Casidhe froze. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t catch her breath. She stood all alone with the most powerful dragon shifter to ever live.
Her family’s greatest enemy. Daegan of Treoir, the scare-the-spit-from-her-mouth red dragon. Right here in her ancestral archive centre. Her heart tried to catapult out of her chest and run screaming for help.
Daegan of Treoir had started the Dragani War.
Like trying to avoid watching a train wreck, she couldn’t peel her gaze from him. Towering over her, he could be mistaken for a human man in worn jeans, a dark long-sleeved pullover, and boots. But that formidable body and those silver reptilian eyes glowed with the enormous power inside that body.
No one outside the centre in this small village could save her.
Plus, Daegan had cloaked them to reach this point unnoticed. He could keep whatever he did to her hidden.
“Breathe, dammit,” Daegan ordered in a deep voice. “Ya wanted the truth, now ya have it.” He straightened, giving her space, but the force of that gaze held her locked in place. Growling a curse, he turned away, taking long strides, then paused at the opening to the front reception area.
She sagged, suddenly free from his overwhelming presence.
From the freakin’ red dragon who claimed he had not burned any forests in Europe reported torched by a dragon. As if two red dragons existed today? A lot of people questioned if the stories of a dragon in today’s world were true.
A lot of people had never walked in her shoes.
At least Daegan hadn’t killed her.
That didn’t mean he wouldn’t snuff her out of existence if she lost her usefulness.
Her limbs came back online and started functioning again. She still had her backpack on, pinned between her and the wall from where she’d reversed course to this point.
Nowhere to go. Why try to run? If he wanted to kill her, he could.
Then she realized why he had not killed her. He needed her to find the grimoire.
Her life was being royally screwed because he wanted a damn ancient book of majik? The hell with backing away from this dragon shifter. Her fear dissolved under all of what had happened to her from the minute he broke into her cottage.
Not breaking and entering.
He’d teleported into her cottage in the middle of the night.
Imortiks and demons had attacked her because of Daegan.
Casidhe had missed her meeting with Cathbad because of Daegan. She could go on and on, dammit.
He needed her.
That gave her power, too.
“Have ya calmed down yet?” Daegan stood in the passway to the reception area, staring straight ahead in an angry profile. Powerful arms crossed and jaw muscles flexing.
Did he feel bad for trying to scare her out of a year’s growth.
“Don’t flatter yourself by thinkin’ you rattle me, dragon.” Lie, but it made her feel good to sound confident. Her pulse still hammered as fast as a gerbil on crack.
He angled his head in her direction, but made no reply. Dark eyebrows lowered over narrowed eyes now a natural gray.
If she had an open mind about him, she’d say he looked tired and sad. But she couldn’t spare him the consideration she would a friend.
They were not friends.
She leaned away from the wall, planting her two feet, prepared to deal with him. She unsnapped the strap anchoring the backpack around her chest as she walked forward and shrugged off the pack.
His deadly gaze tracked her every step.
When she could go no farther, she ordered, “Move.”
No please. No manners for this being.
He stepped aside, allowing her passage.
With every muscle she flexed, she felt her strength renew. As long as finding the grimoire remained at stake, she had a few things to get off her chest.
She dropped the backpack hard next to her desk and turned on Daegan. “What. The. Hell? You call me a liar every time you take a breath when you’ve been lyin’ about who you are the entire time.”
He swung that deadly gaze at her. “Ah, there’s the little termagant who berates me with every breath. ’Tis your turn to explain who ya are, Luigsech. I realize to speak truthfully tasks ya sorely, but attempt it anyhow.”
As if she weren’t pissed enough already? “Listen, buster. I’ve been tellin’ you a lot more truth than you’ve yet to tell me.”
He gave her a dismissive glance. “’Tis no scoresheet to be kept. Lies are lies. I told mine to protect my people. Why did ya tell yours?”
“For the same reason.” She cocked up her chin in a righteous pose, daring him to question her honor.
“If such is true, then who are your people? Ya know who mine are ... or ya should if ya are truly a Luigsech.”
He’d walked her right into that trap.
She was not about to speak a word about Herrick.
That left her only one answer she could give, which had served her well through college then working here for ten years. “The Luigsechs are my people.”
Daegan stepped into the front office and sat in her reading chair. “Ya still step too far from the truth. The Luigsechs were all human. Ya are not. This means ya are not of their blood. Do ya deny this?”
Did he think this was a social visit? She wanted to scream at him for all he’d done to Herrick, but those words couldn’t be spoken, dammit. “Get out of my chair.”
“I think not. ’Tis quite comfortable. At the speed ’tis takin’ ya to form a thought, I require a place to relax as I wait.”
Miserable dragon shifter. “Insinuatin’ I am slow-witted is a poor way to gain information.” She curled her lips at him. “I’m merely considerin’ if it’s worth the effort when you’re not goin’ to believe me.”
Daegan’s fingers draped over the chair arm curled tight, his only sign of anger. “’Tis not a game I play. Ya wish to find your friend, Fenella? I must find my friend as well. I promise ya Cathbad has a plan afoot and will remove anyone in his path, even an innocent female. If ya want to know what Quinn learns from our people in Atlanta, ’tis time for ya to be forthcomin’. I am not a man of great patience, particularly when my people are in danger.”
She’d had it with him. Storming across the room she slapped one hand on a chair arm and the other on his wide chest, leaning close to make sure he heard every word clearly. “Listen up, dragon. I was orphaned as a child. The Luigsech family raised me. I’ve a strong educational background, plus knowledge passed down to me by former Luigsechs. Do not dare to call me a liar about who I am.”
Daegan’s nostrils flared and his chest rumbled. The sound reminded her of Herrick’s chest when his dragon became agitated.
His energy hummed. Her energy hummed.
She’d just challenged the red dragon. Had she lost her mind?
Don’t poke a dragon.
And never poke the red dragon.
She started to lift up.
He caught her wrist, the one attached to the hand still splayed against his chest. Heartbeat ramping up again, she swallowed hard and stared into the molten silver in his eyes.
His heart thundered beneath her fingers. Heat soaked into her skin from his touch and made her lightheaded.
That didn’t make sense.
Neither did touching Daegan.
She shoved away from him hard, thinking he’d try to hold her in place. He released her immediately.
Momentum from the push sent her flying backwards to land on her bum.
She might have recovered her dignity if his lips hadn’t twitched with fighting a smile.
Damn him! She jumped up to her feet. “We made a deal. Quinn has to send word if your people can find Fenella. What about your honor?”
Daegan sighed on a long exhale.
She caught a tinge of smoke and outdoors, a distraction when she had to pay attention. She tugged on one of the delicate gold triple-loop earrings Fenella had given her as a birthday gift.
Fenella had pointed out more than once that Casidhe should never play cards for money with that nervous habit.
She dropped her hand.
If Fenella had been captured, she had no one to depend upon but Casidhe. Contacting Herrick would put him in danger the minute he came out to confront Daegan, who had followers called Beladors. Small details such as that kept popping into her mind. Daegan claimed to have many followers. If he spoke of Beladors, he had a force of warriors with telepathic and kinetic powers.
That Quinn guy had to be a Belador, too. While not immortal, they physically appeared to be humans, allowing them to blend in with any population.
Daegan had a supernatural army if he had as many followers as he claimed. Too many for Herrick to fight.
Lose Fenella and Herrick?
Over Casidhe’s dead body.
Daegan surged to his feet and stepped close, tension vibrating the air. “’Tis the truth no one has tested me as greatly as ya in a long time. Quite a feat considerin’ the Imortiks I have fought.”
“Really? I’m annoyin’? Don’t flatter me. I’m accustomed to people askin’ questions politely and not standin’ in my face when they do it. You have zero respect for personal space.”
He pulled his head back, appearing stunned. “What is wrong now?”
She should be used to someone as old as him not understanding terms like personal space, because Herrick had the same problem at times.
With Herrick, she showed patience and explained terminology.
With Daegan, she made it simple with blunt words. “Back the hell up and give me room to breathe. Your power is makin’ me claustrophobic.” When he frowned, she gritted her teeth and jumped to explain before he asked another question. “Claustrophobic means you’re makin’ me feel like I’m suffocatin’.”
“Have ya always suffered this ailment?”
“For the love of kittens ... move! In fact, have a seat, again. Clearly at your age you tire easily.”
His intimidating gaze darkened, but he hadn’t set his dragon on her yet. She’d consider that a victory if not for reminding herself she held a value to him only until she found the grimoire. If she allowed Daegan to push her around in her own territory, she would never get a handle on this mess.
Daegan put his hands behind his head and walked away, shedding frustration like water falling off a pitched roof. He turned an angry human gaze on her. “Ya continue to dodge my questions, yet ya want my help findin’ Fenella, who may or may not be captured. But the druid does have my man and I do have people sufferin’ from Imortiks. They are dependin’ upon me to find a grimoire. Ya said I had to prove I was of the Treoir family. I have done so yet ya have failed to prove ya are a Luigsech. Do not ask me for anythin’ else, even findin’ Fenella, if ya have no real proof of bein’ a Luigsech. If not, I have sorely wasted my time. Convince me who ya are or I shall look elsewhere for the grimoire and ya can hunt for Cathbad on your own.”
He had her there and he knew it, damn his scary self.
She’d been trained for battle, but had been in few verbal confrontations over the years due to spending her life with her nose stuck in books.
That put her at a disadvantage for arguing with Daegan.
When he settled once again in her reading chair, she gave him a narrow-eyed glare and took the seat behind her desk.
What would she do if Daegan just disappeared? He might be her best hope for finding Fenella.
Regardless, she could not allow him to put her on defense or he would do nothing in exchange for hunting his blasted grimoire.
She spun her chair to face him. “I am not an imposter. I was adopted and brought into the Luigsech family. Don’t waste your breath askin’ for their contact information. I will not bring danger to their door when they have shown me nothin’ but kindness.”
Daegan sat very still for a moment then stretched out his long legs. “Why would they not choose one of their blood to carry the Treoir history?”
Her erratic pulse slowed a bit at his less abrasive words. Or maybe it was how his speech had devolved into what he may have sounded more like long ago. Had he lost some of his natural language by being away from the world locked inside TÅμr Medb for so many years?
Did she give a flying crap? No.
She drew in a calming breath and chose her words carefully. “I was brought into the Luigsech home at a young age. I studied next to their oldest daughter, the one they’d chosen to carry the spoken history of many things, not just the Treoirs.”
He arched a dark eyebrow at her. “The Luigsech squire family my father brought into his castle were to retain and pass on only Treoir history. I am findin’ it harder and harder to accept ya know anythin’ about my family ... or that ya can locate the grimoire.”
“This is why it’s hard to talk to you.”
“What do ya mean?”
“You expect me to accept anythin’ you say when you aren’t willin’ to hear me out.” Her fingers fisted, but she put her hand on the desk and forced her digits to open.
Daegan wanted whatever she knew about him and his Treoir family? She’d love to tell him she knew the stories of how his red dragon had murdered everyone long ago, plus how Herrick stepped in to save the Luigsech squire family.
That would require admitting she knew about the ice dragons and ... oh crap.
She froze at the rest of that thought.
Sitting before her might be the only person who knew where to find Skarde.
Quinn blinked as the swirling colors and disorientation of teleporting from Ireland back to the United States subsided. Jet lag stressed a human body traveling four thousand miles by airplane from a country five hours ahead in time, but teleporting was no simple leap for a nonhuman either.
His head had to catch up. When his mind cleared, he stood in Piedmont Park just north of downtown Atlanta. Heat that had built up during a normal summer day assaulted him.
He’d like to eat and grab a shower, but he needed to take care of business here as quickly as he could and return to Ireland to help Daegan find Tristan.
Plus, Daegan had no one watching his back, certainly not that Luigsech woman.
Glancing around to be sure his arrival had been viewed by no humans, he stepped out of the shadowy copse of trees Daegan used often for teleporting into the city. Threatening clouds offered some relief from the blazing sun for the few willing to brave a visit to the park.
Not surprising with preternaturals being spotted in Atlanta.
Quinn headed for the street bordering the park while sending a text for a driver to meet him immediately. With confirmation one would arrive in less than two minutes, he sent a brief message to Trey, letting him know he’d returned. Trey had been slammed with telepathic communication when Quinn left and would probably appreciate a text instead.
For a Tuesday afternoon, Piedmont Park hosted its usual diverse groups of people running, sitting on blankets with a bottle of wine and cheese, throwing frisbees for their dogs, and one couple pushed a double stroller with a dog in tow.
As a dark sedan approached, Quinn widened his stride to reach the car quickly. He waited for the window on the passenger side to lower and Quinn tossed Luigsech’s mobile phone on the seat. “Have the techs go through that to find everything they can. My first priority is for them to determine the location of a woman named Fenella Connell, who is associated with Casidhe Luigsech. I also want any additional information they can find.” Fenella’s last name had been on all of the paperwork at the centre.
“Yes, Maistir.” The car drove off.
Evalle’s voice came into his head. Quinn. Where are you? We need help.
Quinn had started to smile at the sound of her voice, but he quickly replied, Piedmont Park. Where are you and what’s happening?
Need you to get up to VIPER headquarters as soon as you can. This place is being overrun by demons and Imortiks!
I’m on the way, Quinn rushed to assure her.
Trey’s voice burst into his mind next. VIPER is being hit hard. Can you help?
Absolutely. Have Brina teleport me to the entrance of VIPER in fifteen seconds. That will give me time to find cover from humans here in Piedmont Park.
I’m on it, Maistir.
Quinn spun and headed for dark shadows in the trees. This new development just killed any hope he had for a quick visit to the Treoir realm to smooth over how he and Reese had parted ways in Ireland.
She might not be happy with him, but she was safe from Imortiks and demons. That mattered more at this minute than making her smile.
He’d have time for that and to discuss the baby once they found Tristan. As soon as Reese understood that he knew about her pregnancy and he accepted full responsibility, they could finally move forward.
Even more, he wanted her to know he cared deeply for her.
He barely made it out of view with a second to spare when his body got yanked into teleportation.
When he opened his eyes, he stood at the entrance of the mountain shielding the VIPER headquarters.
The entrance should be hidden by a sheer face of rock.
There should not be a wide open maw with screaming and yelling going on inside.
Quinn ran in to find Evalle, her mate Storm, four Beladors, and four bounty hunter contractors for VIPER in a battle with ten, maybe twelve, demons of all types and two Imortiks.
One demon also glowed yellow. Hell! Three Imortiks.
Quinn had to get his people working in teams. He shouted telepathically, Beladors, do not link, but team up in pairs. Storm can shift into a black jaguar. Do not attack his animal.
Evalle didn’t even look over her shoulder when she repeated Quinn’s order out loud to Storm.
Two sets of Beladors paired up, taking on three demons each.
Evalle hit the Imortik demon with repetitive kinetic blasts, knocking it back into two other demons. She couldn’t keep that up long, but her attack allowed Storm to shift into his massive jaguar.
Storm’s coal-black jaguar roared and rushed the Imortik Evalle fought. She pulled back her kinetics at the last second. The jaguar ripped into the Imortik that clawed the giant cat.
One of the bounty hunters screamed.
Jerking around, Quinn watched in horror as an Imortik dove into the body of a bounty hunter with a black mohawk. Quinn shouted, “Bounty hunters, pair up and protect your backs!”
They sort of followed his orders.
That was all he could do for them. As Maistir, Beladors were Quinn’s first concern.
Where was Sen, VIPER’s liaison and immortal guard over the headquarters?
Quinn jumped into the fray, slamming kinetics to knock aside a demon, aiding a pair of Beladors who quickly terminated the creature. It turned into gray dust and vanished.
He called telepathically, Sen, where are you? You’re being overrun at VIPER’s entrance.
Sen replied in a hoarse voice. Like I don’t fucking know that? I’m underground fighting my own battles.
Quinn moved with blinding speed to help his people. With the Beladors’ opponents under control and Storm’s jaguar backing up Evalle, Quinn turned to give the bounty hunters a hand.
The one that had screamed was now on the ground, writhing in pain. While the other three bounty hunters battled an Imortik and a demon, the one on the ground stopped shuddering, shook his head, and jumped up.
Now the black mohawk guy glowed bright yellow and went after his three human associates, who had their back to him. Quinn slammed that newly turned Imortik with a massive hit of kinetics, adrenaline driving his blast as much as Belador power.
The yellow bounty hunter had a body fit to compete in world wrestling. But when he banged into the rock wall Quinn drove him into, the new Imortik turned eyes wild with insanity on Quinn.
No one home there anymore.
But like Devon, one of their Beladors locked under this mountain who had not been turned long enough to become fully Imortik, this guy might be salvageable.
Quinn considered using mind lock, then tossed aside that idea. He’d already tried that move with an Imortik and the immediate backlash had taken him to his knees.
The mohawk guy came at him with needle-sharp teeth now in his wide mouth. His fingers grew dark claws the size of a grizzly’s.
Quinn swung one kinetic blast after another at his head, smacking the glowing bounty hunter back and forth. His plan had been working just fine until the mohawk guy dove preternaturally fast beneath Quinn’s blasts and lunged for his leg.
Quinn spun around.
Claws ripped his pants, barely missing his leg.
His heart pounded fast in his chest. Quinn could not allow an Imortik to take him over.
Quinn used his fists to hammer kinetic blasts at the mohawk until the claws withdrew. The Imortik bounty hunter pushed up to jump Quinn.
Sen flashed into sight, took one look at them and pointed at the Imortik bounty hunter. In the next instant, the glowing yellow body flew up in the air and slammed the ground headfirst.
Blood splattered Quinn’s chest and face.
The other three bounty hunters had lopped the head off their Imortik.
Quinn sucked in air for three fast breaths. “Did you have to kill the bounty hunter, Sen?”
Two of them turned and stared at the bloody pile Sen had made of the Imortik bounty hunter and shrugged.
Evalle came rushing up to him with her ball cap knocked sideways. “You all right, Quinn?”
Storm’s jaguar showed up right beside Evalle and cocked his head at Quinn as if wondering why Quinn had just lied.
Hands on hips, Sen stared at Quinn with disgust. “You wanted to keep that alive? I won’t waste my energy next time until after you lose your body to an Imortik.”
Quinn rebuked, “That bounty hunter had been human minutes ago before the Imortik jumping him. If it requires three weeks to completely take over a body, we might have saved him.”
“After this fiasco, the Tribunal will likely declare a kill-on-sight order. I’m just getting ahead of the curve by starting with him.” Sen issued that in a cold voice that said he wouldn’t lose sleep over one dead bounty hunter, but that same voice had come out raw as if he’d been yelling for an hour.
Quinn took a hard look at the VIPER liaison. Sen’s skin had been burnt in spots. A chunk of long blond hair was missing from the right side of his head, exposing a raw wound. Blood ran from slashes across his body and his face. The jeans he wore had not been ripped, which meant he’d just conjured them before appearing here. But bloody spots stained the front of his thighs.
Sen should be able to heal himself in seconds.
Why wasn’t that happening?
Quinn had never expected himself to feel any sympathy for this obnoxious jerk, but Sen looked as if he’d battled an army of Imortiks.
An Imortik had shoved venom in Daegan. Could those creatures do the same to Sen?
“Fuck!” Sen vanished.
Evalle looked around. “Wonder where he went?”
“If he needed help, he should have said so,” Quinn said, more concerned about his own people.
Straightening her ball cap, she looked around at the Beladors. “I think our people need a minute to heal and catch their breath.”
“Absolutely. We can’t go anywhere until Sen returns. I’d rather not have Brina teleport us to Atlanta after she just teleported me twice. I have a feeling we’re asking a lot of her at this point in her pregnancy.”
“You’re probably right.” Evalle looked around when her name was called. “Let me see what our guys need.” She and Storm walked off to join her team.
Quinn contacted Trey telepathically to inform him of what happened at VIPER and get an update on the rest of the teams. Based on everything Trey started unloading, Quinn had hours of meetings ahead of him, but he would never complain. Their Belador forces were running hard around the clock to save others.
With a little luck, he could visit Treoir later tonight and talk to Reese.
As Quinn finished up with Trey, Sen popped back into existence.
The last bounty hunter wiped his blade off on a dead Imortik and walked over. “What the hell happened to you, Sen?”
The VIPER liaison pointed at the crushed bounty hunter corpse on the ground. “Five of those did, plus a bunch of demons.” He slid a glare full of accusation at Quinn. “They were trying to get to the three Beladors we’ve been putting up with for you.”
“How did these demons and Imortiks get inside VIPER?” Quinn had never known anyone to gain entrance without Sen’s authorization.
Was that embarrassment on the liaison’s face?
Did Sen think stonewalling would work? Quinn spoke in a quiet voice his people knew meant he wanted answers and he wanted them now. “The more we know about these damn things, the better shot we have of getting rid of them. I find it hard to believe they danced past this opening and made it underground before anyone noticed, but I’m willing to ask the Tribunal for clarification.”
Sen snarled, “Someone called me to teleport in two demons who were supposedly contained. It wasn’t Trey, but I thought it was your people since I’m spending most of my time babysitting your peons. I decided, screw it. I’ll teleport the demons in and deal with the call not going through Trey later. I was in the holding area when I teleported the demons in. A small army of very much alive Imortiks and more demons arrived with them.”
Damn. Quinn hated the way Sen had treated his people, especially Evalle, for a long time, but no one would want to face that alone.
Wiping a hand over his face and back across the top of his head, Sen warned, “After this mess, the Tribunal might up the termination time for your Imortik-possessed Beladors to immediately.”
“No!” Evalle shouted. “They can’t do that.”
“The Tribunal can do anything they want.” Sen’s flat statement came with a smirk. “If they tell me to get rid of all three prisoners, I’ll happily comply.”
Quinn lifted a hand to stall Evalle speaking. Storm had moved over in front of her and turned a red demonic gaze on Sen.
Storm was no longer ruled by the demon blood he carried, but he had no off switch when it came to protecting his mate.
With tension bloating the air, one spark could set off the equivalent of a volcanic eruption.
Time to get his people out of this place.
“We’re solving nothing standing here,” Quinn said, changing the direction of the conversation. “My people need to be back in Atlanta so they can keep others safe from this threat in the city. You should inform the Tribunal that I am available for a discussion on our three Beladors locked up here. Speaking on behalf of our Treoir dragon king, to terminate Devon, or any of those three, prior to the deadline and without a meeting with me would be considered an attack on the Beladors. I strongly suggest we continue working together for the best of everyone and not become adversaries.”
Shrugging, Sen said, “What-the-hell-ever. I’ll pass along your concerns. I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them. If anything happens before Devon’s deadline, with or without a meeting, that’s between you and the Tribunal.”
Blood trickled from cuts on Sen’s body. His demigod healing sure was taking its time to slow the bleeding. The VIPER liaison had a kicked-in-the-nuts look Quinn had never witnessed on this being before. If an Imortik took over Sen’s body ... Quinn didn’t want to even consider that possibility.
Calling his people to him so they could teleport as a group, Quinn turned to Sen, determined to end on a professional note in spite of dealing with a jerk. “Thank you for protecting our imprisoned Beladors.”
“Don’t confuse my actions with giving a shit about you or those Beladors. I answer to the Tribunal only. No one was tricking me and getting away with it. Your people just happened to benefit.”
Quinn would overlook an antagonistic attitude on anyone else that battered and bleeding, but Sen’s viciousness came as part of his standard makeup. He ignored Sen slapping his thank-you back at him in favor of sending his people out of here immediately.
Once everyone had a hand on each other’s shoulder, Quinn told Sen, “I have a landing spot pictured in my mind. Teleport all of us and we’ll leave you to deliver your report to the Tribunal.”
A haunted look entered Sen’s eyes.
Did this demigod fear admitting the breach of VIPER security to Tribunal deities?
Sen snapped back to his sunny personality of a rabid demon. “The sooner the better.”
Quinn, his team, and Storm teleported to the basement area of a tall building he owned in downtown Atlanta. As they reappeared, someone shouted.
Turning to intercept a potential threat, Quinn paused and lowered his deadly hands.
Evalle waved. “Hi, Clyde.”
The balding fifty-two-year-old Belador in top shape and dressed as a security officer had jumped to his feet with hands raised to use his kinetics. Clyde dropped one hand and slapped the other one over his chest. “You about gave me a heart attack.”
Quinn walked over to him. “Sorry, Clyde. I had no chance to give you a heads-up before our arrival.”
“No problem, Maistir. That’s why I keep that spot clear at all times as you instructed.” He took in the group. “Looks like you just came from a war.” Clyde noticed the black jaguar and stepped back. “Shit.”
Evalle brushed her fingers over the jaguar’s coat. “You’re safe. This is my mate, Storm. We look like hell because we just fought Imortiks and demons at VIPER headquarters.”
Clyde gave her an embarrassed glance. “I’ll stop griping about being bored here. It’s ugly out on the streets.”
Quinn nodded. “Yes, it is. I want this team to clean up and get a meal before going back out on patrol. It may be boring here, but what you do is vital. I didn’t hesitate to teleport our people in. I fully trusted you to provide a safe landing place.”
The praise brought a smile of pride to Clyde’s lips. “Thank you, Maistir. I’ll alert the kitchen to prepare food for everyone.”
“Leave us out,” Evalle called over. “We’re not far from home. We’re leaving once Storm shifts and puts on clothes.” Then she turned to Quinn. “Before you bring it up, don’t fuss about the sunlight. Storm will cloak us to get home if we don’t walk out into a downpour based on that thunder I’m hearing. I need to talk to you before I leave.”
Nodding, Quinn ushered the rest of the team up three floors to a level available twenty-four-seven for Beladors in need. Clyde directed the management leader to provide everything necessary for the team.
With that handled and no one around to listen, Quinn told Evalle, “We have not found Tristan yet, but we have leads. I sent a mobile phone to our tech team. They’re currently going through it searching for something Daegan needs. He’s still in Ireland and I plan to return as quickly as I can. I may ask you to continue as an interim Maistir to free me up.”
“Understood. While I’m not as experienced as you, I’m okay to keep doing it.”
“You are performing just fine, Evalle.”
She scoffed. “You’re the one who showed up and broke us into groups. I’ll remember that for a future situation, though.”
Quinn could see her developing into a strong and strategic leader with just a little guidance. “That’s as much catch-up as I can give you at the moment.”
“Got it.” She put a hand on his shoulder to stop him from leaving. “While you’re here, you may want to talk to Reese.”
“I do want to speak with her, but I don’t have time to teleport back and forth to Treoir at the moment.”
Evalle stretched her neck in a move to delay speaking. “She’s at her apartment.”
“What?” Quinn ground out.
“Yep. Phoedra and Lanna are still in Treoir, according to Edward.” She referenced the Belador working as a doorman at Phoedra and Reese’s apartment. “I spoke to him when I passed by her apartment on patrol. Edward said he was surprised to see Reese back when he hadn’t heard from you. I told him I’d let you know if I saw you first.” Evalle had that I-don’t-like-being-the-messenger look.
Bloody hell. What was Reese doing here?
And who teleported her back to Atlanta without telling him?
Storm’s jaguar nudged Evalle’s leg. She said, “I know. I’m telling him.” Taking another breath, she said, “You noticed the number of demons at VIPER, right?”
“Of course. Trey mentioned an influx of them in the city. Where are they all coming from?”
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out. I’ve never seen so many in the city and no other areas in the south are reporting anything like this. I hate to say this, Quinn, but they started showing up after Reese returned. Edward told me he widened the protective area around her apartment. We mapped sightings and killings over the past twelve hours. Those spots were in a five-to-six mile radius around her building. More are showing up every hour.”
Tristan’s body dangled thousands of feet off the ground from claws the size of his head. A dark scarf wrapped around his face blocked his view. Cold air battered his body clothed in medieval furs and leathers, none of it comfortable.
All of it soaked and cold as shit.
Brynhild’s dragon would freeze Tristan’s nuts off if this flight went on for much longer.
She almost managed to do it once before.
He’d have nightmares for the rest of his life, which might not be very long.
All he did was try to talk to this damn dragon shifter to make friends while they were both stuck inside Cathbad’s cavern.
Because friends helped friends escape, right?
Not this lunatic. She took offense at his attempt to flirt and lost her ever-lovin’ mind.
One minute Brynhild was listening to him, and the next, she snapped. She started shifting into the massive iridescent-blue dragon now flying him who knew where and roared furiously. Her power had expanded and slammed across the cavern. The pond water boiled into a churning sea and huge chunks of ice shot up into the air.
When the crazy dragon fully formed, she pulled her spiked head back with jaws open to snap his head off. In that split second, Tristan had one last idea to save his ass.
He yelled, “I can teleport!”
Her dragon’s head whipped forward.
He braced for the attack.
She swung her head to the side instead and unleashed a quick blast of fire.
It burned a hole in the rock wall.
Tristan would have ended up a pile of ashes.
No regenerating from ashes.
When he’d stopped breathing like a horse run to ground and realized he’d dodged a fire bullet, he repeated, “I. Can. Teleport.”
He’d wanted to be sure she got that part.
Seeing her spew fire brought back the conversation he’d had with Daegan about a red dragon filmed burning forests in two countries.
Daegan contended that could not be a true red dragon. The fire had been confined as if shot through a tube where Daegan’s dragon fire spread out for maximum damage.
Brynhild’s fire had blasted out in a narrow stream for seconds, then fizzled.
Right after the fire, she blew a stream of frozen water across the ceiling of the cavern. Had her dragon done that to clear the smoky taste from her mouth?
When that giant dragon head swung around to face Tristan, brilliant blue eyes with elongated black irises stared at him. Her dragon had a smoother voice than Daegan’s. “What did you say about teleporting?”
Tristan finally exhaled the air from lungs filled to capacity. “I can teleport. We can get out of here.” He hadn’t wanted to give up his ace so soon, but it would have done him little good to die with that information.
“I do not believe you.”
He jumped at the chance to convince her before he faced Brynhild-the-Terminator part two. “I can prove it if you remove these manacles.”
“You think to trick me?” her dragon roared.
Tristan’s hearing would never recover from that ear-crushing sound so close. “What would be the point in tricking you when I want out of here as much as you want freedom? It should be worth your time to give me a chance to show you what I can do. Don’t you want to live without a tether to Cathbad?”
Yep, he had gone all in on escaping.
Her dragon had eyed him for a bit then walked away, hopped, then took flight around the cavern.
Tristan had to close his eyes to keep flying pieces of ice that broke loose from blinding him. Her wings sent ice of all sizes airborne. He had cuts on his face, arms, upper body. Thankfully, he’d still had jeans on protecting his lower half. The air dropped twenty degrees.
As she flew in her tight little airspace, her dragon blew out long streams of ice. She circled again and again, but the constant turning and flapping clearly burned up energy. When her dragon landed, Brynhild changed back to her human form.
She did it quickly and clothed herself in the same battle armor. Walking toward his hanging body, she had the swagger of a warrior who had known victory more than once. In addition to that black armor with silver emblems, her hair wove itself into tight braids, half of which were pulled back and tied with a leather thong by an invisible hand. The rest fell loose.
Black kohl outlined her sparkling blue eyes. That and the thick lashes created a dramatic effect.
Her perfect skin and sculpted lips belonged on a runway model in New York.
Beneath all that blond hair hid a supernatural homicidal maniac.
But she had been Tristan’s only ticket out of that cave before Cathbad could begin turning him into a polymorph, one capable of destroying Treoir before Daegan’s dragon would have been forced to kill Tristan. Daegan wouldn’t have known who he was until Tristan died. Tristan had been willing to do anything to save his boss and friend from so horrible a fate.
Tristan’s body ached from too many ice wounds to count, none of which would heal until he could draw on his gryphon’s power.
A rumbling noise shook him back to the present.
Getting struck by lightning would cap his crappy day.
Brynhild’s dragon made a soft cawing noise as if she liked something she saw.
What had drawn her beast’s attention?
And no one could see Brynhild’s dragon while she flew brazenly in public. She had the ability to cloak her dragon, even while in the air.
Did Daegan know that little detail?
If Tristan made it through this flight and whatever she had in mind for him, he had a lot to share with Daegan.
First he had to survive.
Brynhild had broken the spelled chains holding Tristan to the stone wall and let his abused body fall to the floor. His right knee had buckled when he tried to stand. The cold initially numbing the pain in his kneecap no longer helped now that a blanket warmed his legs just enough to feel again. Every time her dragon dipped or banked, his knee suffered a jagged ache.
He’d been so sure he could teleport away from her the minute she freed him, but she’d proven to be more clever than he realized and stayed a jump ahead.
The minute he managed to stand on his bad leg in the cavern, she’d produced a dagger. She shoved his wrist against the stone wall and stabbed the dagger through his forearm, pinning him in place.
That had hurt like a mother.
He was lucky she hadn’t killed him right then for the curses he’d shouted at her. She’d smiled instead, evidently more at home with confirmation of her warrior ability than a compliment that almost got him killed.
Rocking the knife to pull it loose from the stone, she’d kept the blade stabbed through his arm as she half-dragged him limping beside her to the mouth of the cave. Every move jarred the sharp blade. He’d come close to passing out. With her lack of patience, she would have probably just killed him on the spot, then regretted the rash decision later.
When she reached the front entrance to the cave, she nodded at the huge boulder blocking their exit and said, “Ledge is on other side of large stone. Teleport there.”
With blood running down his arm and shivering from shock, Tristan croaked, “You can’t move that rock?”
“Yes, but druid put ward in place,” she’d yelled at him.
Having his eardrums blasted again kept him from losing consciousness. “You still have to take the other manacle off for me to teleport.”
“I will, but know this.” She leaned around to his face, leaving no chance of misunderstanding her words. “I will have my hand on this dagger and your neck the very moment I remove the manacle. Try to teleport without me and I stab you somewhere next time that will hold a man’s attention.”
His balls shriveled at that warning.
He uttered in a thin voice, “No tricks.”
Good to her word, she looped the dangling chain from his manacle around the arm holding the dagger. The second she released the manacle from his wrist, she clamped her fingers on his throat.
Tristan considered all the ways teleporting somewhere unfamiliar could go wrong and kill him. He also had a fleeting thought of trying to teleport somewhere he knew, but feared he might be too drained of energy to teleport the entire way. He was not risking his death when he still had a chance to escape.
He’d asked, “How wide is the ledge outside?”
“Four strides away from boulder. Six strides wide. Do not miss or you will fall to your death where I will shift into my dragon and fly away.”
That required teleporting up and over the ward shielding the entrance.
He hoped like hell Cathbad had not warded more than this opening.
Brynhild wouldn’t care that teleporting was not a natural gift, but an ability he’d gained by downing a witch highball out of desperation in the past. That had been back when the goddess Macha had imprisoned him in a spelled jungle location in South America just for being an Alterant.
Screwed by another female and no desire to kiss either one. “Get ready. I’m teleporting us.”
Brynhild scoffed, “I have been ready for long time.”
He called up his gryphon power, hoping for enough to teleport the short distance and that his arm would not heal around the damn dagger. Then he closed his eyes and hoped he possessed a bit of luck.
When he reappeared, snow and mountains stretched forever. His toes hung over the edge of a cliff with nothing below him for thousands of feet with him teetering forward.
His heart tried to claw its way up his throat at the vision of falling to his death.
She yanked him back on solid ground and clamped the manacle onto his bad wrist.
He shouted, “I’m fuckin’ freezin’.” She conjured up fur and leather clothing on his body.
He’d considered shifting right then and fighting his way out, but Brynhild being a dragon shifter stifled that idea. Even if they had been equal in power, she had not been tortured for hours or stabbed with a dagger.
She immediately wrapped the chain around his neck, ending all hope of shifting.
Whatever spell Cathbad had placed on the chain and manacles blocked Tristan’s gryphon power.
“You will teleport us to my homeland.”
Tristan had a pretty good idea where that was, but still asked, “Where did you grow up?”
“Are you daft? You know of dragons but not the home of the ice dragons?”
“Actually, I do know where that is, but if we teleport there you might get attacked.” Truth, but Tristan was more concerned with landing in an open area without conflict to give him a chance to find a way to escape.
“Humans are everywhere today,” she groused.
Tristan thought about the place he’d gone with Daegan with the team where Vikings had once suffocated innocent women and children in an underground cave hundreds of years ago. That’s when Tristan learned that Noirre majik, the worst of all black majik, originated from the cadavers in that cave.
He hoped to convince Brynhild of going there. “You’re right about humans being everywhere these days, but I once went to a place called County Kilkenny, which isn’t far from where I believe your king’s castle to be. It has people mostly during the day. I did a lot of hiking there and think I can land us out of view from the humans.”
“Yes, do this.” She swung her lethal gaze close to his face. “Take me to wrong place and I will cut out an eye.”
Bloodthirsty female. His body couldn’t hurt more if someone had pushed him headfirst through a woodchipper. “Got it.”
When she removed the chain and manacle, Tristan teleported, but that one trip drained his energy big time. When they landed, rain battered his body and drenched him. This fur and leather outfit she’d dressed him in weighed more than medieval metal armor.
Through the downpour, he saw land, but no idea if he’d hit his mark.
Without pausing to say a word, she wrapped his head with a dark cloth, clamped the manacle on his arm again, and pushed him to the ground. The chain jerked like she’d stomped on the section closest to his arm with her foot. Damn her.
Power had sizzled and burst around him.
Ah, shit. When she shifted into that freaking dragon, he’d shouted, “Humans have big weapons to kill dragons.” He wouldn’t care, but she had no plans to turn him loose and didn’t want to be blown to pieces with her.
“No one sees mine. I will cloak dragon.”
In the next minute, the chain attached to the manacle yanked hard, pulling him to his feet by his freaking wounded arm. He’d call her a sadist, but she didn’t seem to derive pleasure from hurting him.
That would require human emotion.
It was more that she saw her actions as a means to an end.
None of that softened the agony of her abuse.
He’d stood there in the driving rain, waiting for her next move. Then he heard the loud beating of massive wings.
The sound diminished the farther she flew away from him.
Had she left?
What the hell?
His pulse had raced with a renewed energy. He could escape? He’d gotten her to this point.
She didn’t need him anymore, right?
He’d decided to give it a minute to be sure she had been gone long enough then ...
A loud whooshing sound surrounded him, then his body was yanked up in the air, claws pinning his arms tight on both sides.
He couldn’t guess how long ago that had been. Shock continued to rack his body with cold chills, causing his teeth to rattle so hard he had to clamp them to keep from biting his tongue.
She’d been flying straight into a strong wind since then, getting his head battered. The ends of the blindfold slapped around.
Claws larger than his gryphon’s held him in an unyielding grip. If only he could shift into his gryphon, he could heal.
He couldn’t see a damn thing.
No idea where she headed.
Sharp pellets of rain smacked any exposed skin as she flew them straight into a storm. Thunder pounded everywhere.
Time passed at its own whim.
Blood loss had him losing consciousness then the dragon’s wild movements would jerk him awake.
His stomach flipped when the dragon dropped suddenly from the sky, a move that required Tristan’s gryphon to tuck his wings.
He now had more appreciation for Evalle who often suffered vertigo when teleporting.
Flying Bitch-hild Airline sucked.
The dragon’s movement slowed. That would be her setting her wings for landing.
Ah shit, was she going to land all that heavy-ass body on top of him?
She dropped him what felt like ten feet off the ground. He hit, rolling hard until he flopped to a stop. It knocked the wind out of him. His chest hurt like hell and he sucked hard to get air. His head spun.
Human fingers curled around his arm, right above the wound, and lifted him to his feet. He’d never harmed a woman, but this being was no woman.
Brynhild was a monster in female skin.
She yanked the covering off his eyes.
He blinked to see against the deluge of water striking him in the face. She had his bad arm by the chain, but he lifted his free hand to wipe his face. “Where are we?”
“My favorite place when I started shifting into dragon as a young girl.” She actually smiled as she tossed his blindfold away and turned her back on him.
It took him a minute to understand why she didn’t worry about leaving him on his own as she walked to the edge of the ground they stood upon.
Tristan squinted, taking in the spectacular cliffs far out to his right and left with an ocean beyond.
Lightning sparked and fingered across the heavens like bony witches fingers.
Not a person or building in any direction.
He had no idea where he was, but he had a plan.
He’d left his gryphon alone when he had no chance of healing or breaking free, but he could feel energy seeping into his uninjured arm. Maybe the spell on the chain and manacle only worked if the chain made a complete wrap around his neck or both wrists were shackled, like an electrical circuit.
Brynhild held her arms out wide, staring at the surging sea rocked by the storm. She laughed loud and wildly. “I am back!”
While she ignored him, clearly thinking she had him under control, Tristan called up energy into his not-as-injured left arm.
Power rushed through the same arm and flooded his hand.
Claws broke out of his fingertips.
Hope pounded his skull.
He glanced at Brynhild. Still lost in her moment of freedom, holding her face up to the torrent coming down. Her blond braids slapped her body when the wind whipped her hair around.
It was now or never.
His damaged right arm would be useless until it healed. He couldn’t teleport unless he freed that arm.
Screw it. He called up his gryphon as fast as he could and sucked up his backbone. The minute his jaws were wide enough to bite off his right hand, he’d free himself and teleport away.
He’d never tried to teleport in gryphon form, but today was as good a day as any to find out if it would work.
His body began shifting.
Excitement rushed through him. His chest expanded. His head reshaped, but not very fast. He needed jaws powerful enough to snap bone and cut through his wrist the first time. He didn’t think he could make a second bite.
His wings began to form.
Brynhild turned around and screeched, “Stop!”
She stomped her way toward him with hands fisted and face warped in a fit of rage. “No shifting or you die!”
Fuck that. He kept begging his gryphon to break free.
Brynhild slammed to a stop. She started peeling off armor and shifting as she did.
Tristan clenched his fists and called hard on his power, but his shift would not happen in time.
Even if it did, his gryphon couldn’t rip off his hand before the dragon chomped off his beast’s head.