll have to leave him alone sometime, right?”
“No time,” Adak growled. “Six Heritage pack warriors coming in hot and hard.”
Vadim’s curse was immediate and fierce. “ETA?”
“A mile out and coming in fast. Four fire and two earth drygar. You should feel them any second.” Adak’s ability to sense the other magical creatures on earth known as gar extended further than that of any other member of his pack. It was one of many strengths he possessed that others in the pack did not. But each of his warriors had their owns skills and assets, and each was valued in their own way.
“Kya, Malik,” Adak spoke to the two warriors on standby at strategic points, “cover us from above. You’ve got six headed in. Give us a little time to get out of the way.”
His soldiers responded without hesitation, weighty wings stirring to take flight. Kya, a mesmerizing water drygar, was as fierce as she was loyal. Stunning teal blue scales tipped in white called to many a male warrior, often distracting them long enough for her to rip spines from bodies with ease.
An air drygar, the heat and intensity of Malik’s exhale couldn’t be matched. His jet black scales and twisted horn might not be as enticing as Kya’s, but he was a dragon to be reckoned with. Even if they were outnumbered, the two would buy Adak and Vadim much needed time to get the male and his surprise sister out of the house.
The voices inside the structure escalated, and energy levels pulsed, reaching out to Vadim and Adak.
Adak spit out a curse along with a truck load of frustration at the situation. Fucked up didn’t begin to explain it. “He’s starting the change and she’s there with him. We need to move in now. Take the male. I’ll handle the woman.”
Vadim didn’t answer. Simply moved as Adak began to close in on the house at the same time.
The breach was easy, swift. But what he saw when he entered the home nearly stopped him cold. Bold dark eyes met his widening in shock for the briefest of seconds before the small woman spun, long caramel hair whipping behind her with the turn. A lythe body dove, then she was up again. And pointing a weapon directly at his heart.
Teagan Holmes’s world was falling down around her. She’d been through crisis before—most notably when her parents were killed in a plane crash when she was twenty, and she was left caring for her twelve-year-old brother on her own ten years ago. The last few weeks, though, had rivaled even the worst she and Dashiell had been through. She’d never felt so totally lost as she did now, her ability to pull her brother through anything they faced together, being truly put to the test.
She had always thought once she was through the teenage years, things would be easier. He was in his last year of college. They still shared a small house near his campus to cut back on how much debt he’d have when he finished, and they got along well despite the close quarters.
In the past three weeks, though, she’d seen him withdraw from her. He whipped from angry to sad and back again, as though fighting some demon she couldn’t see. A demon deep inside himself. He was emotional on a level she couldn’t begin to contend with. One minute, he’d push her away, and the next he would seek her out, looking to her for comfort like he had as a scared boy when their parents had died.
Things had gotten so bad yesterday she’d put in a request for two weeks leave from her job at the bank. Family always came first. Always. Dash needed her. No way she’d leave him to face this—whatever the hell this was—on his own.
And that’s where Teagan’s mind was as she watched her brother swing the pendulum again, going from needy and boyish to angry again. She was thinking her world was crumbling apart. Because they’d done all right until now, hadn’t they? They’d stayed together through it all over the last ten years. Burying her parents, fighting for custody, getting through the nightmares and heartache. They were on the other side. Until now.
As she stood there, hands hanging limply by her side, listening to her brother scream at her—again—to leave him alone, the back door to the house shattered with a deafening crack. Splintered at the sides as it flew through the air. Teagan barely had time to register the shock as she made eye contact with the man who’d just invaded their home, their sanctuary. Dark hair, height and size that spoke to strength. A lot of it. Now her life had truly come crashing down around her.
She dove, not thinking. Only acting. Responding with the training that had become part of her. Whatever asshole had just broken in had no idea what he’d be dealing with. Her father had taught her well. Trained her in handling several different firearms from the time she was little, and made sure she always had one at the ready. She’d continued her training, and made sure Dash was just as well trained. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dash go for his weapon, too, only she knew he wouldn’t find it. She’d removed the glock from the side table drawer as a precaution when he’d started acting so erratically, and had changed her own hiding spot for her weapon.
The weight of the forty caliber M&P settled reassuringly in Teagan’s hand and she as she leveled it at the man filling the back doorway to her home. She heard Dash’s curse when he didn’t find his weapon, but there wasn’t time to process what was happening. Only time for muscle memory to kick in. For her to assess the stranger in her home, the violent entry. The sounds of another person entering through the front in a similar manner. Teagan took a steadying breath and fired off three shots into the man in front of her before swinging her weapon toward the front of the house.
A blonde man walked slowly into the room, his hands raised, palms toward her. Dash tried to come out from behind her, but Teagan barked an order at him to stay put before backing them both further away from the man.
Men. Something was wrong. There should only be one man standing. She had seen the bullets find their mark. Three bullets hit dead center mass in the dark-haired man. She was sure of it. But there he was—the taller of the two at six five, six six maybe, eyes a silvery gray—his calm gaze still on her. Not a mark on him.
Teagan fired off four rounds into the blonde then emptied the rest of her clip into gray-eyed-guy.
And froze. Nothing. Nothing was happening.
One. Two. Three seconds passed as terror tried to creep into the sides of Teagan’s sanity, but she shoved it away. She would get them out of this. She didn’t know how, but somehow, someway, she would get Dash out of this. Whoever … whatever the hell these men were, there was no way she’d let them past her to her brother.
Adak expected the woman to crumple and fall, hysterics taking over as panic set in. She shocked him with just the opposite. Standing tall, she shielded her brother despite the younger man’s efforts to turn the tables and protect her. As surprise gave way to respect, Adak also felt a bit of remorse. Because this beautiful warrior was about to discover how little she could do to protect her brother. How little power she truly had in this world.
She was one of Humara’s children. The weakest of the goddesses, Humara’s children were many in number but they lacked strength and power. No magic ran through their veins. They were no match for the gar.
“We’re here to help your brother. Let us by,” Adak said calmly, knowing the power in his voice, the strength would carry and compel her to let him past. To let him get to her brother. After all, regardless of her species, an alpha was an alpha. She might not be bound to listen to him, but the authority carried across species boundaries to influence, at the very least.
He was pleased to see the brother step forward to stand as protection in front of her, but the woman still leveled the gun their way. Now, they had the problem of the brother wanting to fend them off, to defend his sister. Goddess help him, he was starting to see why the universe always isolated the innates. It sure as hell made it easier to collect them when the time came.
Vadim lent his own voice, murmuring similar sentiments to the woman. His strength lay in his ability to soothe, to comfort and calm in even the most tension-filled moments. And this was about to be more tension filled than the woman could begin to comprehend. The thrum of approaching wings sounded in Adak’s ears. The others wouldn’t hear them. Not yet. But he knew they approached with a ferocity and speed that meant business.
The gar world was at war, with those like Adak and the rest of Nova force—an alliance of packs led by Adak in the fight—standing on the side of balance. Standing for a shared world where human and gar continued to live in peace, sharing the planet. Others, like Heritage pack, an alliance of drygar warriors who’d sworn allegiance to Gransen, believed the time had come for the gar to take the earth from humankind, eliminating the other species from the planet for good.
Unlike the warriors of Adak’s force, those of Heritage pack would strike the woman down without thought or care before taking the male. Or worse, use her as a play thing, then kill her. They wanted nothing from her and saw the male only as a means to an end. They would take him, toss him in a cell, and only let him out when he’d been programmed to their ways. Bent to their will.
“Not on your life,” the woman said as she dug in and seemed to brace for a fight she had to know she couldn’t win. She wasn’t swayed in the least by the effects of either Vadim’s mind control or Adak’s authority. Respect and frustration mingled in his mind, but neither had time to grow. The male fell to his knees, clutching his head with a grunt of pain. As the woman tried to keep the weapon trained on Adak and Vadim while checking on her brother at the same time, the sound of wood beams being crushed rent the air.
Apparently, Heritage pack wasn’t in the mood for subtle tonight. The sound of dragon claws busting through the roof was unmistakable. At least to Adak. He’d heard that a few times before. He extended his cloaking spell. Heritage pack had as much at stake as he did if the humans saw them or heard anything, but he wasn’t taking chances. Wiping memory and changing stories and reports after the fact was never easy or fun.
“Take the male.” Adak’s command was silent, spoken only in his head, as he and Vadim moved in tandem.
“I am sorry,” he said to the woman aloud as he grabbed her, hauling her body tight against his. He wrapped her to his side with one arm, tucking her back to him as he moved. She struck him repeatedly with both heeled feet and her elbows—and managed to land more blows than he thought she would—but nothing slowed him. He couldn’t allow it. If they didn’t move now, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
When they hit the ground outside, feet transformed to talons, red and orange scales clicked into place over Adak’s muscles where skin had once been. Beside him, Vadim stood with midnight blue scales and twisted horned head, eyes alert and watching. With a flick of powerful wings, they flexed claws and shoved off from the ground. The woman would come with them. She didn’t know it, but her life in the world of the humans was over.
Dash’s screams echoed in Teagan’s ears as she clung to the talon holding her. The razor-like nails folded in, creating a cage of sorts as the creature lifted her into the air. Words like creature and talon swam through her mind as she desperately clawed at her sanity. She needed to stay calm. It was the only way to help Dash. Everything in her shouted to shut down, to close off the images she was seeing. Because they couldn’t possibly be real. The men who’d entered her home simply could not have transformed, shifted—whatever—into … dragons?
Dragons. The one holding her, a brilliant burnished red and orange. He was larger than life and oddly beautiful, despite the danger dripping from him with each winged stroke. The one next to them was covered in deep midnight blue scales, a single spiraled horn at the center of its large head. He had equally frightening talons and it occurred to her that she and Dash should have been shredded by the sharp instruments. Somehow, they weren’t.
She focused her eyes on the fisted claw of the blue beast. Dash lay writhing as though in pain, but something told her these creatures hadn’t been the source of it. When she was able to settle her thoughts enough, she played back the scene inside the house. Neither had moved to harm her or Dash, despite her aggression toward them. Of course, maybe they hadn’t seen her emptying a weapon into them as aggression. The bullets certainly hadn’t done a damned thing to harm them.
She remembered the palms out gesture of both men. Things. Dragons.
However frightening they might appear, they hadn’t made a move to harm her or Dash aside from carrying them off against their will. And the grasp the blue dragon had on Dash appeared to be just as gentle as that of the dragon holding her in its talon, though how they did that she couldn’t understand. The claws looked deadly, but somehow the dragon kept them from slicing her open.
That didn’t change the fact that her brother was clearly in pain, and she was powerless to help him. She felt her anxiety ramping up again and a whole lot of this simply can’t be happening flooded her brain.
Teagan’s focus was torn toward the night sky behind them by the sounds of battle. She watched in horror as a teal dragon snapped the neck of a black one, leaving nothing but ash falling from the sky as it turned toward a red dragon coming at it from behind. To its left, another pair clashed, razor sharp talons shredding through scales and tearing wings. The scene stepped right off the screen of a movie. Only this one was real, the sounds and pictures all undeniably vivid. Even the air carried the scent of charred flesh to her as she and Dash were carried away from the battle. And away from home.
She sucked in a breath as a red dragon broke apart from the group in pursuit. Head and tail forming an arrow, it rocketed toward them. Teagan braced herself in her dragon’s paw, bending her knees and pressing her hands into the scales on either side of her. She didn’t know what she was bracing for, really. There was nothing she could do in response to the coming attack. She was a sitting duck.
She glanced at Dash. He was in even worse shape than she was. She couldn’t tell from a distance if he was conscious, but even if he was, her brother was in no shape to defend himself in any way. For the first time in a long time, despair settled in and Teagan wasn’t honestly sure she could fight it off.
“Hey! Hey up there! Are you seeing this? Red dragon on your ass!” Who knew if the beast flying her could even hear her. “Do something, you idiot!”
She screamed her head off, anger rising to the boiling point. Being utterly helpless in the face of danger wasn’t something Teagan handled well. To say she wasn’t coping well with it was putting it mildly as she watched the dragon bear down on them with astonishing speed.
No reaction from her captor. He continued his trajectory as though nothing were wrong. Same reaction from the fool carrying her brother. The incompetent asses were going to get them killed.
As she watched with bile climbing in her throat, the attacker closed in, its mouth opening wide.
A billowing sphere of swirling orange and yellow flame collected in the creature’s mouth. Teagan’s mind raced for some way out of danger, but there was none. She was suddenly grateful that Dash was unaware of what was happening. Even though he seemed to be in pain, nothing could be worse than being burned alive. With any luck, he’d pass out before the fire hit them.
Teagan closed her eyes, almost ashamed she didn’t want to see what was coming. But there wasn’t any way she could keep watching that ball of fire and not lose her shit.
Then the world flipped sideways and Teagan screamed, clinging to the scaled walls around her, trying to keep her bearings. She opened her eyes but wished she hadn’t. She was spinning. Her dragon was spinning on his side, flipping in midair. As she watched in horror, she realized he and the black dragon had lured the attacker in, only to bank to the side at the last minute. Talons sliced deep, one into either side of their attacker before he could release the powerful fire ball at the back of his throat.
Teagan choked as ash surrounded them, coughing on the stench of sulphur as her captor climbed higher, bringing her to fresh air. And then it dawned on her. The ash was the dragon they’d just trapped. Its body nothing more than a cremated mess blowing behind them as they shot upward and continued their escape.
Adak ached to speak to the woman—a feeling that shocked and annoyed him. He was unable to communicate with her in his dragon form. He couldn’t speak verbally as a dragon and using his mind with her the way he did with his pack wasn’t an option. Any reassurance would have to wait until he shifted back to his human form. And he would only do that when he was sure they were clear of the Heritage pack threat behind them.
He needed to get her brother to safety and help him through the transition. The male’s body was about to change from human to dragon form for the first time, and the shift was never an easy one at the start. Bone, muscle, and sinew all forced to move, to make way for the powerful beast dormant inside the gar.
If his hunch was right, the male was drygar, like he and Vadim. There was a slight possibility he was wygar—a wolf shifter—but Adak didn’t think so. He wasn’t maliigar—what humankind thought of as witches in their lore. The change wouldn’t be wracking his body quite so painfully if he was maliigar. They had it easy. Their magic didn’t change the shape and size of their bodies all that much—it was a subtler shift from human to something like glowing human—making the whole thing a hell of a lot less painful.
What remained to be seen was whether the male would be a fire drygar like himself, air drygar like Vadim and Malik, or water drygar like Kya. There were other breeds out there, but they were so rare as to be nonexistent.
Right now, though, not a lick of that mattered. What mattered was figuring out what to do with the male’s sister. Adak should be concerned only with keeping the existence of the gar from her. Maintaining the secrecy crucial to upholding the balance that allowed gar and humans to walk to earth together in peace. Without the bloodshed and war of days past.
What killed him was the fact his thoughts were anywhere but that. His head couldn’t seem to get off the need—the drive—to comfort and soothe her. To ease her mind as he whisked her back to Nova force’s lair.
On the whole, he and the members of his force were protective of humans. They hated to see the weaker beings harmed, and certainly not at the hands of gar. There was also the fact that the consequences of renewing the war with humans were too great to risk declaring war. But the emotions plaguing Adak went far beyond the typical protective surge he felt for the weaker species. What he felt was—shit, he didn’t know and he didn’t want to analyze it. He wanted to make it go away.
So, why did he find himself triple timing it back to the lair, pushing wings past the comfort zone and challenging his second in command to keep up, all to get her to safety. All so he could once again assume human form and speak to her. Calm her. Let her know they meant her no harm.
In a matter of minutes, the whole situation had gone so far past the fucked up mark, he couldn’t find his way back to fucked up with a map, a compass, and a fucking escort to take him there.
TEAGAN GULPED FOR AIR AS her heart began a slow return to its normal pace. A very slow return. She honestly didn’t know if her heart rate would ever be the same, but it seemed to be headed back in the right direction. She looked through the opening between the claws that cradled her and was surprised to see a wide stretch of highway below her. She recognized the Capital of Texas Highway and its rock cut-throughs. The woods to the west of it stretched out beneath them, trees bowing in deference to the beating wings of the animals carrying her and Dash.
As they skimmed over the trees, the woods below suddenly seemed to shift, as if breaking wide open to reveal a great deal more land than she knew was there. She’d driven by this area before. There as the Barton Creek trail and wooded hiking areas. A single creek ran through the area. But before her, she saw several creeks, all crisscrossing to create an almost square shaped area in the woods. A large field stood at the center of the square.
Teagan shook her head, looking back out to the highway and up toward where she knew Mopac Expressway should cross in front of them. Not there. No, that wasn’t right. She could see it. Only, it wasn’t where it should be. It was much further out than it should have been. She thought about rubbing her eyes to see if the images would settle back to what she knew they should be, but realized it was pointless. Nothing in her world was as it should be any longer. Nothing was what she’d believed it to be.
Damn. There went her heart again, racing triple time as she closed her eyes and tried once again—and with similar unsuccessful results—to try to wake herself from the nightmare she’d just been dumped into. This had to be a nightmare. There wasn’t any other explanation. She wrapped her arms around her knees, huddling into a ball and rocked. Maybe, with enough denial, she could come out of this on the other side. Come out with some semblance of sanity intact.
Adak didn’t think he’d ever been as relieved to see the creek bed as he was when they came over the final crest and hovered over the field surrounding the lair. He wanted to shift. To be able to talk to the female and set her at ease. Snatching a human from her home was not something that was normally on the menu for him and it wasn’t sitting right with him. He needed to explain to her that they weren’t trying to harm her, that they only wanted to help her brother. That they only wanted to keep them both safe while they figured out what their next move was.
Yeah, asshole, what’s the next move? He didn’t have any answer for the irritating voice that needed at him. His conscience could be a bitch sometimes. Not that it was wrong. Because, really, what the hell was he going to do with the human? He had no plan. No clue what to do next. That wasn’t a position he found himself in often. Well, hell, ever for that matter.
He set down in the field next to the lair, carefully keeping his right talon raised high. The last thing he wanted to do was injure the woman. Vadim landed beside him and Adak gave him the nod to release his passenger, as he gently let the woman out of her makeshift cargo hold.
Despite the obvious pain their male passenger was in, Adak stepped back, away from the pair as the male’s sister rushed to his side.
“Give them space, Vadim.”
Adak shifted back into human form once they’d put several yards between themselves and the pair. When Vadim had done the same, he walked closer, approaching with care.
“We can help him. Help take away the pain while he goes through the change,” he said, tone soft and gentle.
The woman whirled, keeping her body between Adak and her brother. Respect cranked up again, erasing the annoyance he felt at not being able to help the young gar on the ground behind her.
He shoved aside all feelings, including the inexplicable attraction he felt for the dark haired, wide eyed woman. She was gorgeous. He’d give her that. Caramel hair and deep dark eyes, set off by a mouth made for kissing. Plump lips he wanted to taste, to feel. Ridiculous thoughts for him to be having about a human. Adak didn’t tangle with humans the way some gar did. He’d seen what could happen when you headed down that route.
He continued as though the female wasn’t preparing for battle. “I’m Adak. This is Vadim. We know what he’s going through. Been through it ourselves. We can help him.”
“Stay away from him.” Her voice was a low growl, the ferocity of her stance clear. Respect clicked up again. This was a strong woman to take them on after what she’d just seen. Hell, she was strong to simply be standing after all that.
“Adak,” Vadim’s voice held a warning.
“I see it.” He could see what the woman couldn’t. Her brother was seconds away from the next level in the brutal shift his body was about to take. He would be—
“Oh God!” she cried out and sank to her knees at her brother’s side once more. Seizing. He was seizing.
It was normal at this stage of the change, but she had no way of knowing that.
“Go,” Adak said quietly to Vadim, as he moved forward to pull the woman from the male. It wasn’t fair to let the male suffer like this. Much as he hated it, Adak would do what he needed to help the male. Despite the fact that his stomach churned at the thought. Just because he could push her—essentially force her—didn’t mean he liked it.
Humankind didn’t feed on the energy of the earth’s core the way gar did, and they weren’t a conduit to it. Humans couldn’t access it. Only a gar could link to another gar to feed and restore their magic. But the gar had discovered long ago that a human could be soothed, for lack of a better word—maybe lulled was more accurate—if the gar transmitted a little of the energy stored in a gar’s body into the human. It was called pushing because the energy was literally pushed into the human’s body, creating pleasure, but also creating compliance.
Some gar were more comfortable with the exchange than others. Adak had never really been fond of it. It was too much of an invasion. Something done without the human’s knowledge or consent. But he knew the male was going through unspeakable pain right now. He also had the strong feeling if his sister could do something to take that pain away, she would. So putting her into a little trance while Vadim helped the male seemed like a fair tradeoff.
Adak stepped in and placed his hands on the woman’s shoulders, drawing her up to him. She came willingly, the trance having begun with the simple brush of his thumb to the nape of her neck. Fingers threaded in her hair, he opened the connection and pushed a small dose of energy. Her response was immediate as she swayed toward him, blissed out on the high he was giving her.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Vadim reach the male and lift him, heading toward the large cabin structure inhabited by the packs that made up Nova force. Adak deepened the connection and opened the channel that would allow his energy to flow to the woman in his arms. Not at all sure what drew him in, what caused him to act, he found himself lowering his head to her mouth. A sudden need to taste her, feel the touch of her tongue on his, drove him issuing a burning command to move closer. He did.
Teagan. Once again the knowledge floated into his mind easily, as though she’d placed the name there herself. And with it, Adak felt an almost palpable click as her energy opened to his in a way it shouldn’t have. In a way that should have been impossible. He wasn’t pushing the way he would normally need to with a human. He was joining with her, as he would have with another gar. No, that wasn’t quite right. This was even more intense than that. He’d only kissed her, but the ecstasy that overtook them felt like nothing he’d ever experienced.
Gorgeous purple tendrils of intertwining energy swirled and licked at his own white life force. The strands tangled and danced, growing in intensity and strength. They tapped into the earth’s core, drawing the feeding, healing magic only two gar should have been able to access together.
Adak moaned, trying to pull away but the appeal, the heat of Teagan in his arms was too great. Her tongue flicked his as she let out a moan of her own and pressed her body flush to his. Damn, she tasted so fucking sweet. Nectar of a flower made only for him, for no one else’s mouth but his own.
Her hands threaded his hair and she pulled, clamping down tight, making sure their bodies stayed locked in a kiss that seemed to feed them both. Adak was lost. Dragged under a tidal wave of pleasure and seduction so strong, he didn’t know how he’d surface again. He traveled the length of her body, slipping hands over hips to reach thighs. With a tug, he pulled her closer still, and the energy erupted around them, sending light and heat flashing outward.
One second, Teagan’s hands shoved against the man who’d pulled her from her brother, and the next … oh, the next. Lost in bliss, she heard moans coming from her. From a body that was currently betraying her. Betraying her brother.
Her hands ran over soft cotton covering hard muscle on a chest that far surpassed the term chiseled. The man felt like iron, yet somehow soft at the same time as his hands touched her skin. She wanted more. More contact. More of him. More of them, pressed together.
A feeling of pure pleasure spread through her, but there was something else mixed with it. Lust and arousal so startling, Teagan was powerless to do anything other than grab hold of it and hang on. Her body tingled as lust turned to craving, followed quickly by greed.
The feeling shocked her. She was always in control. She never let attraction or need get the best of her. How could she when she’d spent her early twenties raising her brother?
As the man’s hands roamed over her body, some small part of her thought she should stop him. There was no listening to that voice, though. Not as heat and a sweet ache settled between her legs. His hands moved to her thighs and he touched her in ways no stranger should be touching her. And still, she let him do it. Not let. She pressed against him, a silent plea for more. For the life of her, she didn’t know why.
As she lost herself in the feeling, she became aware of energy pulsing between them. This wasn’t your everyday sexual encounter. Something else was happening. She could see—no, sense, was more the right word—energy knotting around them. White energy emanating from him, purple from her. The energy came together and melded, intertwined and connected, becoming one. Dancing.
With a gasp, she felt some of his white energy entering her. If she were in her right frame of mind, she might wonder at this, but instead she could only marvel at the beauty of it and pray there was more to come. Pray this feeling would never stop. Because the energy felt incredible. Like nothing she’d ever felt and nothing she could even put into words. It was everything. Color and light. Heat, passion, pleasure.
But then it did stop. A voice cut through the fog of pleasure, reminding her of where she was—who she was. She was her brother’s guardian. She was all he had left in the world. A responsible woman who didn’t walk around nearly stripping strangers in a field.
Strangers who turned into dragons.
With a shove, she stepped back, planting space and sanity between her and the man. She watched as the other man, blonde one, stood on the porch of a large cabin. Well, cabin was an understatement of epic proportions. It was a log cabin style structure, but it was enormous and clearly very luxurious. The wrap around style porch was massive and flanked with large Adirondack chairs with matching foot rests. A porch fronted a portion of the second level of the house as well. Hanging planters boasted bright flowers that gave the place an unexpected cheery demeanor and made Teagan wonder who in the dragon household would be responsible for the flowers.
The men exchanged a look Teagan couldn’t interpret and she had the feeling they were communicating somehow. She squinted at them, the faint sound of voices coming through. Only, she wasn’t hearing them. They were in her mind.
“The male is comfortable now. Rhys is with him.”
Teagan spun, searching the ground. Her brother was gone. Before she could turn on the man—Adak, she remembered now, he had told her his name was Adak—he spoke. This time his words came through her ears, as they should.
“Vadim, please escort Teagan to her brother. Let her see for herself that he’s feeling better now, that the pain is lessening.” His eyes remained on her as though he were speaking to her instead of Vadim.
“I didn’t tell you my name.”
“Yes,” he said, warily, and there was a hint of regret in his tone. And something else. Confusion, maybe? No. That wasn’t right, More like he was trying to puzzle something out. Puzzle her out. “You just don’t know you did.”
And then he was gone. Turning and striding into the house without another word, leaving her with the man he’d called Vadim and a lot more questions than answers.
“What the hell was that?” Adak growled to himself as he stormed past Vadim and entered the lair, boots hammering out his arrival on the wood plank flooring. His brain was flooded with the taste and feel of Teagan. Soft curves, haunting dark eyes, hair he wanted to tangle his hands into and never come undone.
Undone. Fantastic. Now he was picturing her coming undone. Under him. On top of him. Wrapped in his arms. Fuck.
Long legs took him swiftly through the corridors toward the one gar who might have answers for him. He took the stairs three at a time, before jogging the last few steps to Marat’s domain. Adak wasn’t one to be embarrassed but he did take a minute to stop outside the door and get himself under control. Or rather, his body under control. One part of his anatomy in particular was still enjoying the effects of those few minutes with Teagan outside.
“We’ve got a problem,” Adak said when he’d talked his cock down and entered Marat’s room without knocking.
Marat, a maliigar male at least a century older than Adak, spun in his chair to face the Alpha. “And … that would be?”
Adak slammed the door and ran his hands through his hair, pulling at it as he tried to figure out how to explain what had just happened. What the hell had just happened? He didn’t know how he could explain it when he couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around it himself.
Marat raised a brow. “Care to share?” He held out his hand and Adak growled, but took it. Mind sharing wasn’t something he was particularly fond of. Some gar loved it, some could care less, and others hated it. It always felt risky to Adak to open his mind to someone else, even though he could, in fact, block out all but what he wanted them to see. Mind sharing was voluntary. It couldn’t be forced on a gar. That didn’t mean his skin didn’t crawl just a little every time he opened himself to someone else. That was simply his nature.
Hands clamped together palm to palm with fingers on one another’s wrists, Adak opened a window in his mind and showed Marat a clip of the evening. He began outside Teagan’s house and ended moments before with the scene in the clearing outside the house. Adak forced himself not to look away when Marat saw what had happened in the field. Witnessed how out of control he’d been with Teagan. Adak was never out of control. It was one of the reasons he was Alpha of the largest gar force in the country.
He’d like to think it was the shock of being able to link and feed with a human—one he wasn’t even naked with at the time—that had thrown him so off balance. That shouldn’t have been possible. But, he knew damned well it was more than that. And he could see in Marat’s eyes that he knew it as well. The bond he and Teagan had just shared was unlike any he’d ever shared.
Marat hauled ass to the hallway, muttering as he went. Adak followed. Male maliigar—known in human mythology as warlocks—could be moody as hell and weren’t really big on communication, but they were sharp as hell. Actually, that could describe a lot of the males in Adak’s force regardless of their gar species. It described Adak himself to a tee.
“Want to tell me where you’re headed?”
Marat didn’t answer. Just kept muttering about something being a legend. How he didn’t think it was real. Adak shook his head and followed him into the lair’s library. Marat pointed a finger at the fireplace, lighting a fire with his mind, before raising a hand in the air. An ancient looking volume floated down from one of the high stacks. It looked as though it hadn’t been touched in ages, though Marat clearly knew exactly what he was looking for.
Flipping the pages with his mind, the maliigar sank into a chair and looked as though he’d forgotten all about Adak’s presence.
Adak cleared his throat.
“Oh, sorry,” Marat said, glancing up for a second before turning his attention back to the book. “It’s here somewhere. I know I read about a being like her years ago. Centuries. I assumed it was nothing more than legend, maybe a story told to children years before you and I walked the earth. But it must be, it’s the only thing that makes sense—”
Marat broke off, eyes fixed on a sketch in the old tome’s pages. “Hybrid.” The word came out as a whisper and Adak knew the male had once again forgotten his Alpha’s presence.
He walked over and took the book from the maliigar’s hands, scowling at him as he did. Weathered pages caressed his hand and the scent of the ancient text filled his nostrils. Musty, but somehow not unpleasant.
Then the image on the page stole all focus. It wasn’t Teagan. The woman in the picture had a different build and curly hair where Teagan’s was straight. But there was something in the image that hinted at Teagan. The eyes or simply the power behind the countenance? Everything about the woman in the image spoke of control and supremacy.
Arms raised, hair swirling, she appeared to command earth, air, water, and fire with ease as representations of each of these elements whirled around her in the sketch. The word Zadyia was written in ancient hand beneath the drawing. Hybrid. Beside it, the words: Garryn Vydra Anon. The one who does not shift.
Adak skimmed the text below the image. There wasn’t a whole lot there. It read like a fairytale of a woman neither human nor gar, but hybrid. Which shouldn’t be possible. He remembered a legend about a woman like this from when he was young, but the details were vague. Like wisps of a story his father told him at bedtime. Nothing concrete or factual. A great deal of gar history was like that. Very piecemeal, often only recorded regionally, but not shared among the different packs. Now that technology was what it was, that was changing somewhat, with information being shared more readily. But it wasn’t quite where it should be yet.
His mind flashed to Teagan as he looked at the image of the woman on the page, and he had to rethink his idea of what was possible. What he and Teagan had just done—a human and a gar connecting to the earth’s energy together to feed—was the stuff of legends, just like the tale on the page before him. The story held very little information, but the woman controlled all four of the elements of the earth. No gar Adak had ever heard of or met could do that.
All gar were ruled by one of the four elements: earth, air, water, or fire. A wygar’s ability to shift from wolf to human form was linked to the earth, for example. They had some ability to command other animals as well, but they had no power over air, water, or fire. Drygar could be governed by any of the four elements, but that was the only element they held command over.
Maliigar came as close to what was depicted in the image, but even there, the comparison wasn’t precise. Maliigar had some ability to manipulate or draw from all four of the elements of the earth, but three of the four were always weak in each maliigar’s repertoire. They each connected most strongly with one of the four. The element they identified with was determined by nature, not by choice.
Adak looked up and found Marat watching him. “Is it possible?” Marat asked.
Adak frowned. He didn’t like the fact that he didn’t have an answer to that. He handed Marat the book and turned to leave, tossing an instruction over his shoulder. “Scour the library. Find everything.”
Gransen looked out over his warriors, satisfaction at their swelling numbers moving through him. Many were young and needed the seasoning of the warriors in the higher ranking Osni, but they would see plenty of action as part of his pack. They’d either survive or not. Made no matter to him. The weaker links would be culled quickly and without mercy or regret.
He watched as two of his human slaves dragged buckets of water out onto the floor before him. A smile tugged at his lips. Not many of his kind kept human slaves, but what could he say? He got his rocks off on it. Literally.
The fuckers weren’t actually slaves. They were free to walk away from him at any time. They’d never leave, though. They liked the high they got when he pushed energy into them, blissing them out as he fucked them senseless. Man or woman, he didn’t give a rat’s ass. For him, it was all about making them beg for it. His dick swelled in his pants at the thought of the sorry fuckers so damned desperate for an energy fix, they gladly stuck their asses in the air pleading for him to shove his cock hard and deep again and again.
He shook off the distraction. Playtime with his pets would have to wait. He didn’t have time for that tonight. His warriors needed to be shown what happened when you let him down and had the nerve to come back to the lair with your life intact. When he sent his males on a mission, they’d damned well better complete it successfully or die trying. Turning tail and coming home wasn’t an option.
The failures from tonight’s mission were being dragged into the arena. They’d let the male get away. Correction. They’d let Nova force take the fucking male. Another innate grabbed before he could get his hands on it.
There was a time Gransen believed innates to be an abomination. After all, when it really came down to it, an innate—a gar born to two human parents—is soiled. His sire hadn’t taught him much, but he’d taught him that. Their blood unclean. Now, Gransen was a bit more open minded than that. He was no longer under the thumb of his father, the great politician. He kept his face impassive in front of his forces, but he wore a sneer on the inside. It was there any time he thought of his sire. Gransen Sr. had led the charge for a world gar council, to bring order to the masses. Of course, he’d sire seen himself at the head of this great ruling beast, but it turned out others disagreed.
The man hadn’t survived the fallout from his bid for power, and Gransen had seen just how week his sire had truly been in the end. He didn’t have the vision Gransen did. He hadn’t realized great power could only be take through brute force. By being the strongest. By being willing to take more heads than all those around you in the name of your cause.
When Gransen got out from under his father’s rule, he’d finally realized the old man might have been a bit short sighted in some ways. Innates might prove useful to the cause, even if they were bred from humans. And really, aren’t all gar tainted by humans nowadays? The goddess Gariana had seen to that. She’d cursed the race to be reliant on humans, only able to reproduce when mating with one of the weaker species. Damned to infertility when they mated with one another.
But, then he’d brought Osgar into his pack and his new second in command had introduced him to the world of science. Not that Osgar was a true scientist. More like a guy you’d find messing around with things in the garage. But Gransen didn’t care. The guy loved theories and hypothesis, and Gransen had quickly realized his ideas might hold merit.
One hypothesis the male had was that two innates might be able to breed together to produce gar without the need for humans. They had a female, but no male and it wasn’t as if innates turned up every day. The time to grab them was when they were weak, just before the change. Once changed, they were powerful, unless kept drugged up and behind electrified bars they couldn’t break through.
Gransen wondered briefly if all this would be a waste of time. Screw it. If it turned out Osgar was wrong and the creatures couldn’t produce gar offspring, maybe they could dissect the fuckers and see what the hell the innates really were. Maybe he’d hire some real scientists to isolate something from their DNA that would help solve the problem of reproduction once and for all. Because the sooner they figured out a way for gar to reproduce without humans, the sooner they could begin to wipe the parasites from the planet and take back what was rightfully theirs.
Gransen raised his arms for quiet as the two warriors were dropped at his feet. Each bowed their heads, groveling for mercy. There would be none. The four who hadn’t returned were the lucky ones. Their death had come swiftly in the field of battle. Swiftly and with honor.
The drygar prostrating before him like the weak cowards they were wouldn’t be so lucky. Failure on such an epic scale could not be tolerated. It had to be made an example of. Lessons must be taught. Gransen shifted into drygar form in the enormous hall. His aquamarine scales were tipped in silver and white, the mark of a water drygar.
Water drygar on the whole were a powerful force wielding a deadly weapon. Gransen, however, was stronger than most. He could manipulate water in ways even some of the most talented of water drygar had yet to master. And he had to admit, he rather enjoyed putting on a good show.
He spoke to the entire assemblage with subspeak, using their mind’s link to speak without vocalizing the words. The effect was no less powerful than if he were shouting across the room, his words echoing loudly, ringing in the ears of all before him.
“You’ve failed me this evening, my soldiers, my brethren. Failed us all. Failed the cause. What say you for your cowardly actions tonight?”
As the warriors opened their mouths to speak, Gransen called forth his magic, summoning the water from each of the buckets his slaves had placed ahead of time. Pride welled as he controlled the powerful element with barely a flicker of thought, forcing a stream of water into the mouths of the males before him. Lungs filled with fluid, choking their words before they had a chance to come out. They attempted to answer in subspeak, but he cut them off.
“There is nothing you can say, no excuse that defends your failure. The cause is only as strong as its weakest warrior, is it not?” He shouted in the minds of all, raising his eyes and arms to the group before him. All cried back in unison, confirming.
The soldiers before him fell to the floor, hands grasping at necks, flopping like fish on a dock. Gransen drained the water, letting it slip from them as they sucked lungful after lungful of air in desperation. He allowed them each the luxury of a breath or two before filling them once again with water. It fascinated him, really. Water was all powerful. So necessary for life, yet so capable of taking it as well. So capable of destruction. Of devastation.
Gransen smiled as the fighters thrashed once again and his assembled ranks began to shift uneasily on their feet. He ignored their unease. They’d better settle in. He planned to continue this throughout the night, before killing the worthless bastards. Let them demonstrate to all the price paid for less than exemplary performance in his army. Death would not come easy to any who failed him.
“Where are we?” Teagan followed Vadim down a long hallway. “And where are you taking me? Where is my brother?”
She was a bit stunned when he answered all of her questions. She hadn’t actually expected that. In fact, if she weren’t so focused on getting to Dash, she might worry about the ease with which he shared information. She might worry it meant they planned to hold her here. Or worse. But for now, her only concern was seeing Dash through the immediate crisis. The rest would have to wait.
“You’re in the lair of Nova force. The force consists of three packs—Adak’s drygar pack, a maliigar pack, and a wygar pack—all banded together and sworn to follow Adak in the fight against Heritage pack.” He glanced over at her as though checking to see if she was following.
Probably seeing the look of I don’t give a shit about all of that right now written on her face, he kept going. “Right. So I’m taking you to your brother. We’ve got him in the clinic where we’re able to keep him more comfortable and monitor him through the change.”
Teagan surged ahead of him, despite the fact she didn’t know where the hell she was going. “If you’ve touched him, harmed him in any way—”
She looked through each door she passed rocketing down toward the end of the hallway. How large was this damned house? It seemed endless.
“Glass doors. All the way at the end,” Vadim called out to her, not seeming to care that she was essentially taking off on her own in the lair.
She broke into a run, skidding to a stop as double glass doors slid open before her. Her brother was propped on pillows on a large hospital bed. There were no machines hooked up, but a tall man stood nearby as though he were monitoring her brother’s condition.
Teagan crossed to Dash’s side and took his hand, rubbing her thumb over his palm. He didn’t move.
“What have you done to him?” She probably shouldn’t be angry. Dash appeared to be a lot more comfortable than before. His eyes were no longer squeezed shut in pain. He was sleeping, lashes resting on his cheeks as if his pain were gone.
That didn’t change the fact that true fear for her brother’s safety was waging war with confusion in her brain. The result of that battle was anger. Lashing out at the people who had torn them from their home and done who knew what to Dash, even if it did appear to be helping him.
Vadim cleared his throat from the doorway, stepping into the room. “Can you give us a few minutes, Rhys? I’ll stick with him. Let you know if he needs anything.”
When the other man walked out, Vadim took up his post on the opposite side of Dash’s bed. “The short answer is, we pushed some of the energy gar need to survive into him. He’s not able to feed on the energy directly yet, but we’re able to push small amounts of it into him throughout the change.”
Teagan closed her eyes and willed her emotions to stand down. She was at the very end of her rope and didn’t really think she could handle much more of this. When she spoke, it was through clenched teeth. “Tell me what you mean. From the beginning. What change?”
Vadim’s expression was kind, which only served to make her angrier. She needed answers, not pity.
“We’re a species known as the gar, with three subspecies: drygar, maliigar, and wygar. In your culture, the subspecies are called dragons, witches, and werewolves, respectively, although, the myths that teach of those beings in the human world are vastly inaccurate.”
He glanced at her face. “More on that later,” he said, rushing to answer her question. “We feed on energy from the core of the earth, tapping into it—well, uh that’s not important right now. It’s the energy that keeps us alive and also feeds our magic.”
“The change.” Teagan reminded him of his goal in this story.
“Right. So, most gar are born when a human and gar mate, but there are occasionally what we call innates. When a gar is born in the human world, to human parents, because somewhere along that bloodline there exists gar heritage. Gar children appear, for all intents and purposes, as human before maturity. At maturity, they go through a change. The body transforms, making the shift that takes place for each gar subspecies for the first time. Their magic comes to life in that change. It’s painful, but by pushing small bits of the energy into him, we make it more bearable. Once the shift is complete, he’ll be able to access our energy source directly and feed regularly. The change won’t be painful then.”
Teagan stared, open mouthed.
“He’s resting now,” Vadim said, and Teagan felt a wave of hysterical laughter threaten to break free. She punched the shit out of that laughter and chased it back where it came from. Now was not the time.
“When will he be well enough to leave?” She needed to get them out of here. Out of the rabbit hole she’d just fallen down. Out of the nightmare.
She’d love to deny what the man was saying. Tell him he must be nuts. That was hard to do when she’d just taken a ride on a dragon. When she’d watched him ash another one. When she’d seen him transform back into a man. But getting her and Dash out of here? Yeah, that seemed like a good idea. That was a plan she could get behind.
She’d do what she did best. Take care of her brother. It was what she’d been doing for the last ten years, and she’d step up and do it now.
Vadim shook his head. “You can’t do that, Teagan. You won’t be safe out there.”
Spine snapped straight as she turned to square off with Vadim. “The hell I can’t. I’ll take care of him, same as I always do.”
Vadim was shaking his head. “Adak won’t allow—”
She didn’t wait for an answer. Adak could go to hell for all she cared. And it was about time she told him that. He was the leader of this—whatever the hell they’d said it was. Pack, force, army. Whatever. She needed to go see him.
Teagan looked at her brother sleeping and made a decision. He was sleeping and out of pain. She needed to confront Adak. She’d let him know they wouldn’t be staying, then find out when her brother would be up and ready for travel. Then she’d plan. She needed to plan.
Turning toward the glass doors, she set out into the hallway again, Vadim following at her back.
“Where is he?”
“Don’t play dumb, Vadim. It doesn’t suit you.” Teagan didn’t slow as she headed back toward the front entranceway. She simply tossed the comment over her shoulder and kept on moving. She hadn’t seen Adak in any of the rooms they’d passed in this hallway, so she went back to the entranceway to go through the house systematically. She’d find him eventually.
“Adak?” Vadim caught up to her, long strides easily matching her shorter ones.
She didn’t bother to answer. He knew damned well she meant Adak.
“Teagan, you can’t—”
“Oh, yes, I can.”
She had reached the second floor by now, having guessed much of the downstairs might simply hold kitchen, living room, that sort of thing. She walked down the long hallway that was the upper version of the one she’d been down to reach the clinic. It wasn’t hard to spot Adak. Like the clinic, the room above it had large glass doors at its entrance, a surprising touch for such a rustic style structure.
In fact, nothing about the inside of the house was rustic. It was modern and sleek. As Teagan approached what appeared to be a large conference room with gleaming dark wood table at its center, the doors slid open to let her in.
Adak looked up from the papers he and two others had spread out on the table before him and raised a brow at her, but didn’t speak. She liked that about him.
“My brother and I will be leaving as soon as he’s able to travel.”
He nodded. “Fine.”
Well, that was easier than she’d thought it would be.
“You realize you can’t go back to your home, your job? They know where you are.”
That stopped her for a split second, but she covered it and kept right on going. When in doubt, fake confidence. It had worked for her before and it would work here. “I’m not an idiot, Adak. I’ve been taking care of my brother for ten years, and I’m plenty capable of caring for us now. If we have to relocate, we’ll relocate. We’ll be fine. Just tell me when he’ll be well enough to go.”
He shrugged a shoulder but she could see the nonchalance was feigned. “A day. Two at the most. The change is fast.”
Adak, you can’t let them walk away. They’ll be slaughtered.
I can’t keep them here. We’ll put a surveillance team on them, intervene when Heritage pack comes after her.
“The hell you will,” Teagan said. Whipping around to glare at Vadim behind her before turning back to Adak. Dead silence greeted her. The kind of silence that told you everyone in the room was holding their breath. Or had just had the breath sucked out of them in shock. Judging by the looks on their faces, it was a little of both.
Teagan? It was Adak’s voice, but his mouth hadn’t moved.
That’s when Teagan processed it. When her brain caught up to the events of the last ten seconds. Because Adak’s lips weren’t moving. And the words she’d heard weren’t out loud. They had an ethereal quality to them—almost a slight echo. A subtle tonal shift that told her the words were taking place in her head, not traveling to her brain through her ears.
She sucked in a breath but before she could go any further with thoughts or actions, everyone in the room began talking at once. In her head, outside of her head, everywhere. Words like only human and how could this be?
“Enough,” Adak said quietly, bringing and immediate halt to the din. His eyes remained fixed on her.
“Teagan, you couldn’t hear subspeak earlier when Vadim and I were speaking? In your house?”
“The mind speak you’re hearing. We call it subspeak.” Why on earth did the man look so calm? Teagan stepped to a chair and sank down into it. She needed to reach for a little of that calm. Needed to hold her shit together while she figured out what the hell was going on with her.
Adak continued, despite her lack of response. “Were you able to hear Vadim and I when we were in your house before the attack?”
“No. No I couldn’t.” Teagan thought back through the events of the night, running them like a film through her head.
“In the field.” She could picture it now. “I heard you in the field. I just didn’t put it together at the time. I heard you and Vadim in my head, just fragments. It wasn’t clear—” She trailed off. She knew exactly what had happened right before she’d begun to hear their voices, and from the slight flicker in Adak’s gaze, she would guess he did too. The kiss.
If you could even call it that. It seemed to have been so much more than a kiss. Some kind of connection. For lack of a better word, though, she’d go with kiss.
Adak stood before her, taking her hand in his. “May I try something, Teagan?”
The others watched as he placed his hand to hers, palm to palm. He put his fingers against her wrist and used his other hand to place her fingers on his wrist. Then he watched her, holding their hands like that for several seconds. “Did you see anything? Feel anything just then?”
She shook her head. It wasn’t precisely true. She’d felt a lot at the brush of his hands, the touch of his fingers to her skin. Warm, calloused hands that told of hard work, not a leader who sat on his ass. Hands that made her think about what it would feel like to have those hands on her in other ways. But she wasn’t about to tell him that.
The room was quiet again. Adak didn’t rush to say anything, watching her intently with that look on his face again. The one that made her think he couldn’t quite figure out what box to fit her in. Well, that was fine with her. She didn’t like boxes. Didn’t want to fit into a neat package. All her life, she’d been the round peg in a square hole and she was good with that.
“I’d like you and your brother to stay as our guests for a while. Your brother’s about to go through something extremely confusing, and I’m guessing you are, too. I think we can help you, if you’ll let us.”
Well, that wasn’t what she expected. She expected demands and threats, locked doors. So far, Vadim had let her wander the house freely. Teagan looked out the window at the hills rolling beyond the field, at the tree line surrounding the clearing and sighed. Saying she was in uncharted territory didn’t even begin to describe things.
In many ways, though, the idea of leaning on anyone other than herself was simply so foreign to her, she was having a hard time letting go enough to accept his help. Or maybe she was afraid of losing her brother to these people who now seemed to have more in common with him. As the thought hit, she knew there was a large amount of truth to it. She felt threatened by them. Because the truth was, her brother would need them. He’d need their knowledge. He’d need the acceptance they could offer. The family. The home.
And where would that leave her?
Teagan swallowed and looked back to Adak. Risky or not, she had to take his help. She needed to stay where Dash could be with people who understood what was happening to him, even if the idea of losing him to them scared her to death. She didn’t fit in here. She’d need to leave one day. What remained to be seen was whether she’d be leaving with or without the last remaining member of her family.
She nodded. “Okay.” It came out a whisper, which pissed her off. Clearing her throat, she spoke louder this time. “But it’s temporary. A few days at most. I want answers. I want to know what’s happening to my brother and what’s happening to me. Starting with why I can hear you inside my head.”
Adak quietly asked the others to leave and began clearing the maps he’d been looking at off the table. He rolled each one carefully and placed them on a side credenza, knowing he was stalling. There would be a lot about the coming conversation Teagan wouldn’t like. He didn’t know when he’d started avoiding things he didn’t want to do, but apparently the woman before him was going to be the source of a lot of “firsts” for him.
He paused, hands freezing over the rolled maps briefly. “Yes.” He moved back to the table and sat beside her, turning his chair so their knees faced. “I am.”
She didn’t reply. Simply leveled him a look that told him to man up and start talking. Great.
“How much did Vadim tell you?”
“Gar, three subspecies, brother’s a dragon.” She flinched as she said the last.
“Drygar. Not dragon.”
“I saw you. You’re a dragon.”
Adak sighed. “We’re drygar. We have both a dragon form and a human form but what we are, are drygar. Here’s the short and dirty version of our history, as well as your own, by the way. Humans are as intertwined with our origins as they can be, they’re simply unaware of it.”
“And how is that?” Arms crossed now, everything about his guest screamed defensive and closed off.
He paused, trying to figure out how best to tell her the story, but opted for simply jumping in when he couldn’t come up with a better way. He gestured with his hand between them. “Our species were born of sister goddesses. Humara, mother of the humans, and Gariana, mother of the gar. We lived peacefully on earth for many millennia, humans feeding on the planet’s animal and plant life, and gar feeding on the core energy of the earth.”
Her expression hadn’t changed, so he plowed on. “There was a third sister, Pyrina. She was jealous and spiteful. She didn’t like seeing her sisters’ children living so happily on earth. She sent down two creatures. Vampyr and xiampyr.”
Adak suppressed a smile as Teagan’s eyebrows went north. “Vampires and—” She let the question come in the form of drawing out the end.
Adak cringed. “In your mythology, Xiampyr are zombies. Vampyr fed on humans, drinking their blood, most of the time with fatal consequences. Sometimes, leaving them alive, but carrying the vampyr traits—infected. Xiampyr fed on gar. We’ve since hunted xiampyr to extinction. Contrary to popular human belief, there is no longer any such thing as zombies. Vampyr are much more controlled nowadays than they were in the days of our origins. They rarely kill their victims, and they keep their hunting as measured as they can, taking only enough for the species to survive. That, combined with their power and small numbers has been enough for us to leave them alone, for the most part.”
Her face said he was losing her, so he pressed on, leaving vampyr behind. There was more time to fill her in on that later. “When Pyrina sent her creatures down, the peace between our species was lost. Gar and humans fought brutally, each blaming the other for the troubles. Gar are much more powerful than humans, who didn’t have the strength of magic behind them, but humans outnumber the gar in staggering amounts. We also have the problem of our offspring being quite vulnerable before the change takes place. Humans discovered this and pressed the advantage, killing off our young.”
Her eyes shot toward the doorway and he had a feeling her thoughts were with her brother.
“Dash is fine. No one can hurt him now that he’s here with us. There are powerful spells and casts in place keeping the location of the lair secret. You’re both safe here.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was quiet, but he could feel the weight behind the words for her. She meant what she said. Her gratitude was genuine. He simply nodded and kept going.
“Gariana stepped in to protect her children. She wiped the minds of humans, erasing all memory of gar and replacing them with the myths and legends you know today. Water drygar became mermaids and mermen, air drygar became unicorns, earth drygar became Godzilla, and fire drygar became what you think of as dragons. Wygar are werewolves in your mythology. Maliigar are witches and wizards.”
“Vampires and zombies,” she said.
“Exactly. Gariana is the goddess of balance. In an act as powerful as the one she performed to protect her children, there must be a balancing force. A trade off, if you will. The human’s sacrifice was the loss of their memories, the knowledge. Vampyr and xiampyr became much more vulnerable, only able to move about at night. The gar paid a high price as well. We lost the ability to reproduce. When two gar mate, they remain sterile. We can only reproduce when we mate with a human, making us reliant on the weaker species for our very survival. It meant Humara’s children would be protected from the gar as well. Everything in balance.”
“Except every once in a while someone like my brother shows up? An innate?”
“Yes, your brother is what we call an innate. The result of gar blood someplace in your bloodlines years, maybe centuries, before. They’re occurring with more and more frequency, but they’re still fairly rare. We might find one in the area every five or ten years. You’ll meet a few innates later who are part of the force.”
“Force, not pack?”
“We do have packs. Well, technically the maliigar term for their pack is coven, but pack will suffice. My force is simply made up of three packs. We’re unusual in that way. The only one in existence, as far as I know. Most gar live in family units called packs based on subspecies. My force combines three packs who have joined forces to fight a common enemy. We’ve sworn loyalty to one another in a sort of council.”
“Haven’t they all sworn loyalty to you as their leader?” Teagan tilted her head as she asked and his gaze was drawn to the creamy white skin at the side of her neck. He jerked his eyes back to hers.
“Yes, but its more complicated than that. Like I said, it’s more a council than outright dominance as their pack leader. And, I’ve sworn my loyalty to them as well. It’s a reciprocal agreement based on the need to defeat a common enemy. One with much greater numbers than we have. If we didn’t join together, we would have lost this war a long time ago.”
Teagan murmured thoughtfully and he had the sense she understood it better than others might.
“And the energy?” She prompted, drawing him back to their goal—educating her on the gar and what was about to happen to her brother.
“The energy,” he repeated. He actually felt himself squirm a bit in his seat. What the hell was that about? He was completely comfortable talking about sex. Most gar were, given it was a pretty integral part of how they fed. “Gar tap into the energy they need to survive to fuel their magic by pairing together.”
“Um.” What the hell was wrong with him? He was actually having a hard time talking about sex with this woman. “Anything sexual, any intimate connection. The energy builds and feeds during sex.”
Teagan was up and out the door in a heartbeat, flying down the hall faster than he could process what was happening. Then it dawned on him.
Shit. Vadim had probably told her they were pushing energy into her brother. And now he’d told her the energy connection was achieved sexually. Oh hell.
Adak followed, throwing a burst of supernatural speed on that let him catch her at the top of the stairs. He gentled his grip as he caught hold of her elbow.
“Teagan, wait. It’s not like that. It’s not what you think.”
“Get the hell off me,” she said, wrenching her arm free.
He flipped and crossed over top railing, landing on the stair in front of her to block her path. Her gasp was audible as eyes went wide in response to his little supernatural display. He raised his hands, palms out, yet again. Why did he always find himself in this position with this woman?
“Teagan, please, just listen for a minute. No one is touching your brother that way. We’re not—” He broke off. He’d made a mess of this. What she must be picturing happening to her brother in that clinic. “It’s not like that. When we push energy with a human or a youngling going through the change, we don’t need the connection to be sexual. No one is doing anything more to Dash then resting their hands on his neck or his face. I promise you, he’s safe.”
She stepped back, her gaze studying his face before she opened his mouth and asked a question he wasn’t even remotely prepared to answer. “Then why did you kiss me in the clearing?”
TEAGAN STARED AT ADAK, WAITING for an answer. She needed to make sense of things as her mind reeled back to the moment their bodies had touched in the field. Honestly, her mind didn’t need to go far to go back to that moment. It had been right there the entire time. Just behind her worry for her brother, her shock at all that she was learning and the constant hope that maybe this was all a bad dream. Behind all of that had been the lingering memory of his hands on her body, his mouth on hers, him lighting her up from the inside out.
Teagan hadn’t ever felt anything like the response her body had to his touch. It was … well, it was insane. Intense.
Ah, yes, that was her conscious chiming in. And her conscious was right. She needed to forget the man in front of her and get to her brother. She never should have been away from him this long. The only problem was, she’d be lying to herself if she said hearing Adak admit he hadn’t actually needed to kiss her didn’t make her want to flop on her back and beg for more.
She shook her head, more at herself than at him. “Then why?”
They didn’t have a chance to finish their talk. Vadim’s voice came through in her mind clear as a bell: Go time guys. We need to get this youngling outside and see what kind of gar we have. He’s about to shift.
Adak and Teagan turned and ran at the same time, triple timing it down the stairs. When they drew close to the clinic, he sped forward in a blur of speed and was back in front of her in a millisecond, Dash cradled in his arms like he weighed nothing. Dash writhed but didn’t seem to be in pain.
Teagan turned and followed Adak as he wound them through a series of hallways she hadn’t seen yet, stepping out onto the back side of the house’s wrap around porch. She vaguely processed the twenty or so people standing around waiting as Adak set her brother down on the grass and stepped back. He came to stand by her side, placing a hand on her arm when she made to move forward. With a slight shake of his head, he stopped her motion.
“He needs room. He’ll be all right now. The pain will be short. It’s almost over, Teagan.”
Unfortunately, there was no almost about it. Life as they knew it was over.
Teagan stared, heart pounding in her chest as her brother shifted before her eyes. For a brief moment as bones and muscles twisted and grew, he seemed to be in pain. Then it ended and the being before her was incredible. Stunning.
He was enormous, with rough scales that didn’t lie flat as Adak’s had when he was in Drygar form. Her brother’s scales were black, turning to brown and then tan on his belly. He had plates protruding from his spine all the way down his back, traveling from the back of his head to the tip of his tail. He looked ferocious. And somehow fairly calm.
She heard Adak speak inside her head as he vaulted, still in his human form onto Dash’s shoulder. His feet found purchase on her brother and she watched in shock as he calmly climbed up, taking careful hold of one of Dash’s plates to settle near his head. She remembered watching Bob the Builder episodes with Dash when he was young. Bob would casually hop on one of the bull dozers and hang off of it, coffee cup in hand, as it drove him where he needed to go. The image flashed in her mind as she looked at Adak, steady and sure on her brother.
“Okay, big guy. In a minute, you’re going to feel almost an uncontrollable urge to cough. I want you to turn that way,” he gestured to Dash as Teagan listened to the subspeak in her mind, pointing toward a break between the trees. That’s when Teagan realize the group had split, leaving an opening that matched the break in the trees. “It’s not going to hurt you, so don’t panic, but in a minute, you’ll have lava coming out of that giant block head of yours. We don’t want you to take out any bystanders. Or the house. Or the woods.”
She had to hand it to Adak. The way he stayed so calm and almost joked with Dash through this made her calmer. She had a feeling it had the same effect on Dash.
Then she felt the heat as a roar of molten lava shot from her brother’s mouth, and Teagan felt herself sink to her knees. She dug her hands into the dirt for purchase, as though she could somehow stop this ride to crazy town she was on.
“You all right?” An arm came around her and for once, Teagan didn’t shake it off. She looked to the face next to her to see a woman with pink and purple hair smiling at her. “Pretty amazing to see, huh?”
“All right, big guy. Let’s take these wings of yours out for a spin. You probably won’t be able to master a cloaking spell without one of us for a while, so I’m going to cloak us tonight. But if you don’t have one of us riding shot gun or cloaking you from the ground, you stay on the ground until we give you the go ahead. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Teagan heard her brother say in subspeak and the sound of his voice in her head shocked her again. “What if I drop you?” She could hear the unease in Dash’s voice, but once again, Adak was right there.
“Nah. You won’t. But even if you do, I’ll just shift. No biggie. So, just move those wings of yours Dashiell. You’re ready to fly.”
And then he did. Teagan felt the burn of tears springing to life as she watched her brother fly. She could hear Adak’s laughter in her mind as her brother’s initial attempts had them wobbling from side to side. Then his words of encouragement and pride when her brother nailed it and straightened into a smooth glide.
The gar gathered around Teagan were cheering her brother on, all of them seemingly as happy about the addition to their ranks as any proud parents might be. She felt dual stabs. One of joy for her brother and what he’d found. An enormous family. A place in the world. The other a stab of pain that his place in the world might not include her any longer. The thought not only ached, it scared her. They’d always been together. The two of them.
“He’s an earth dragon,” said the pink and purple haired woman. “There aren’t as many of them nowadays as there used to be, but they’re wonderful. They can communicate with many of the animals of the earth. Incredible, really.”
Teagan looked over and saw the beaming look of awe on the face beside her. The woman’s gaze stayed on Dash.
“Are you a drag—um, drygar?” Teagan asked her.
“No,” she said, with a little laugh. “I’m maliigar. My strength lies in manipulating the winds.” With a little wave of her hands, she stirred the leaves on a nearby tree. One again, Teagan felt her mouth fall open. “I’m not very powerful,” the woman said. “Not like my mother. She’s one of the strongest there is.”
Teagan followed the woman’s nod and saw a tall woman who exuded strength and wisdom. Hands on hips, she had her head tossed back watching Adak and Dash, eyes assessing. Teagan felt relief when she saw the woman give an approving nod. It was small, but it was there.
“So, your mother is a wind maliigar also?” In her head she was trying to say wind witch ten times fast.
“Yes. Oh, I’m Aster, by the way.” She stuck her hand out and Teagan shook, a little surprised at the everyday gesture given her brother’s current flight through the sky in his new suit of armor. “My mom is Lesande. She’s the alpha of the maliigar pack.”
It seemed odd to Teagan to think of witches in a pack with an alpha rather than a coven with, well, she wasn’t sure, what. A coven leader? But Vadim had said the mythology humans knew was simply that: myth. And pretty inaccurate at that. “So, each of the subspecies still has an alpha, even though you’re all sworn to Adak as part of his force?”
“Mm hmm.” A little bob of Aster’s head accompanied the sound, but her eyes had gone back to the skies. Teagan could hear her brother’s whoops and hollers in her head. She wondered what it would be like to be up there. To spread her wings and fly alongside him. She had to ignore the fact she didn’t have wings. That she and her brother now had this huge chasm between them. Between what and who they were in the world.
Aster seemed oblivious to the turmoil that had become Teagan’s brain. She went on explaining how the force structure worked. “Adak is the leader of the force, but that position was one granted to him by agreement of the other alphas, not by force. He grants the other alphas as much respect as they grant him. It’s one of the reasons he’s such a powerful leader. One of the reasons they trust him. That, and he’s one of the most powerful drygar in history, to be honest. He’s got the potential to do what no gar has been able to accomplish.”
She spoke so frankly that Teagan had to turn and look at her more fully. The young woman was serious. She meant every word she’d said about the man—no, drygar—who was currently flying through the air on her brother’s shoulder. “What is it that he might do that no other gar has?”
“Unite us,” Aster said, turning and smiling at Teagan as she said it. “Stop the fighting and unite all gar with a peaceful governing council.”
Teagan let her eyes drift back to the sky, where Adak and Dash still soared. She could hear their laughter, and Adak seemed truly happy to be helping her brother learn to control his new body. She saw, then, some of what Aster was talking about. He wasn’t going to ground her brother simply because he was young. Wasn’t treating him like the newbie he was. He was embracing him as a part of their pack, their force, their family. Teagan wrapped her arms around herself and hugged tight, watching as Adak dove off Dash in midair, flipping once before transforming in to drygar form in mid somersault. Wings caught and he climbed high, her brother rising after him as several other members of the pack transformed and took flight alongside them.
She stood and watched in wonder and awe. And grief. Her brother belonged here with the gar. Where did that leave her?