Authors: D'Elen McClain
I’m so proud of my mate. In twelve months, we will have a son. Our egg is beautiful and a miracle. For months after Pepper returned I wallowed with mixed feelings. Meagan’s loss continued to hurt, but the joy of having Pepper as my mate and the pending birth of our child brought great joy.
Bastian, Laryn, and Sarn found love before mating. I don’t know why things with Pepper are different. Now though, I love her with everything I have and realize I loved her long before I knew it. And I haven’t said the words, which shames me. The truth is… I’m intimidated by her. Ashrac questioned what makes her special long ago. I’ve wondered about it too. The Goddess granted Pepper transcendence. She is a miracle. What have I done to deserve her? For giving me Pepper, I owe the Goddess everything.
I enter Bastian’s realm and see blue and red wings in the distance. Laryn and his family must be visiting Bastian. They know why I’m here. The males approach me first and like we did when young, we charge each other and spin out of the way at the last second. The children laugh as we entertain them. It’s been thousands of years since we’ve been happy enough to play this game from our youth.
“Congratulations, Tahr,” Bastian shouts after flipping upside down to avoid my charge.
“The egg is perfect and glows brightly.”
We’re all laughing with their congratulations flying through my head when a burst of magic shakes us. Our merriment abruptly stops.
“What was that, Mother?” Cantor asks.
I know exactly what and who it is. After thousands of years my uncle has returned. His magic is dark and smothering.
“Drakon,” I shout, “and he’s going after the egg!” I head toward my lair pumping my wings faster than I’ve ever pumped before.
“Everyone goes,” Bastian shouts. “We’re stronger together and the children safer.”
He’s right; all of our children are in danger. My heart pounds as I think of my son. Roxy and Acasia herd their children in close with Roxy and Acasia taking the sides and Ashrac flying behind the younger ones. I fly as fast as possible knowing they can’t keep up, but I must get to Pepper.
Through the clouds, I finally catch sight of my castle in the distance. My uncle’s dark magic alerts me that he’s in the tower with my mate and child. “No, no, no,” I rage Then, I see him fly over the edge with the bright light of the egg shining from within his talons. Something burns on his back. It takes a moment to identify Henry. Most of his body is blackened, but he hasn’t let go. I put on an even greater burst of speed and Henry’s gaze meets mine. I read the sorrow in his eyes before he releases his hold.
“Catch the egg,” I yell into Bastian’s mind as I slam into Drakon.
The crunch of impact is like a loud clap of thunder. Drakon screams when he slams against the tower. I twist and manage to wrap my talons around his throat. He drops the egg in order to defend himself.
My wings pump to keep Drakon pinned and a second later, Bastian’s whispered, “He’s safe,” gives me another burst of energy and I tighten my grip.
Then Pepper falls from above and my only chance to save her is to release my uncle. His fire catches my tail, but the pain means nothing if I don’t save my mate. The fall would most likely not kill her, but I can see the damage to her underbelly and she won’t be able to withstand much more.
Laryn charges my uncle and I’m able to grasp Pepper beneath her wings. “Hang on, my love, I’ve got you.” She’s unconscious and completely limp.
Laryn and Roxy pursue my uncle, which is unsafe. “Leave off and return,” I send into their minds. They both grumble but return. Acasia now holds the egg with Roxy and Laryn’s youngest pulled in close beneath her wings. All my focus returns to Pepper.
The wound is deep and blood covers her lower half. “Shift,” I whisper, not knowing if she can hear me. Dragons are nearly impossible to kill because we heal so rapidly, but I can do nothing if she doesn’t shift to human and start the process. It’s instinct to remain in dragon form when injured or threatened and she will die if she’s too far gone to shift.
Nothing. I can’t feel her magic.
“Acasia, bring the egg here,” I shout desperately.
Roxy takes over guarding the young ones and Acasia glides over and releases the egg into my arms after I shift. Our child’s glow brightens like it knows exactly what is needed to save his mother. Pepper draws in a ragged breath and her eyes open just enough to see her son.
“You must shift my love. It will heal you but you haven’t much time. Our son is waiting for his mother.”
I can feel her pull on her magic and I project mine into her. I feel our baby’s pulse of magic too. We are one—one family, one source of magic, one entity.
Pepper shifts into a bloody mess of torn flesh. She grinds her teeth and fights screaming. I’m so proud of her. I touch her beautiful bald head because it’s the only part of her that is unmarred by burns, blood, or slashes.
“Shift again,” I whisper and pull my hand away to back up. Her eyes are tightly shut against the pain but she does as I say. My son and I help her again and this transition is easier.
“Is everyone safe,” she whispers this time.
“Yes,” I lie because I have no idea if many of my humans survived. They are as important to my mate as the dragons.
“I killed Henry,” she says on a sob.
“You saved our son,” I reassure her. “You must shift again. Look at the egg. He helps you too. A few more times and I promise your pain will ease.
“Thank you for saving us,” she says as she again pulls in our combined magic.
I place my hand on her head and lean in to gently kiss her lips. “I will always save you my love.”
Her gentle smile is my answer and we repeat the process several more times. It takes hours of coaxing before Pepper is able to speak and tell us what happened. I’m cradling her in our nest beside our son. Acasia and Roxy tend to the wounded humans. Bastian and Laryn guard my lair and Ashrac is watching Cantor and baby Lex.
We all felt Drakon crash through our realms and enter the earth realm, though it doesn’t mean we’re safe. We should have known he was here much sooner than we did, so we remain on high alert. Betty has minor burns and twelve of my humans are dead, including Henry, who gave his life for Pepper and our child.
I am humbled over our humans’ sacrifice. It never occurred to me that they would give their life for my family. I’m supposed to keep them from harm not the other way around. It’s quite overwhelming to know exactly how wrong I’ve been. It gives me much to think about, even though my mind is filled with revenge. We remain in danger until my uncle is dead.
My injuries are healed. And I’m worried about the conversation I must have with Tahr. The other dragons have moved their families and humans to our castle. Bastian, Acasia, and Ashrac occupy the north tower using Tahr’s rooms, with Laryn and his family in the east guest tower. Tahr and I remain in the nesting tower with all humans in the west tower. An adult dragon is always guarding the castle from above. I’ve been excluded, until now. I’m more than capable of keeping watch even if Tahr doesn’t approve.
“No,” Tahr says softly. “You will not leave the nest.
I speak softly too because we do not want to disturb our son. The glow from within the egg is low, which means he sleeps. “I am not your captive and I have a say. Don’t make me bring the women into this. And by the way, they fly guard duty and even Ashrac does and he still can’t breathe fire.”
Tahr runs his fingers through his hair letting me know how disgruntled he is. “You have barely recovered from childbirth and then my uncle’s assault. You need to rest and remain close to our son. That’s your primary duty as his mother.”
Now I’m steaming and feel smoke gathering low in my throat. “That is a very low blow. I almost gave my life for our son. I also know that you, Bastian, and Laryn are planning something.” It was actually Acasia who told me this. She was rather upset on being left out of the loop. “I have a right to know, Tahr.”
He stops walking circles around the nest and glares at me. “I will do what I must to keep my family and humans safe…”
“Of course you will. I’ve never doubted that.”
“You don’t understand,” he hisses.
I rise from the nest and move closer until our bodies are touching. I place my palms on his cheeks and lean in for a gentle kiss. “I’ve never doubted you, Tahr,” I whisper against his lips.
His groan is filled with pain. “You should. My people have died because of me.”
“No,” I say and give him another sweet kiss. “You could not have known. They died because they freely chose to give their lives for our son.”
“It was you, Pepper. They gave their lives for you.” He rests his forehead against mine and I see so much suffering in his eyes.
“What is your plan?” I ask gently.
He inhales and I give a slight tug to his hair before he finally speaks. “We are going to him. He cannot be allowed to live or we will never be safe.”
I’ve had the same thoughts, so I’m not really surprised. “Do you know where he is?”
He closes his eyes but answers. “We believe he’s in the earth realm.”
His beautiful eyes open and silver flashes. “You cannot. I can’t lose you. I love you.”
“I’ve known that for a long time, my stubborn mate. And I love you, but you need us all. Your uncle is insane.”
He ignores the end of my statement. “I’ve loved you since you kicked me in the shin,” he smiles and kisses me. “I should have told you before… long before.”
“You deserve the words.”
I laugh huskily. “Yes I do.”
“I’m so proud of you for protecting our son. I’m sorry I didn’t arrive soon enough to save your friends.”
“They don’t just love me, Tahr. They have respect for you and value you as their keeper. They love you.”
He closes his eyes for another brief moment. “I’ve never valued them as more than possessions and I owe them so much.”
“You will have plenty of time to make it up to them.”
I see tears build in his eyes. “I never forgave Henry for what happened to you and yet he gave his life.”
My poor dragon. “I told him a long time ago that he was forgiven for what happened.”
“For what I ordered.”
A touch of exasperation fills me. “I forgave you long ago too, and you are changing the subject. I am going with you to the earth realm.”
We all go. We have to draw Drakon to us, and if he is still in the earth realm, we have just the enticement.
Sarn is not what I expect, and it’s strange to meet a dragon who cannot shift. Stanger still is meeting a shifter who can take the form of a wolf. Sierra is in awe of our egg. Since the attack, the instinct to protect the egg has been overwhelming. At the same time, it has eased around the people who will help us defeat Drakon.
Sarn and Sierra’s home is enormous. It is half castle and half modern mansion. Sarn is very proud of the many safety features. Without having his dragon form, he feels the extra precautions are necessary. Sierra explained this a few hours after we arrived as she showed me the reinforced lower level. “These rooms can withstand fire and just about any enemy but a vampire.”
Chills run across my flesh. I have yet to meet Dmitri. “I can’t believe you’re friends with someone who sucks blood in order to survive.”
Sierra laughs. “Before I became the mate to a dragon, those blood-sucking abilities gave me immortality.” She changes the subject. “Will you be okay with your nest down here?”
“Yes, it’s perfect.”
“Good, we will get you and Tahr situated first and then everyone else.” She gives me a quick squeeze. “We will win. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know.”
After we’re settled and know the layout of the home, our plans go into action.
The beastkind clan begins spreading the news that Tahr and I had come to the earth realm for the safety of our child. Pack leaders make visits to examine our magical signature so they know what to watch for. Frustrating weeks pass before Marcus, the southwest clan vampire, sends word that one of his wolves sensed Drakon’s magic.
He is close.
That night, Tahr holds me tightly and reassures me that we will survive. I trust Tahr and our friends and I know we will make it through this. We snuggle in the nest with our son and talk about names. I say no to Kyran, Braden, and Regal. Tahr says no to Archer, Asgard, and Damar. It’s such an ordinary thing to do when we know danger is so very near. I fall asleep in Tahr’s arms as he watches over us. I plan to be at full strength to fight our enemy.
I feel him.
It’s that same sinister dark cloud of magic I remember from childhood. Drakon has caused nothing but death and heartache to the dragons and our realms. For this, he forfeits his life and will never cause harm again. At least after today.
I look around at my friends and their mates. I understand Sarn’s willingness to give up everything for the love of a woman. I will give my life if that’s what it takes. Losing my ability to shift would be a very small price.
We each have a job and primary position to guard but I hope to deliver the deathblow. The waiting is the hardest part.
I want to be in the fight but they give me the job of hiding beneath the castle and guarding the egg and children. I’m so close to adulthood I can feel it. It doesn’t matter that I have twenty years before I should breathe fire; the heat in my smoke lets me know it’s time.
And I’m stuck here while the action takes place above me.
Cantor comforts baby Lex and they both remain close to the egg. The egg was rather interesting at first. The way it glows brightly and moves around inside and then the glow fades low and the baby sleeps. It doesn’t hold my interest any longer and the hours stuck down here only build on my frustration.
I’ve almost drifted off for a nap when I hear a commotion outside the door. There are beastkind shifters guarding the hall. Fire bursts from under the door and the heavy wood ignites. I’m on my feet and facing Drakon when he slams against the heavy wood and it gives.
Lex screams in his small baby voice and Cantor picks him up in his arms. “I’ve got you brother.”
I don’t have time to give orders for Cantor to run. All I have time to do is charge. My dragon bursts free and I slam against Drakon who shifted to dragon a second before my attack. The steel plates of his armor block my talons and his front leg swipes me aside like I’m nothing.
“No,” I yell as I attack again.
I will remember his laughter as long as I live. He turns and breathes fire straight at me. It burns but I will survive. “Run,” I yell into Cantor’s mind.
Drakon’s tail slams against Cantor’s side and he hits the wall causing Lex to fall from his arms. I shift to my human form to give them a chance. With a quick leap, I land on Drakon’s back. I duck and maneuver away from his tail when he tries to dislodge me. He half turns and Cantor picks up Lex and starts running for the door.
Drakon sees them and I know he’s ready to blast them with fire. I leap to his neck and shift again. My dragon’s weight pushes his head down. I fall to the floor when he shifts to his human form.
“Boy, you cannot stop me. I will have the silver dragon’s egg, it is mine by right.”
I pull my legs beneath me and inhale a large amount of air. I let everything go and the flame I knew I possessed shoots from my mouth.
Drakon’s roar hurts my ears but not enough that I don’t hear his words.
“You are dead, boy.”
He’s shifted and on me before I can suck in another breath. His talon digs into my belly and pain rings throughout my body. His claws tighten. I know he’s ripping out my underbelly and there is nothing I can do. All I can think of is healing. I shift. His weight crushes my chest and before I shift back to dragon, his claw slices across my throat.
I’m sucking air through my wound and know I’m mortally injured. Drakon laughs again and I can do nothing but watch as he walks to the egg and picks it up. My arms and legs have no strength left.
I have failed my duty but Cantor and Lex are safe for now. The pain fades and the room goes dark before Drakon is through the doorway.
Dmitri is notified that his bears are under attack. He’s with us one second and then he’s gone. Our plans change and it’s decided the male dragons will fly to Dmitri’s aide because we’re sure it’s Drakon. The females will remain behind to guard the children. I’m okay with this; I don’t want to be far from my son. Roxy and Pepper feel the same way. Roxy flies overhead around Sarn’s lair, Pepper keeps her eyes on the camera monitors and Sierra and I double check all the doors. The home is large, maybe too large so we move quickly from room to room.
The terrifying scream of my son almost throws me off my feet.
Drakon is inside and he’s reached the children. I’ve never run so fast in my life. I race down the stairs to a location that should be impenetrable. I turn the last corner and slam into Cantor who is carrying Lex. I shove them behind me.
“Go to your mother, now.” I whisper into Cantor’s mind. He runs away from me as I race toward Ashrac. Two shifter bodies are in the hall, both burned beyond recognition. I rush through the door ready to shift and face Drakon in order to save my son.
Blood. I slide and fall to my knees. It’s everywhere but I only have eyes for Ashrac. I don’t even realize the scream in the room is mine at first. I don’t care that Drakon could still be in here. My vision tunnels and I only see my son’s glazed eyes staring upward. I wrap him in my arms and scream Bastian’s name.
Ashrac’s head is all but severed from his body.
Cantor and Lex exit the underground tunnel before I can get to it. Roxy is right on my heels and Sierra behind her. Roxy grabs her children and pulls them into her arms.
“He wants the egg,” Cantor says. “I couldn’t protect the egg and my brother.” His lips tremble and even with the terror I feel, my heart breaks for him. I don’t have time to reassure him because Acasia screaming Bastian’s name sends additional terror through my heart.
“We will protect the boys with our lives,” Sierra says. There are two male bear shifters standing behind her. I see the look in Roxy’s eyes. She doesn’t want to leave her children.
“No, we finish this,” she replies before I can tell her to stay behind. She kisses her children on their heads. “You will be safe and I will return. Be brave my sons.”
I start running and Roxy is behind me a second later. The last hall is eerily quiet as we round the final corner. We advance into the room that held the children. I have trouble deciphering exactly what I’m seeing at first. Blood covers Acasia and Ashrac. She’s rocking him in her arms and keening. Her eyes are tightly closed and the sound leaving her throat is more horrifying than anything I’ve ever heard.
“Nooo,” whispers Roxy.
As horrific as what I’m witnessing is, I don’t see my egg and everything inside me turns cold as I fight the need to spew fire. Drakon killed Ashrac and he has my child.
“He’s still down here,” Roxy says.
There is nothing we can do for Ashrac. We rush from the room and continue running down the long hall that goes deeper into the belly of Sarn’s home.
He killed a child, he killed a child
runs through my mind with each second that passes.
He has my son
I teleport to my alpha’s home. No one is here which is strange. I run outside and again no one is present. This is more than strange. There should be women or even a child or two. It’s deathly quiet. I send out a call to my bears. “Where the hell are you?”
“The… ub,” is Honey’s intermittent reply. Club must be what he said. Honey’s father is Alpha.
“Are you safe?”
“Have we been attacked?”
“We… sure… father ordered us here… hour ago. Father… tearing club apart. H…” His voice cuts off and I’ve lost him. I waste no time blinking to the club.
Korep, Honey’s father is indeed smashing up my crowded club. It’s thankfully not packed with humans because there is no room. My entire clan is within the walls. I march over to Korep and knock him upside the head with my fist so he flies against the wall beside him. It’s the fastest way to end things when he’s in a rage.
“What the hell is going on?” I shout and everyone goes instantly silent.
Korep shakes his head and for just a moment I think he’s going to shift and attack. “What are you doing here?” he demands instead.
“You called and said we were under attack.”
“I didn’t call. My connection to you severed and I thought you dead. I brought everyone here to keep us safe until I knew what was happening.”
I would swear the voice on the line was Korep’s and if it wasn’t for him smashing up the club, I would think he wanted me dead. That was a bear for you—they never behaved as a normal shifter. Just the fact that the call came in on a phone line should have alerted me. I send my mind out to the bears left behind at Sarn’s home.
“Fuck, it’s the dragon. He’s interfered with our magic somehow.” I look around at my clan. “Remain here until I’m back. Trust no one until I tell you in person that all is safe. And most importantly don’t trust the phones or telepathic communication.” I teleport out before they have time to answer me.
“I feel it too,” adds Laryn.”
We’re flying low trying to avoid military’s radar. We’re sure random human phone calls are alerting the government to our presence but they will be scrambling to figure out if it’s a hoax. Calls of three large dragons; one red, one blue, and one silver will give us some time.
“We need to head back,” shouts Tahr, “I have no mental connection with Pepper.”
I try to contact Acasia too and feel the lack of connection. We turn back. Somehow I know we’re too late. Ten minutes out, that’s all, and it’s too long to change fate.
There is only one place the bastard can be and it’s the last room at the end of the long corridor. I’ve tried sending a telepathic message to Laryn but there’s been no response. It’s just me and Pepper. I can’t think about Ashrac right now. Rage doesn’t help you keep your cool and defeat your enemy. I refuse to give into the overwhelming sorrow that waits when this is over.
“Ladies,” the whisper comes from behind us and we both jump a foot in the air. It’s the vampire, Dmitri. “I have your backs. Can you sense him?”
The vampire is a warrior like me and even though I’m not entirely comfortable around him, I trust him. “Only the smallest bit, something interferes with our magic.”
Pepper breaks into our discussion. “I must get to him before he harms my son. We must hurry.”
She charges the door and it flies backwards when her body slams into it. Dust flies in all directions when the door hits the cement floor. There’s movement in the farthest corner of the room.
Drakon sits with his back against the wall. The egg is on his lap as he caresses it and whispering soft words of endearment. His hair is a tangled mass and he’s naked. A cord is around his neck with a small bag attached at the bottom.
Pepper moans and the egg lights up as the baby inside senses the nearness of his mother. Drakon looks up and smiles. That smile on his handsome face is scarier than anything I’ve ever seen.
“I’m explaining to my son that he will be the mightiest dragon ever born. He understands and he’s ready to take his place beside me.”
Drakon is insane. We all knew it but I suddenly realize his crazy is half a cracker short of a crayon box.
“He’s my son you bastard,” Pepper snaps. I grab her arm when she starts to move closer.
“I challenge you for the egg Drakon.” The words spill from my mouth because it’s our only chance. Pepper’s head jerks my way. I very subtly shake my head.
“You have no right to challenge me,” Drakon thunders as he gets to his feet.
We turn our full attention to him. “Are you afraid of a blue female dragon? I’ll fight you hand to hand as human you son of a bitch and you still won’t defeat me.”
His eyes go from me to Pepper and back to me. “This female with yellow eyes,” he cocks his head toward Pepper, “is unworthy to be my child’s mother.”
My hand tightens on Pepper’s arm to keep her from replying. “She’s a lover not a fighter. I’m a worthier opponent for someone as noble as yourself.”
You need to die a horrible death you mother fucker
, I think inside my head.
Drakon’s eyes sweep up and down my body. I’m solid, toned muscle. I train hours each day to stay this way. Drakon nods at the door. “She will remain over there until you’re dead. Then I will end her life and share her heart with my son after I open the egg and free him.”
“Hold it together Pepper,” I telepathically send into her head and hope she hears the message. Something is seriously wrong with our magic. Her body is tense but she steps backward to the door and doesn’t take her bright yellow eyes off Drakon.