There’s only one more week until UNDISCOVERED hits shelves and e-readers! I’m so excited for you to read this story that I simply can’t wait another week. So every day leading up to release day, I’m going to share some of Zander and Rena’s story.
Here are Chapters One and Two….Enjoy!
Mine. The deep gravelly voice of the beast roared in the air around Rena and sent her heart into her throat. Mine. Mine. Mine.
The ferocious ear-splitting roars of the winged monsters rumbled through the forest and the earth trembled as the terrifying battle raged on. The nightmare had persisted for months and even though she was all too familiar with how it would play out, it continued to horrify her.
Frightened and exhausted, Rena McHale crouched behind the trunk of the towering pine tree and prayed they wouldn’t see her this time. Her heart thundered in her chest and she pressed her hands against her ears, attempting to drown out the stomach churning bellows of the monsters. Sweat trickled down her back and she kept her eyes squeezed shut trying to slow her breathing. She had been here countless times before and though the nightmare was always the same, Rena prayed this time would be different.
It wouldn’t be. They would find her and they would kill her. She would wake up, terrified and drowning in pain, seconds after being swallowed by a sea of agonizing flames.
Wicked heat flashed behind her and seared her shoulder. She bit her lip and swallowed the scream but she didn’t move from her hiding spot. The snarls and sharp sounds of clashing teeth had gotten closer. Dirt, leaves, and bits of rock rained over her as an enormous clawed foot skidded past her when one beast slammed into the other. Shrieks of fury filled the forest and the sound was more than she could bear. Rena knew what would come next. There would be nothing except excruciating pain while she burned alive.
Not again, she whimpered. Shit, not again.
The monster scrambled to its feet and Rena opened her eyes in time to see its long spiked tail whip past. She yelped as the weapon-like appendage slammed into tree above her head and bits of bark showered down, stinging her skin.
No more! Stop it! The words ripped from her lungs in scream after scream and she shut her eyes, not wanting to see the fire this time. Go away and leave me alone! I want to wake up. Help! Someone, please help me! I can’t take it anymore.
Rena didn’t know how long she sat there screaming the words over and over again because she fully expected the fire to claim her as it had every time before. But this time the flames didn’t come.
Exquisite silence filled the air and other than the sound of her own breathing, Rena heard nothing. The earth no longer trembled, there was no more snarling or growling, and instead of fire, a cool mist drifted over her bare arms like a soothing blanket. With her heart beating wildly against her ribcage, Rena finally found the courage to open her eyes. The woods were now bathed in golden rays of sunlight and a white fog rolled low along the ground, covering any evidence of the destructive battle that had been raging only moments ago.
With trembling hands, Rena pushed her stiff body off the ground and stood on shaky legs. She brushed leaves and dirt off the back of her pajama pants and her tank top, the outfit she had gone to sleep in that night. She gripped the tree trunk, the bark rough beneath her palm, and looked around warily, half expecting the beasts to spring out at her from between the trees, but she was alone.
That’s it? Her voice shook and sounded odd as it broke the silence. All I had to do was have a crybaby fit to make those two assholes vanish?
The words were barely out of her mouth when the earth shook with the familiar footsteps of the monsters.
Oh great, Rena whispered. She pressed her back against the tree before peering around the trunk in search of the threat. Another tremor rattled the ground and the tree branches wavered above as her heartbeat picked up. Wake up, girl. Come on. Wake the hell up.
Run. The man’s voice, a deep gritty baritone, whispered around Rena out of nowhere, making her go completely still. This was new. Right now. You can’t let him find you. Not like this. He won’t understand.
Her eyes flicked open and she scanned the dark misty woods for the source of the voice.
Who won’t understand what?
As far as she could see there was no one there but her. Rena gasped as another tremor rocked the earth so hard she almost lost her footing. It was getting closer.
Now! His voice, filled with urgency and a hint of impatience, seemed to come from nowhere and yet he was everywhere. Run, woman. Move!
Another tremor. Stronger now. Dangerously close.
Where the hell am I supposed to run? Rena asked in a shaky whisper. This is a nightmare and there’s no place to run to, unless I wake up. Which, I would love to do, by the way.
An emerald green light flashed past the trees to her left, like a mirror glinting in the sun, and that’s when she felt it.
The spirit stream.
The warm soothing strand pulsed and wiggled through the air before sliding beneath her skin like ribbons of silk. Rena sighed at the pleasurable sensation as it seeped into her chest.
Moments later, she detected the source. It was coming from the emerald light flashing in the distance, calling her to safety.
Spirit streams, the name she had come up with years ago to describe the unusual phenomenon, were like an invisible trail of breadcrumbs only Rena could see and feel. She had no idea why or how she was able to sense them but she had never been more grateful for the gift than right this second
Ever since Rena could remember, she had been able to detect the invisible trail left behind by all living creatures. She could find any person on the planet by simply connecting with their spirit stream. She had never found one in a dream before because she had to touch an object the other person had held in order to connect.
But then again, this was no regular dream. More like a recurring nightmare.
Move your ass! The man’s voice was louder this time and rife with impatience. Unless you enjoy getting fried like a chicken?
Bossy and sarcastic? Rena glanced over her shoulder as another tremor hit. What a charming combination.
Rena ran as fast as she could toward the otherworldly green light, her arms pumping with effort. She ducked beneath a low hanging branch but stumbled when the ground shuddered again beneath her feet. She regained her footing and an ear-splitting roar filled the air but Rena didn’t look back. Fear gripped her by the throat and her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest but she kept running toward the light.
If she followed the spirit stream, it would lead her to safety. She didn’t know how she knew that, she simply did. Deep in her gut, she was confident whoever was talking to her was inherently good. Spirit streams didn’t lie because they possessed the essence of the person they belonged to.
Good or evil. The truth was revealed every time.
A wave of heat flashed over the back of her shoulders as the deafening sound of the beast’s footsteps grew nearer still. Leaves crunched and branches cracked loudly, as the monster tore through the woods giving chase. With one final push of effort, Rena broke through the tangle of branches and found what looked like a dead end. A rocky wall blocked her path but the spirit stream drifted to the right and Rena followed it, even thought it seemed to be going nowhere.
When she rounded the side of the mountain, Rena found a small opening in the rocks and the green light flashed from within. With the beast bearing down, there was no time to ask questions. She dropped to her knees and crawled into the narrow space, inching along on her belly. Rocks and dirt scraped at her but she kept moving toward the light, which glowed brighter and larger.
With sweat dripping into her eyes and panic creeping in, Rena finally came to the other end of the narrow tunnel and what she found left her speechless. It emptied into an enormous cave with a glittering pool of bright blue water lit from beneath. Rena climbed down the sloped rocky wall carefully and when she finally reached the bottom, she looked around in awe. The sheer size of the underground chamber and the serenity of the space was enough to leave her humbled but it was what was buried inside the wall that left her speechless.
Curled up in a fetal position, behind layers of translucent quartz and stone, was one of the beasts that had been haunting her nightmares. Rena let out a shuddering breath and moved closer to the crystal-like surface. The creature was as beautiful as it was terrifying. A prism of greens and gold glinted behind the frosted wall in a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colors.
Whoa. That is so cool. I’ve never seen one when it wasn’t trying to kill me. What is it? It looks kind of like a—
She reached out to touch it.
Don’t! The man’s voice echoed through the cavernous space. Not in the dreamrealm.
Rena dropped her arm to her side and spun around, scanning the mammoth cave for any sign of her new friend.
You must go to him and find the others like yourself. The Amoveo can help you…and him. He must be awakened in the earthly plane by his mate. It’s the only way to break the curse and we are almost out of time. If you don’t reach him by All Hallows Eve, he will be trapped here forever.
Okay, first of all, what curse and who are the Amoveo? Rena said slowly. Secondly, there are no others like me. Trust me. I’m a total freak. Just ask any of the foster families I lived with and they’ll confirm it.
Hello? Rena settled her hands on her hips and looked around. Yo! Mister? You still here? And what’s this business about a mate?
You don’t know about the Amoveo? His voice was thick with surprise and a fair amount of confusion. How is that possible?
Please, Rena scoffed and swept her arms in big circle. This fits right in with the rest of my weird ass life. Listen, I appreciate you saving my ass back there and everything, even though this is only a dream. Albeit, a really weird dream but what’s with the monster in the rocks? Why have those two assholes been killing me night after night and who must I go to? She made air quotes with her fingers. And, while we’re at it, who the hell are you?
Silence, heavy and thick, filled the cave once again and Rena practically choked on it.
I’ve never encountered one like you before.
His voice and spirit stream bounced off the nooks and crannies of the rocks effectively masking his location. Another first.
Yeah? Well, I’ve never been interrogated in my own dream before. I call us even.
What’s your name?
Rena McHale. She answered the ludicrous question. This dream was her subconscious. Why would she ask herself her own name? Why? What’s yours?
Pick up the stone.
That’s a weird name, she deadpanned.
Pick it up! We don’t have time to waste. Not anymore.
His voice boomed louder this time from behind her. Rena spun around and spotted a jagged piece of green quartz perched precariously on a rocky outcropping along the wall. About the size of a large egg, it glowed from within, like the water in the pool but it was green rather than blue. Rena let out a slow breath and ran both hands through her short brown hair before lacing her fingers behind her head.
Does this have to do with that curse you mentioned, she shouted to the empty cave. I’m not buying what you’re selling, dude. I have enough problems without getting involved with some weird curse.
Pick it up. Now! It’s the only way.
It’s a good thing you’re a disembodied voice and not a real live guy. Rena dropped her hands to her side and cautiously approached the stone. I’d have to deck you for being so damn bossy.
Please. He dragged out the word as though it was painful for him to ask her nicely. Pick up the stone.
Jeez. Rena rolled her eyes before scooping it up. Fine.
The instant the quartz touched her fingers the cave erupted in an explosion of light. Another spirit stream which was almost identical to the other, but far weaker in strength, whispered beneath her flesh. Rena sucked in a shuddering breath and wanted to open her eyes but she couldn’t. They were heavy with sleep.
As the light faded and darkness closed in, the man whispered…You are his only hope.
Zander Lorens rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he reached around blindly for the cellphone that was somewhere next to his sleeping bag. Early morning sunlight streamed in through the vents of his tent and he squinted against it while swearing under his breath. The dream was still fresh and the woman’s face securely imprinted on his mind, to say nothing of her energy signature.
For the first time in five centuries, Zander had hope that the curse could be broken.
When his fingers curled around the smooth familiar device, he snatched it and sat up. Bleary eyed, he scrolled through the screen looking for the old witch’s phone number. It was one of the only non-business related contacts he had in there. Referring to Isadora a friend was probably a stretch, especially since it was one of her sisters who had cursed him and his brother all those years ago.
Over the years, in spite of the history between their families, she had become a trusted acquaintance. Hell, she was a powerful old broad and if she wanted to hurt Zander, she could have done it a hundred times over. Complicated past aside, Isadora was his only surviving connection to the supernatural world.
Zander had no other options.
The early morning chill of the surrounding mountains crept in but Zander barely felt it. Excitement and a healthy dose of nerves had his blood humming. He pressed the phone to his ear and unzipped his tent. Sucking in a deep breath of crisp morning air, he stepped out uncaring of his nakedness. There was nobody there to see it other than the forest creatures and since he wasn’t exactly Snow White, they wouldn’t be paying him any mind.
After six or seven rings, Isadora finally picked up.
“You better have a damned good reason for calling an old woman at this hour,” she croaked. “The sun is barely up.”
“I found her.” Zander tried to keep his voice even and his eagerness at bay but it was no use. “Last night. In the dreamrealm. Arianna was gone and a woman I have never seen before had taken her place. She was—”
“Hold on a damn minute,” she rasped. “Slow down.”
“Zed spoke, Isadora. He actually spoke.” He let out a short laugh of disbelief and pushed his shaggy dark hair off his face while staring at the rising sun. “The voice was more beast than man, but he uttered the same word over and over again as soon as he saw her. Mine. Don’t you see? The woman in dreamrealm, whoever she is, has to be Zed’s mate.”
When the old witch didn’t respond, Zander thought the connection had been lost. He pulled the phone away and checked but he had plenty of bars. Zander growled with frustration and put it back to his ear but two seconds later, a crackling sound erupted behind him.
Zander spun around to see the old woman standing there, a cloud of purple smoke disappearing around her in the early morning light. Her long straight salt and pepper colored hair hung to her waist and her tanned wrinkled face was covered with a mischievous smile. Those dark eyes of her twinkled wickedly as they flicked over his naked body, lingering longer than he’d like on his dick.
“I thought we should talk in person,” she said with a wink. Isadora pointed one crooked finger at his crotch before leaning both hands on the tall walking stick. “You better cover up or I’m going to get the wrong idea.”
“I’m too old to go diving behind a tree.”
Zander hit end on the phone and strode toward the tent as her cackling laughter filled the air. Nudity wasn’t a big deal for the members of his race. Shit. After five hundred years on earth, trapped in his human form, nothing was a big deal anymore.
“And I’m too old to take advantage the situation,” she snickered. “In this body, anyhow. Now, if I had used my younger-self potion before my travelin’ potion, we wouldn’t be doing very much talking. If you know what I’m gettin’ at?”
“I have an idea.” Zander threw his cellphone in the tent and grabbed his jeans, trying not to imagine what the old woman looked like under her long robe-like dress. “You know, we could have continued this conversation on the phone.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” She leaned on her cane and gave him a sly smile as he pulled his pants up. “’Sides, given everythin’ you were goin’ on about, we need to be real clear about what comes next. Best to have this talk in person.”
Zander nodded his agreement and settled both hands on his hips as he studied the ancient witch woman closely. Her energy signature, like most supernatural creatures, was far stronger than a human. It was the spiritual fingerprint each individual possessed. After Zander had been cursed, being able to detect those powerful streams of energy was the only gift Zander had left.
Well, that and being immortal.
“Now, let’s get back to business.” Isadora stomped her walking stick into he ground with her gnarled hands. “You think you may have found a way to break my sister’s curse? I thought the only way to get rid of it was for one of you boys to commit an act of pure unselfish love?”
“Since Zed has been trapped in hibernation in his dragon form for the past five centuries, that cut our odds in half.”
“Fair point.” She let out a groan as she settled her round backside on a tree stump next to Zander’s makeshift fire pit. “But you’re still here. Why ain’t you been able to get rid of the curse? Ain’t you done any good deeds in the last half a millennium?”
“What a load of crap that had turned out to be.” Zander scoffed under his breath. “I’ve spent the last five centuries doing good deeds and random acts of kindness, all over the globe and not a damn one worked. Do you have any idea how many cats and drowning kids I’ve saved?”
“Well, it’s a lot. Shit,” he huffed. “I’ve lost count. I’ve fought in wars for the greater good, built homes for the downtrodden, and bought groceries for strangers. I’ve tossed countless coins into paper cups that were clutched in the hands of homeless men, women, and children. Nothing has made a difference. The curse has remained in place. Zed is stuck in the dreamrealm and I’m…here.”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “You and your twin brother got screwed.”
“He got it worse than me,” Zander said quietly. “Zed has been languishing in the dreamrealm. Night after night we relive that fight—the one that changed everything. I’ve tried to reason with him but he stopped hearing me long ago. He’s… tortured.
“Grief and regret will do that.”
“He’s been reduced to his most savage state. The man is gone and only the beast remains.”
“Right, I know all that,” she said with waning patience. “So what makes you think this woman is the key to breaking the curse?”
“He saw her, Isadora,” Zander said with a smile. “And he spoke. I can’t tell you the last time he did that. It was only one word but it was a damn good one.”
“Mine,” Isadora said quietly. Worry edged the wrinkles around her eyes. “So you’re tellin’ me that you think this woman in the dreamrealm is Zed’s mate?”
“Zed sure as hell thought she was. Besides, why else would some random woman land in there with us?”
“Why do you think—”
“She’s Amoveo,” Zander said quietly.
Isadora’s eyes widened and she nodded slowly as an expression of understanding washed over her. The Amoveo, an ancient race of shapeshifters, similar to the Dragon Clan in many ways, found their mates in the dreamrealm. Once they had connected there, then the could find each other in the physical plane.
“She’s a shifter. Like you were.”
“No.” Zander’s jaw clenched. “The Dragons were cousins of the Amoveo. We aren’t the same.”
“Pfft.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s what you call semantics. The Dragon Clan was considered the eleventh clan of the Amoveo by most everyone—except the dragons. Which of the ten Amoveo clans is she descended from?”
“From the Fox Clan, I think.
“Like someone else we knew.” Isadora sniffed. “Seems a little too coincidental for me.”
Zander pretended to ignore that last comment.
“Her name is Rena McHale but I don’t think she’s a pureblood. If she was, she would know what she is because she would have gone through her first shapeshifting episode during puberty, like all of the Amoveo do. There’s no way she knows there’s Amoveo blood in her veins, which is going to make this a hell of a lot more difficult.”
“Most of ‘em don’t know what they are,” Isadora said flatly. “Comes as quite a shock to ‘em.”
“You mean there are more like her? Part human and part Amoveo?”
“Yes, sir. Prince Richard has had his men out looking for ‘em and bringin’ ‘em back to his ranch, over in Montana.”
An image of Zed in his hibernation cocoon flashed into his mind. His twin brother was deep beneath the earth where no one would find him. Humans rarely ventured that far under the ground and other than Zander and Isadora, nobody even knew Zed was there.
“They still occupy that land? I thought for sure they would have sold it off over the years.”
“You didn’t sell yours,” she said, referring to his property in West Yellowstone.
“It’s all I have left of my clan.”
“Maybe they feel the same. You aren’t so different after all.” She shrugged her narrow shoulders and waved one hand. “Richard and Salinda’s place is more of a compound, really. They had themselves some trouble in the past few years. Purist Amoveo caused a ruckus. Guess they were none too pleased about these hybrids popping up. The Council has been dissolved and—”
“You’re not serious.”
The Council was the Amoveo’s governing body and was comprised of two members from each of the ten clans. Eons ago, long before Zander and Zed were born, the Dragons had even been a part of it. He couldn’t imagine the kind of chaos that must have ensued with the dissolution of The Council.
“Deadly so, I’m afraid. There were assassination attempts. Nasty business. I ain’t seen the ten Amoveo clans fight amongst themselves like that since…well…since that business with you and your brother and that Fox Clan girl.”
“That was a long time ago, and this woman, whoever she is, isn’t Arianna but she is Zed’s mate.”
“Or yours,” Isadora whispered.
“No,” he said adamantly. “I’m not letting that happen again. She’s meant for Zed.”
“Who she’s meant for ain’t up to you, now is it?”
“This woman is his only hope.”
Zander grabbed two large thick branches and snapped them in half, using his pent up frustration to do it. Silence settled between them as Zander squatted down and arranged some sticks in the fire pit. He stuffed some newspaper underneath before lighting it up.
“’Bout time,” she groused. “It’s colder than a witch’s tit out here.”
Zander let out a huff of laughter at her silly comment and shook his head before sitting beside the fire. Isadora always did have a way of diffusing tense situations. He pulled his knees up and settled his arms over them as the heat washed over his bare flesh. The crackle of the wood as it was consumed by the flames filled the air, instantly putting him at ease.
For most people, the power of fire was frightening but it made Zander feel at home.
“You miss it, don’t you?” She asked, her voice pulling him from his memories. “The dragon.”
“Embracing my dragon again is all I’ve wanted and ironically, it’s the very thing that’s tormenting Zed.” He tossed another branch on the fire, the action sending sparks into the air. “If I can get this woman to the cave where Zed is hibernating, and give her a spirit stone from our tribal land, she might be able to use it to wake him up.”
“That’s a big might,” Isadora said firmly. “Boy, you got nothin’ but maybes and could be.”
“Yeah. That’s about all I’ve got and we’re running out of time. This Saturday is…”
“Oh hell.” She tapped her cane on the ground and pursed her lips. “It’s All Hallows Eve ain’t it?”
“Damn,” she said with a sigh. “Those five hundred years surely did fly right on by.”
Zed let out a bitter laugh.
The past several centuries felt more like millennia as far as he was concerned. However, he clamped down on his moment of self-pity and reminded himself that nothing he went through could compare to Zed’s painful existence.
“That’s why I need your help. If we don’t break the curse before sunset on Saturday, then it will never be over and Zed will be trapped there. Forever. Tormented. Alone. I can’t live with that and thanks to your sister’s curse, I can’t even put myself out of my own misery.” He sighed wearily. “Living forever sucks…at least living like this.”
He turned his gaze to hers and threw a prayer to the universe that she would take pity on him. The old woman, her long white and brown robe draped over her thin form, stared into the fire but said nothing. He sensed she was weighing her options.
“Please, Isadora. Put me in touch with the prince, or one of his people. I’ve got to get on that property. You and I both know that I can’t just walk up to the gates. And I can’t try and sneak on because they’ll sense my presence. You know I’m right.”
“Can’t say you’re wrong.” A look of understanding flickered over her weathered face and she nodded. “But if you had an Amoveo hybrid with you…one looking for sanctuary…”
“We kill two birds with one stone. Rena can connect with her people and I have a chance to free my brother.”
“Seems more complicated than you’re makin’ it.”
Zander let out a beleaguered sigh.
“Can you help me or not?”
She pushed herself to her feet, using her cane for support. Zander hopped up before going around the fire and scooping the tiny old witch up in a big hug. Her frail five-foot tall frame was easily engulfed by his far larger one.
“My sister was a troublemaker and always sellin’ her magic to the highest bidder. It ain’t right, and if she weren’t already dead, I’d have a mind to kill her myself. It’s witches like her that gave all of us a bad rap. I swear. The fairies are a bunch of troublemakers and we’re the ones who look bad in the human stories. Ain’t right, I tell ya.”
“Thank you, Isadora.”
He bent down planted a kiss on her soft cheek as gratitude swelled.
“Alright, now.” Her wrinkled cheeks pinked and she patted him on the arm. “Better be careful with all that kissin’ on me. We may be about the same age but my body ain’t weathered the years as well as yours.”
Her brow furrowed and her smile faltered as her gaze skittered over his bare chest. She tapped one of several scars on his torso with a gnarled fingertip and made a tsking sound.
“I guess you aren’t exactly unscathed, are you?”
“No, ma’am.” Zander pressed both hands to his chest and stepped back before extending his arms wide. “But thanks to your sister, I am indestructible.”
“And handsome as ever.” She pulled a small glass bottle from one of the folds in her robe and flipped the cork out with her thumb. “Better stand back, boy.”
Zander did as she said and put a healthy distance between them.
“I’ll get a message to the Amoveo. If I had to venture a guess, you’ll be gettin’ a call from a Dante Coltari. He’s the one been wranglin’ the hybrids to the ranch but that’s all I can do for you. After that, you’re on your own. I don’t like to meddle where I don’t have to.”
Zander arched one dark eyebrow at her and she shrugged.
“Yeah, that ain’t true. I love messin’ with people. Keeps my mind and magic sharp.”
She was about to swallow her potion but Zander held up one hand, stopping her.
“Don’t give them my real name. Tell them—”
“Won’t matter. Trust me.”
“Isadora,” he began. “I hardly think they’ll welcome a dragon to their property. Even before my people were extinct, we were the outcasts. Some of the Amoveo even helped the human dragon slayers hunt us into oblivion. Arianna’s father for one.”
Anger surged at the painful memories but he stuffed it back down. Better to save it for another day. If he was going to have to deal with a ranch full of Amoveo, he would need all of his strength. In his experience, rage was one hell of a weapon.
“Yeah,” she snorted. “But, you ain’t a dragon no more. The dragons are all gone and only exist in human fairytales and folklore. For the most part…”
Before he could protest further, Isadora swallowed her potion and vanished in a cloud of purple smoke. As the haze of her departure dissipated, Zander’s thoughts went to the woman from the dreamrealm.
If she didn’t know who and what she really was, how the hell was Zander going to tell her about him and his brother? Or that she was Zed’s intended mate? What a shit show.
Yep. He was fucked. Again.
All he knew was her name and where she was located. Though the curse had stripped him of virtually all of his dragon clan abilities, he was still able to identify her unique energy pattern—and it showed him exactly where she was.
He wasted no more time. Zander packed up his tent and backpack and pointed his Harley in the right direction.
“But you have to come out tonight,” Pat said with a dramatic whine. “It’s my annual birthday booze-fest and it wouldn’t be the same without you. Come on, girl.”
“Pat, you know you’re my best friend,” Rena said, while stifling a large yawn.
“Bitch, please, I’m your only friend.”
Pat settled her leather-clad backside on the edge of Rena’s desk and checked her bleach blonde reflection in the wall mirror. She pulled a lipstick from the pocket of her pink satin jacket and quickly touched up her lips. She had been a showgirl in Vegas for years and dressed the part on and off stage.
“Yeah? Well, you aren’t exactly swimming in a girl-squad are you, Pat?”
“Whatevs,” Pat sighed. “You’re smart and tough. You’d be surprised how many broads out here can’t stand on their own two feet. And if there’s anything I can’t abide it’s a weak chick.”
“Says the woman whose last serious boyfriend drained her bank account of ten grand and split in the dead of night.”
“Hey! Can I help it if he was thief?”
“I still can’t believe you got bamboozled by that guy.”
“What can I say? He was super hot and off the charts awesome in bed. I must’ve had sex-brain. That’s my only excuse.”
“What on earth is sex-brain?” Rena asked, while keeping one eye on her computer screen. The topic of sex made her uncomfortable an not only because she hadn’t had much of it. Intimacy of any kind made Rena feel off-kilter or on guard. In her experience, allowing herself to be vulnerable, physically or emotionally, only ended up causing her pain.
“You’d know if you ever got laid.”
“Please.” Rena rolled her eyes. “Sex is overrated.”
“Says the woman who hasn’t done it in three years.” Pat smirked. “Or is it four? Girl, you need some good old-fashioned nookie.”
It was four but who’s counting? Rena squared her shoulders and typed two more figures into the spreadsheet. The last guy she slept had slept with was only interested in his own pleasure and even though he tried to fake it, Rena knew he didn’t even remember her name afterward. Hell, she hadn’t been looking for the dude to proclaim his love to her or anything but he could have at least gotten her name right.
After that humiliating experience, she decided sex wasn’t worth the trouble.
“Look at the mess your libido got you into. I’ll stick with running my business and my on-going love affair with Netflix.”
“That’s depressing.” Pat hopped off the desk and smoothed the back of her pants. “Tank may have been a thief and a liar but we should thank him. If I hadn’t hired you to track that shithead down, we would never have met.”
“That’s true.” Rena winked and smiled at her one and only friend. “It was my best case ever. Well, the one with the best fringe benefits, anyway.”
It had been a win for both women. The only person who didn’t benefit from it was Tank. The big brute had coughed up the money once Rena got her hands on him. Actually, it was more like her mind. A smile curved her lips as she recalled the look on his face when she was able to tell him all the deep dark secrets she saw in his head. He’d freaked out and called her the devil but not before giving back the cash he’d stolen.
Maybe, Rena thought with a sigh, she might be a devil of some kind but at least she wasn’t the thief.
Freak? Sure. Thief? Nope.
She didn’t even know what she was exactly. Only that she was different.
Rena let out a short laugh and shook her head as she typed another piece of information into the excel spreadsheet. She kept her gaze on the screen because she hated to admit Pat was right. Rena had never been good at making friends or keeping them, anyway. It had always been easier to keep most people at arms length. If they couldn’t get close to her then they couldn’t hurt her. It was a survival skill she picked up long ago after the first foster family sent her away. There was no point in getting attached to anyone because once they realized Rena was different, they couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
She had always been something of a loner, at least until a couple of years ago.
“Sad but true,” Pat giggled.
“It is sad.” Rena yawned yet again. “Jeez. I am totally wiped out. I didn’t get any damn sleep again last night, and I’ve been tied to my desk all day getting my quarterly taxes done for my accountant. Vito always took care of this stuff but…well…now it’s on me.”
“Sorry, babe.” Pat’s voice softened. “How’s the old guy doing, anyway?”
“He’s…the same.” Rena stilled and forced herself not to cry. Vito was the first person Rena had allowed herself to care about in years. “The assisted living place he’s in is great but it costs a damn fortune. Thank God business has been good but you know what they say, there’s never enough money. I have no idea how long he’ll be staying there, so bring on the cases and the cash. Besides, you know me, I thrive on work.”
“What are they gonna do if you don’t pay ‘em?” Pat scoffed. “Kick him out? The guy is like almost a hundred and he’s got full on dementia. Is there anywhere else he can go that’s not so expensive?”
“There are state run places but I wouldn’t put a dog in one of those, let alone the only semblance of a family I have. Vito took me in when I had nobody. Hell, he taught me this business and he’s the only person who has ever given a damn about me.” Anger shimmied up her back at the notion of taking her beloved friend out of the Sunnyfarm Retirement Community. “Besides, they have the best program in the country that specializes in patients with memory issues. He has to stay there…even if he doesn’t know where the hell he is from one minute to the next.”
Rena’s heart squeezed in her chest when she recalled the vacant lost expression on Vito’s face. It was the same one she saw every time she visited him. No matter how many times he looked at her that way, she would never get used to it. The irony of her situation wasn’t lost on her. She pushed people away for her entire life and the first person she opens her heart to, no longer remembers her.
Tears stung the back of Rena’s eyes but she willed them away and cursed herself for her foolishness. The ache in her heart wasn’t Vito’s fault, it was hers. She was the dummy who had allowed herself to care about him. He wasn’t hurting her on purpose but that didn’t make her feel any better.
“He still sayin’ wacky stuff?”
“Yeah,” Rena said on a sigh. “When I saw him yesterday, he thought I was his daughter and since she’s been dead for decades, he’s obviously confused. Sometimes nothing he says makes sense and then other times, he’s totally normal. Every time I go visit him, I’m never sure which version of Vito I’m going to see. Usually it’s the one who looks at me like he’s never seen me before. Like the last few years never happened and I’m just some stranger.”
“Jeez,” Pat whispered. “It’s like a roller coaster, huh?”
“Yup.” Rena rubbed at her bleary eyes before forcing herself to refocus on the computer screen. “An expensive, heartbreaking, cruddy carnival ride that nobody should have to get on. I’m only twenty-five but lately I feel like I’m a hundred and five. My body and brain are on the fritz. I think it’s all his crazy talk about monsters that has been giving me nightmares.”
“All the more reason you should come out with me tonight and party a little. Come on! You need a break, girl and Dino’s Place is always fun.”
“I don’t know…”
“Pleeeeeeease.” Pat put her hands together as if in prayer and batted her big blue eyes at Rena. “Come on, Rena. It’s my birthday and my cat doesn’t like going to the bars. So, you’re my only hope.”
“What if I hadn’t solved the case and gotten your money back for you?” Rena flicked her narrowed gaze to Pat. “Would we still be friends?”
“Hell, no,” she snorted. “Because then I’d be out my ten grand plus your fee. Besides, I knew you’d be able to do it.”
“Oh yeah?” Rena laughed. “How’s that?”
“My sixth sense.” Pat tapped her temple with one long red fingernail. “I get hunches and they’re never wrong.”
“Really?” Rena’s eyebrows raised and a smile curved her lips. “Then why didn’t those hunches lead you to the deadbeat with all your cash?”
“They led me to you, so him taking my money was actually a good thing in the end. Shit, not all of us get the crazy weird vibes like you do.”
Rena stilled for a second. She never told Pat about the way she was able to find people. She didn’t mention the fact that when she held Tank’s old t-shirt in her hands, she had been able to see everything. All of his dirty secrets—and the guy had a few. Including a wife and three kids. Once Rena called him out on the secret family, he had been more than willing to give back the money.
In fact, she’d never told anyone how about her gift. Hell, Rena rarely got close enough to anybody to tell them the way she liked her coffee, let alone her deepest secret. And hers was a whopper. The people who sensed that Rena was different, or got wierded out by her hunches, always gave her that look. The one that made her feel like a Martian and she sure as hell didn’t want to see an expression like that on Pat’s face.
“Anyway, are you coming tonight or what?”
“What do your hunches tell you?”
“Screw you,” Pat laughed.
“Well, since you asked so nicely…”
“Excellent.” Pat leaned across the desk and planted a lipstick-laden kiss on Rena’s cheek. Rena wasn’t great with the huggy and kissy stuff but she learned a long time ago that Pat was an expert hugger and kisser. “I’ll meet you at Dino’s Place at eight and don’t be late!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Rena saluted dramatically.
“Bye, baby.” Pat waved before disappearing through the door and out into the hot Vegas sun.
An ear-piercing squeak filled the small office as the door closed and finally Rena was left in blissful silence. She had always enjoyed being alone and even though she adored Pat, Rena could only handle her friend’s energy in small doses. The woman’s vibe was off the charts and tended to put Rena’s unusually heightened senses on overload. Her hearing had always been phenomenal but today it seemed to be on overdrive.
Rena could even hear Pat talking to someone outside the building. She stilled and tilted her head, instinctively wanting to sharpen her focus and try harder to hear every word. However, she swiftly pulled back and shifted her attention to the sound of the ticking clock. Just because she had weirdly awesome hearing, didn’t mean she should use it.
Eavesdropping was rude.
Letting out slow sigh she glanced at the clock above the door. Two more hours. She’d call it quits at six, which would give her time to shower and change. It would be a short trip home because her studio apartment was right behind her office, though the entrance was separate. Business had been booming and she could have afforded one of those huge McMansions that had popped up outside the city but that wasn’t her style. She preferred the cozy neat little apartment to a sprawling vacant house.
Besides, the quick trip home might even give her time to grab a nap.
Rena shouldn’t go out tonight. What she should do was go to bed and try to get some more sleep because the insomnia was kicking her butt. Not only did it make her physically exhausted but it seemed to weaken her special abilities. If she did’t get enough sleep, her radar could get fuzzy. Rena saved the file on her computer and opened her email. She hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep for the past several months and last night was the worst ever thanks to another freaky ass monster dream.
What was the deal with these weird nightmares, anyway?
The ear splitting roar of a motorcycle rumbled outside and Rena winced as the shock of it pulled her from her memories. A shudder whispered up her spine as she recalled the energy signature from the man in the dream. The dreams typically lingered but this one was practically alive around her in the air. She easily recalled the voice of the man. It was deep and gravelly, and seemed as though it had imprinted on her brain or something. She couldn’t shake him or, at least, the memory of him.
Powerful. Dark. Seductive.
This was nuts. A disembodied voice in a dream, which belonged to nobody other than her own subconscious, got her more hot and bothered than any living breathing guy. Maybe Pat was right and Rena needed some real life nookie. Would
some no-strings attached sex with a hot stranger would help her snap out of it?
No. She answered her own question before she finished the thought.
Rena closed her eyes and sucked in a deep cleansing breath, in an attempt to clear her head. Weird dreams aside, she had work to finish but with no new cases on the horizon, she would likely have plenty of time to analyze her crazy subconscious later.
“I’m being ridiculous,” she muttered under her breath. “Sex with a stranger is the last complication I need and now I’m talking to myself.”
Rena grabbed the glass of water on her desk and was about to take a sip when she spotted a layer of dust floating on top. She grimaced. How long had it been sitting there? Gross.
Letting out a sigh, she rose to her feet with glass in hand but as she rounded the desk, a hauntingly familiar spirit stream curled around her out of nowhere. Dark and erotic, the ghostlike tendril made her stop short and all the breath rushed from her lungs. Rena’s body tensed and a shiver of lust mixed with surprise and excitement sizzled beneath her skin. Warmth seeped through her chest and her eyes tingled, it was an odd pins and needles sensation, and her breath came in quick jagged gasps.
Rena’s entire body went into some kind of haywire overdrive, of which she had zero control.
The spirit stream grew stronger and sweat broke out over her skin. Rena’s fingers curled tighter around the glass. Her mind raced, fighting to break through the myriad of sensations and identify the source of the spirit stream. Who could possibly be having this kind of effect on her?
Eyes closed and her breath coming in quick short jags, Rena struggled to find the origin of the spirit stream and then she heard him.
The gruff gravelly voice rumbled through her mind as the glass shattered between her fingers and sliced her flesh. However, she barely felt the pain or the blood, hot and wet, as it dripped from her hand. Because at the same instant, the door of her office flew open and the towering figure of a man filled the space. Light from the setting sun glared behind him, blocking out everything but the massive size of him and in that moment, Rena realized the voice in her dream, the man she had heard, he wasn’t her subconscious at all.
He was real…and he was here.
Zander Lorens had traveled the entire globe over the past five centuries and Las Vegas was one of his least favorite places. The city was saturated with greed and layered with the worst aspects of humanity, traits he had gotten to know all too well over the past several hundred years. He never thought anyone or anything would get him to come back here but then again, he hadn’t expected to find his brother’s mate living in Sin City.
Shit. He hadn’t expected to find her anywhere. Ever. He had all but given up hope. Zander had resigned himself to their combined cursed fates long ago and with the five-hundred-year anniversary fast approaching, he thought they were both done for.
Six hours later he arrived at his destination but he still didn’t have a damn clue about how to approach her.
Zander slowed his Harley and pulled up to the curb of the small office building, the rumble of the engine echoing around him in the narrow side street. He kicked the stand down and shut off the bike with a hint of apprehension glimmering in his chest. Slipping his hands into his pockets, he curled his fingers around the piece of green quartz. The familiar feel of his family’s spirit-stone tumbled against his palm, instantly putting him at ease.
The lumpy rock from his clan’s land was all he had left of his former life and his people. It had always been his most prized possession but now so more than ever. A knot of apprehension curled in his gut as he stared at the small brick building. She was in there. Her energy signature pulsed and throbbed from the second story office. Thick and humming with a soft musical lilt, it curled around him like smoke.
A sudden rush of lust shot through him, making his blood hum.
“Shit,” he hissed under his breath.
Mating for the dragons, as with the Amoveo, had always been pre-destined and his father had said it was the universe’s way to help their people avoid base emotions like jealousy. Dragons had naturally fiery dispositions and jealousy did not serve them well.
That was probably why identical twins were practically unheard of among their kind. As Zander and Zed discovered, being an identical twin messed up the natural order of things for their kind.
Zander released the stone and tore his hand from his pocket. He would not allow history to repeat itself. It had been far too long since he’d felt the touch of a woman and it was obviously beginning to grate on him.
An older blonde woman winked at him as she slipped on a pair of oversized sunglasses and sashayed off the steps of Rena’s building. She pulled a pack of Virginia Slim cigarettes from her pocket and waved.
“Got a light?”
Zander nodded and snagged the zippo lighter from his back pocket. He didn’t smoke but he’d been around long enough to know it was always handy to have one around. Still seated on his bike he lit the flame as she leaned in and puffed away, quickly lighting her cancer stick. The blonde peered at him seductively over the rim of her sunglasses before taking long drag.
“Thanks, kitten.” She stuffed the pack into the pocket of her satin jacket and smiled broadly. “I’ve never seen you around here.”
“That’s too bad.” She jutted her blonde head toward the building behind her. “It’s my birthday and my girlfriend and I are going out for drinks tonight. Sure would be fun to have a handsome fella like you join us.”
She looked like Las Vegas come to life. Satin and leather covered most of her limbs and she wore a heavy layer of makeup. Many men found that attractive but not him. He preferred a natural beauty to the over glamourized type. Zander turned his gaze to the door at the top of the staircase.
The name emblazoned on the window in large white letters immediately captured his attention.
Interesting name choice for her business.
“Your friend works for that investigation place?”
“Work for it? No way, baby. Rena owns it. Well, she took it over when old Vito lost his marbles.” Her high-pitched voice bounced around him in the air. “The girl is better at it than the old man ever was. She found my deadbeat ex and got me back the ten grand he split with. Rena has an uncanny sixth sense and can find almost anybody. Never seen nothin’ like it. Vito said she was a natural.”
Zander dragged off his Ray Bans and hooked them in the collar of his t-shirt before giving the woman a smile. Her cheeks pinked and for an instant the older worn out woman looked like a young girl. Flirty and full of life. He sensed excitement from her but there was no attraction for him. Truthfully, he couldn’t remember the last time a woman turned him on. He was so damn bored and tired of living, not much got him excited anymore.
“Your birthday, huh?” He stuck out his hand and she shook it delicately. “I’m Zander. And you are?”
“Patricia,” she simpered. “So whaddya say, Zander? You wanna join me, and my friend, Rena, for a drink or two tonight? We’re meeting up at Dino’s Place around eight. It’s not far just about two blocks from here.”
“I’m sure I can find it.”
“Yeah,” she laughed. “You can Google it.”
“Right.” Zander nodded.
He had a phone but barely used it. He wasn’t a fan of technology.
“Great.” She took another drag and smiled. “Catch you later, kitten.”
Maybe the universe was giving him a break after all. He had found Rena and even got an invite for drinks. He let out a low grunt of appreciation as Pat disappeared around the corner. His gaze skittered back to the second story window of Fox Investigations.
If Rena was a finder of the lost, then this woman could not have been more perfect because nobody needed to be found more than Zed. A plan began to come together. He wouldn’t have to tell her who she really was because once she found Zed, like he was going to hire her to do… she’d figure it out for herself. Zander ran both hands through his windblown shaggy brown hair before climbing off his bike. After assuring his bike and bag were secure, he trotted up the steps toward what he assumed was Rena’s office.
Inside this building was the answer to his long unanswered prayers. He stopped, his hand hovering above the doorknob, as a flicker of uncertainty filled him. It had been centuries since he encountered an Amoveo face to face. He’d bumped into a vampire or two and even crossed paths with a few of the Fae but not an Amoveo, the dragon’s closest relative.
Would she know what he really was or would the curse keep him camouflaged the way it had with the other supernaturals? Zander shook his head and shoved the concern aside. It would be what it would be. She was his brother’s mate and the answer they had been looing for. He curled his hand around the cool steel knob and the memory of Zed’s haunted tortured voice flickered through his mind.
A moment later, the sound of glass breaking and a woman’s cry filled the air. Panic fired through him. Without bothering with the formality of knocking, Zander tore the door open and stormed into the office but he stopped short when he found himself staring into a pair of glowing amber eyes.
It had been so many years since Zander had seen the clan eyes of an Amoveo, he was rendered speechless. However, within seconds the woman’s eyes flickered and shifted back to their human state. A lovely shade of brown.
“I guess you don’t believe in knocking?”