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       Paranormal Hunter Box Set, Books 1-3: Sonnet Vale, Phantom City, & Demon Touched, p.20

           Gena D. Lutz
 
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  Remy looked out the window. “Dragons are very real.”

  She wet her lips and nodded. “Brecon?”

  “If the realm of dragons had a king, he would be it.”

  “He doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m just a spoiled princess.”

  He looked over at her with a devious grin. “Won’t he be surprised, then, when he learns the truth?”

  Sonnet looked away from her brother, while at the same time releasing the last of her misgivings over helping the dragon with a resigned breath.

  There was a beat of silence before she said, “Let’s hear your plan.”

  He smiled at her response and then handed her a red velvet pouch. “This is for you, a small gift from brother to sister, one you’ll surely find useful when the time comes to act.”

  She frowned at the bag but took it, its contents hard and heavy. She was anxious to see what was hidden inside. Drawing loose the string, she opened it and pulled free a wicked-looking dagger. She immediately smiled—she loved weapons, and this was the first gift she’d ever received from a true blood relative.

  With her eyes alight with wonder, she said, “Thank you, it’s beautiful.”

  He nodded once. “You’re welcome. Now, let’s talk about dragons and the magical properties in their blood.”

  Chapter Five

  Brecon Blackstone sighed as he reclined against the wooden headboard of a four-poster bed, his thoughts wandering over the plight of his dragon clan. He was enraged, felt helpless, and was about to lose his fucking mind.

  This wasn’t the first time his clan had seen battle. Dragon blood had covered the mountainous lands of the third level of demon-hell before, the place his people had called home since the dawn of time. It was a land filled with gentle climate, wealth, clean air, and little to no interference from the demon king or his lackeys.

  But this time was different. Whoever their enemy was, they had gone too far. He didn’t really care why they stole the clan’s dragonlings; he was more concerned with the how. How his enemies had breached the heavily guarded third-level borders, and how he, as head of the dragon lords, would go about hunting the sorry bastards down and bringing their dragonlings home.

  He wasn’t certain if the demon king was trying to help or hinder by insisting that his daughter be brought in on the sensitive mission. But as a loyal subject, what other choice did he have but to obey the king’s wishes?

  Brecon glanced at his leather boots. He’d nervously placed them at the foot of the four-poster bed in the guest quarters he’d been assigned. He’d initially wanted to keep them on in case of unforeseen danger, but settled on proximity instead. He didn’t trust the demon king, and sleeping underneath the monarch’s roof had him on edge.

  The space between his shoulder blades itched, a deep-seated urge to shed his skin, spread his mighty wings, and ascend into the dark skies. Flying in dragon form helped his mind stay calm when all he wanted to do was fight, maim, and kill.

  “Damn it,” he whispered roughly under his breath. He had to find his center and calm the fuck down. If allowing a spoiled princess to help him would bring his dragonlings home faster, then he would do it. And if she got in the way…well then, he’s just ditch her and stay the course, never straying from his mission, because no matter the consequences, the dragon clan was more important than the hurt feelings of a king and his rotten offspring.

  “Did you find the king?”

  Brecon’s fist clenched around the dragon stone lying next to his outer thigh. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and set the glowing amber stone on the nightstand.

  “I’m in the castle now,” he answered his sister’s voice floating at him from the stone.

  The dragon stone was his clan’s means of communication, and could only be used by one with the blood of dragons. The rare stones grew within the darkest and deepest caverns of his land, and could be used with impunity on demon levels, despite the miles spanning between users.

  Layna swallowed. He could hear it over the magical link. “How close are we to finding our young?” There was desperation to Layna’s voice, and for good reason, two of the missing eggs belonged to her.

  A muscle twitched in Brecon’s jaw. He wished he had better news for her. “I haven’t made a lot of progress. The Stratos’s leader denies any involvement in the kidnappings.”

  “I figured he would,” she told him, as if her hope was futile. As if the chances of her young returning to her would be any greater for that hope.

  He planned on making sure that it was.

  “I’ll find them, Layna. I won’t rest until I do.”

  When she spoke next, her voice was stronger, clearer, as if she forced herself to swallow down the pain. “I know.” She paused. “Just do your best, the clan is in an uproar. I fear an all-out war is imminent. The dragons won’t remain within the borders for much longer.”

  The connection ended.

  Brecon closed his eyes and let his head drop into his hands. “Fuck.”

  ***

  Sonnet was preparing to shut the door behind her brother when a wave of familiar power filled the hall. She spotted Brecon’s dark, muscular form stalking toward her. He approached with a frown, fists clenched at his sides, brows drawn together tightly, as if he were about to attack her with either stern words or the deadly sword securely strapped to his back.

  She carefully shifted her leg open until she was almost straddling the door frame, lifted the cotton nightie, and then swiftly pulled the 9 from the holster she had strapped around her inner thigh. Even at bedtime, Sonnet made sure to always arm herself, especially so when she found herself trapped in hell. She kept the gun hidden behind the wall with the other half of her body.

  Brecon’s frown deepened as he stopped a few feet in front of her. “What are you up too?”

  She shrugged. “None of your goddamned business.”

  Her grip was tight on the handle, her trigger finger itching to be put to good use.

  His gaze jumped to the wall as if he could somehow see through it. “Is that a gun in your garter belt?”

  “Garters are frilly things meant to entice a lover. The leather cinched around my thigh is for killing. Besides, the gun you speak of is already unholstered.”

  He didn't appear worried. “I stand corrected.”

  “With the way you treated me earlier, you should feel lucky you're still standing at all.”

  Brecon’s eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “Are you to join me on my mission, Princess, or not?”

  Again with the princess bull-crap.

  Sonnet pinned him with a look of frustration. “Apparently I’ll be joining you,” she said as she slid the gun back inside the holster, no longer feeling as though his presence was a threat. “When do we leave?”

  One side of his mouth lifted into a smile. “We leave at first light.”

  She looked at him with confusion. “Isn't this level of demon-hell perpetually dark?”

  Brecon walked past her, continuing on to wherever he’d been heading before running into her. “No.”

  “You're a man of few words.”

  “There are few words I feel are worth speaking.”

  “So you're a man of action, then.”

  Instead of answering, Brecon stopped walking, turned, and then asked, “Why are you doing this? You know it’s not what I want.”

  A short, confident laugh slipped from Sonnet. “Because I can and will find your clan’s children.”

  That got little reaction from him.

  “I’ll meet you behind the castle in the morning,” he said curtly, moving forward again, “and could you please wear something less royal?”

  “The nerve of that ass—” Sonnet began, and then bit her lip. She stared down at the soft, luscious, Victorian nightgown she was wearing. “Crap,” she said, feeling somewhat like the pampered princess he continuously accused her of being.

  Then she shrugged. Comfort didn’t happen for her very often. So she was goi
ng to enjoy it. No matter what anybody—man or dragon—had to say about it.

  Chapter Six

  Standing underneath a mangled and leafless tree behind the castle, Sonnet waited for Brecon to meet up with her so they could start the hunt for the dragonlings. She stood in her own freshly laundered jeans and a barrowed red blouse, and jacket, her long hair pulled into a ponytail.

  From where she stood she had the perfect view of the nothingness that made up the demon lands: towering obsidian crystals, black dirt, and shadowy skies that glowed a grayish-purple color from some unseen thing. In a nutshell, the lower realm was dark, cold, and ominous. Not a place she’d list under “favorite vacation destinations”.

  For protection, she’d brought along Ruby, hidden in the inside pocket of her jacket, her 9mm, tucked at the small of her back, and the wicked-looking dagger Remy had gifted her, sheathed at her side. Her brother assured her the dagger would be of great use against any dive-bombing drakes before leaving the castle to meet up with Brecon, but still, she felt unprepared.

  A strange stirring of awareness, the snapping of branches, followed by a whispered dammit signaled the dragon’s arrival.

  “Let’s get going,” Brecon screwed his face up in annoyance.

  She surged forward, quickly falling into step beside him.

  He gave her a side eye.

  Sonnet didn’t like that. Didn’t like him. In her opinion, he should be thanking her for helping him, not acting as if she were nothing more than a nuisance or tagalong. After all, she was usually paid for her services, and paid well, because without fail, she always found her mark. “You’re welcome, jerk.”

  “Save it,” he said, his voice a harsh whisper. “You can have one of your temper tantrums later. Right now, I need to get us to the portal in one piece.”

  Sonnet stared at him. One piece? She turned her focus to the sky for any sign of drakes. She hated those pesky little suckers. Thankfully the coast was clear.

  “Let’s get moving, then,” Sonnet said.

  Twenty minutes passed in uncomfortable silence until suddenly, Brecon’s eyes turned red and an abrupt shift in the energy surrounding them told Sonnet to get ready for something bad. But before she could react…

  “Watch out!” Brecon shouted as he pushed her to the ground.

  Sonnet winced as she hit the ground hard. She immediately rolled sideways, while at the same time palming the dagger.

  “What the hell!” she hissed, jumping back to her feet.

  She didn’t know what hurt worse, her ass or her pride over the dragon pummeling her. Then she saw what all the fuss was about and immediately went into full defense mode.

  “Don’t trust anything you hear or see from here on out!” Brecon yelled.

  There was a short pause while Sonnet tried to figure out exactly what was attacking them. She watched in wonder as Brecon bent his knees, pushed off the ground, and then rocketed himself into the sky, spinning like a tornado as he ascended. His clothes fell to the ground in shreds, his muscular body morphing, shifting shape into a large black creature with wings, talons, and sharp fangs.

  The magnificent dragon hovered in place as a tall and lanky man, wearing a black robe trimmed with gold and cinched with a leather belt, stepped out of the darkness he’d been hiding in. His hair was blood red, and it cascaded over his shoulder and covered half his face. He clutched a long wooden staff in one hand, and held his other out toward Brecon. Magic swirled slowly from his palm, which he propelled at the dragon.

  A scream caught in her throat as the ball of light slammed into Brecon’s chest. She expected the dragon to plummet to earth from the force, but instead, he flapped his wings to steady himself and then opened his mouth and returned fire.

  “Little fox, I’ve missed you.”

  Goose bumps sprang up to cover Sonnet’s body. There was no way in hell she should be hearing that voice.

  She turned around—and what she saw made her knees wobble.

  It was Bane, dressed in slacks and his usual button-up black shirt, the top three buttons left undone, his caramel hair loose and flowing down his back. He speared her with an impassioned look. “Come here.”

  Fighting every urge to the contrary, she remained frozen in place. Even though all she wanted to do was run to him, be close to him again.

  Brecon had warned her not to believe anything she saw. Her heart clenched, but him…this…she wanted to believe so badly.

  Sonnet sucked in a breath sharply, and said, “No.”

  Bane looked calm. His head tilted to the side. “What’s wrong, little fox? Didn’t you miss me?”

  He ran a hand through his long hair, but didn’t move forward, just stared at her, as if she herself had to make the first move to lessen the distance between them.

  Her common sense and fear kept her from running to him. The tips of her fingers ached to trace the hard, masculine line of his jaw.

  “Damn it.” She rubbed her temples, the cool steal of the dagger in her grip sliding across her right cheek. She gave a slight shake of her head, sending the end of her long ponytail across her face. “No. You are not real.”

  “Come here,” he repeated more forcefully.

  Instead of answering him, Sonnet turned to run away. Before she could get too far, something strong and sharp wrapped around her torso, restricting her chest and waist, plucking her from the earth and rocketing her toward the sky.

  A shriek rent the air, making her look over her shoulder and beyond the black, thick talons of Brecon’s dragon. From her vantage point, she could see the man in black still holding his long staff, and the thing impersonating her boyfriend, quickly turning into dots below her.

  Before she had time to think, she was dropped, free-falling, the cold air biting at her face, and then she landed on something hard. Thankfully, it was not the ground. Her hands scrambled across something black and shiny, until her fingers clutched at the side ridges of the glossy, shield-like, scales. They felt smooth, cold to the touch. She hiked up her legs and clung best she could to the dragon’s wide back with all her weight and balance on her arms and knees. She settled in and swiped an arm across her forehead, letting out a nervous breath.

  “Som um a beetch!” Sonnet yelled over the screaming winds, cheeks flapping wildly, making her words garble and her tongue instantly go dry. “A limmle warming nept time!”

  It wasn’t long before they reached what she assumed was the border—a wall of thick, rolling gray smoke that spanned miles in either direction, with veins of white and red light shooting throughout it in intermittent bursts.

  Brecon turned his head, reptilian-shaped red eyes meeting hers. She nodded when she realized he was asking her if she was ready to transport. She was. As a matter of fact, she was ready for anything the demon realm had to throw at her, as long as it ended with her getting the hell out of this rotten place.

  The dragon picked up speed.

  Her focus latched onto the gray wall of doom. Shit was her first thought as the smoke engulfed them. She shut her eyes and mouth, but to her horror, she’d closed them too late. A sulfuric-infused taste wormed down her throat. And then she couldn’t separate pain, scent, or taste anymore; the mist was assaulting her senses from all sides. The combination was worse than anything she’d ever experienced. It was almost as if the portal was alive and wanted to boot her ass right out of it.

  And then as fast as it came, the mist was gone. Smoke from the wall churned to life, coating her tongue like an acid bath as she tried to spit the harsh taste of it from her mouth.

  Chapter Seven

  Half blinded by the fog, Sonnet scrambled off of the dragon’s back, stumbling into a wide-open area.

  She coughed then turned to look at the dragon. “Did we make it to the third level?”

  It wasn’t until after Brecon shifted back into human form, magically clothed in loose black pants and nothing else, that he answered her question.

  That part of a shifters change always amazed her.
<
br />   Brecon cleared his throat. “Yes, my mountain is just a few miles up ahead.”

  She turned to inspect her surroundings. This realm smelled mellow like coffee, aged, and kind of herbal, like the wine Sonnet had been drinking the night before at dinner. The land was lush, displaying pink flowers and a sea of orange-red grass that resembled flames. In the near distance she could see mountains, several of them. Each one with a castle nestled at its peak, much like bride and groom toppers on a wedding cake.

  She took in a mouthful of the clean air. It was as if she’d stepped into a world untouched by big industry, bereft of cell phones and modern conveniences. This was a land of magic, earth—paradise.

  “This is the third level of demon-hell?”

  He nodded.

  “I imagined something different.”

  “Different how?”

  “I don’t know…gloomier perhaps, hardcore, but definitely nothing this beautiful.”

  Brecon frowned and looked down at her. “Of course you’d think that.”

  Seriously? She couldn’t even compliment the guy’s homeland without him having attitude about it.

  “You know what, scaly man? You can go screw yourself.”

  ***

  I can’t believe I’m stuck babysitting this royal twerp, Brecon thought grimly, watching Sonnet through narrowed eyes as she stood, hands on hips, judging his lands. So what if she thought it beautiful? It still said a lot about her prejudice against common demons that she’d expected his realm to be less than her own, lacking in every way. Served her right to see the truth, that the dragon realm was more magnificent than all other lands—demon and humankind—combined.

  Her coughing drew his attention. “Are you well?”

  She nodded. “Just swallowed some smoke, I’ll be good in a second.”

  He heard another round of coughing as he set off toward his family’s mountain at a fast pace. The mountain was filled with ancestral treasures; the castle at its peak was where the Blackstone dragon clan had lived since the dawn of time.

 
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