The first installment of the Amoveo Rising series will be released on March 7 2017 and I can’t wait for all of you to meet my dragons. Since I’m feeling impatient and super excited, I thought I’d share Chapter One with you now.
Mine. The deep, gravelly voice of the beast reverberated through the air and ripped through Rena’s mind, with terrifying force. Mine. Mine. Mine.
The ferocious, ear-splitting roars of the winged monsters rumbled through the forest and the earth trembled as the vicious 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 gnashing teeth had gotten closer. Dirt, leaves, and bits of rock rained over her as an enormous clawed foot skidded past as one beast slammed into the other. Shrieks of fury filled the forest and the sound was more than she could bear because 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 the 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. 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. Though her heart still beat wildly against her rib cage, 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 palms, 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 thunderous 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.”
A brilliant crimson 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 red light flashing in the distance, calling her to safety like a siren.
Spirit streams, a term she had come up with years ago to describe the unusual phenomenon, were like an invisible trail of bread crumbs 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 that 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 streams. 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 red light, her arms pumping with the effort. She ducked beneath a low-hanging branch but stumbled when the ground shuddered again beneath her feet. She regained her footing and an earsplitting 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 her back 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, 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 though it seemed to be going nowhere.
When she rounded the side of the mountain, she discovered a small opening in the rocks, and the crimson 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. She 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 crystalline surface. The creature was as beautiful as it was terrifying. A prism of crimson and gold glinted behind the frosted wall in a breathtaking kaleidoscope pattern.
“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. “Second, 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 settled her hands on her hips again and arched one eyebrow. “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?
She answered the ludicrous question. “Rena McHale.” 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, from behind her this time. Rena spun around and spotted a jagged piece of red 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. 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 that 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 couldn’t. They were heavy with sleep.
As 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 cell phone 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 as 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 the 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. He 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 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 her 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 of 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 cell phone 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’s. 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 he had left.
Well, that and being immortal. But as far as he was concerned, immortality wasn’t any damn gift he’d ever wanted. At least, not like this.
“Now, let’s get back to business.” Isadora thumped her walking stick into the 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, it 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 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 connected there, they 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. I had no idea the Amoveo could even breed with humans.”
“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 over 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 among 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 the bare flesh of his chest. 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, 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 bes.”
“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 had 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 set her down and planted a kiss on her soft cheek as his gratitude swelled.
“All right, now.” Her wrinkled cheeks pinkened, 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 fairy tales 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 time. Zander packed up his tent and backpack, and pointed his Harley in the right direction.