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Paranormal hunter 04 d.., p.3
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       paranormal hunter 04 - dark flame, p.3

           Gena D. Lutz
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  The she-dragon slunk forward, and Sonnet had to fight the urge to stumble back a few steps.

  Sonnet glared at her and pulled her gun from the holster at her back—Ruby was tucked away inside her jacket, but the stake wouldn’t be useful against a dragon. Unless… She shook her head. No…the situation wasn’t yet dire enough for her to rely on the mysterious magic of the stake. Besides, she didn’t even know how it worked. Ruby definitely had a mind of her own.

  The dragon glanced at the gun pointed at her. “Are you looking for a fight?”

  Sonnet shrugged. “Not necessarily. I’d rather you come with me peacefully.”

  She tilted her head to the side, an inquisitive gesture. “Come with you? Why on earth would I do that? I don’t even know who you are, or why you have foolishly hunted me down.” Her head stretched forward and she sniffed the air around her. “You are both hunter and demon,” she sniffed again, this time deeper, “with royal blood flowing through your veins. What’s your name, hunter?”

  Her jaw clenched. “Sonnet Vale. And you are?”

  “I am Mauramaze, from the Dark Flame clan.”

  She took a deep breath and gave the dragon a forced smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Mauramaze.”

  “Call me Maze. Now, why have you tracked me down like some kind of rabid dog?”

  The breeze picked up Maze’s flame-red locks. The tresses licked the air much like a blazing inferno would do. Damn, Sonnet could almost smell the fire churning within the she-dragon, and it was a frightening thing. So as much as she knew she had to bring the woman into the station, Sonnet was so-o-o-o not looking forward to it. Nervous as hell, Sonnet shifted her stance.

  “You have murdered two Phantom City werewolves, and seriously injured a vampire. You do understand that I have to bring you in for that.”

  Sonnet’s answer was a blast of the dragon’s magic. Her head swung down and her arm went up to protect her face from the heat. And then Maze said, “I killed the men who kidnapped, raped, and held me captive for years! So no, you will not be taking me anywhere. Those vile mutts deserved everything they got, and more.” The last part ended on a growl.

  Adrenaline pulsing, Sonnet looked through the heat that was moving around both of them in fuzzy waves, and into the dragon’s brutal stare. The magic was hot, but not scorching enough to burn, so she dropped her arm. “If that is true then plead your case with the authorities. It’s the right thing to do.”

  Her jaw clenched, along with the fists at her sides. “No!” Her roar came with a stream of bright red fire on its heel.

  Sonnet jumped sideways, but not in time. Her arm was caught by a shooting flame; her leather jacket burned away, the flesh underneath seared to the bone.

  Oh. My. GOD! Pain, unlike anything Sonnet had ever experience, ripped through the bottom half of her arm without mercy. Her body trembled, and then tucked into the fetal position on the ground. She was unable to move, breathe, or even open her eyes. Other than pain, all she could feel was wetness pooling around her eyes to stream down her face.

  “I didn’t want to have to do that.” A soft, almost remorseful voice slipped through the agony and into Sonnet’s awareness. “You see, if you take me in, I will be unable to find my daughter. And I can’t allow that.”

  Daughter? Sonnet tried to pry open her eyes, but failed.

  “I will call for help. But that’s the best I can do. I fear if I heal you, you will continue your hunt. I’m sorry, Sonnet. I hope you understand.”

  Sonnet only heard the last part, and as her body and mind gave up the fight against the agonizing pain assaulting it, she had one last thought before lights out.

  I have to find Poppy.

  Chapter Six

  “Ghosts?” Poppy suppressed a groan. “You really think there are ghosts down here? You guys have lost it big time.”

  Her friend, Gwynn—a beautiful blonde she-wolf—as well as Harvey—a little blue he-devil—and Quinn, all gave her a grim look.

  It was Gwynn who spoke up. “I’ve seen them. Two human women dressed in all white. They say that the girls were kidnapped from a neighboring city by vampires and then brought here, where they met their untimely demise.”

  Poppy’s response to that was an eye roll. “Why on earth would vampires bring their prey to an arcade? Seems ridiculous to me.” Turning away from the group, she walked over to a shoot-em-up game that had zombies ambling and grunting across the screen within a gloomy graveyard. “Let’s just play, okay?”

  Quinn grinned and slid in next to her, picking up one of the two red plastic guns connected to the machine. He was the one who’d started all the ghost talk. And for some reason, the thought of creepy specters flying around her, beings that could see, hear, and maybe even touch her, without her being able to do the same in return, freaked Poppy the heck out.

  But that was information she would keep to herself. After all, dragon-shifters were supposed to be at the top of the paranormal food chain. Not weak and scared of ghosts. She shivered, her eyes scanning the area around her.

  Not cool guys, she thought. Not cool at all.

  “Okay, maybe I’m messing with you a little bit.” Quinn said.

  Poppy shrugged. A tingling sensation traveling up her flesh as the nonchalant movement brushed her arm up against his. “Whatever.”

  She turned her head, and their eyes met and held in a moment that took her breath away…

  And then out of the blue, Bane rushed up to them.

  You have got to be kidding me!

  She felt a momentary pang of annoyance, until she saw the panic ripping across the vampire’s features.

  Her hand tightened around the plastic gun she held, sending a hairline fracture up the handle. “What’s wrong?”

  Bane’s blue eyes were way too stormy for her liking. Whatever had him on edge couldn’t be good—the metaphorical gavel lifted as she waited for him to say the words.

  “It’s your mother…she’s been hurt.”

  And then it slammed down.

  “Where is she?” Poppy’s voice broke.

  “She’s at the hospital. We need to go to her, now.”

  In a daze, she frowned at Quinn. “I have to…”

  “I know. Go. I’ll call you later.”

  With a nod, she ran out of the arcade.

  Soft mewling sounds slipped from between Sonnet’s lips.

  “Mom…Mom, I’m here, can you open your eyes?” Poppy turned to Bane. “Help her!”

  The doctor closed the folder in his hands and walked around to the foot of the hospital bed, where he hung it from a hook. “She’s on a morphine drip for the pain and intravenous fluids. So she’ll be out of it for a while. Her right forearm sustained third-, almost fourth-degree burns, and second-degree burns on the upper half of the arm that reach to her shoulder. She also sustained trauma to the back of the head, most likely sustained from a fall.” He shook his head. “It’s a miracle we’re able to keep her this comfortable.”

  At her bedside, Bane moved closer to Sonnet. His features were tight, his eyes wide with worry as he looked down. Letting out a deep breath, he said, “She’s tough, that’s why.” He brushed the tips of his fingers across her forehead. “What happens next?”

  The doctor walked over to a dry-erase board that was mounted on the wall across the room, and then scribbled some quick notes. As he finished, he turned to face them both with a detached look, the kind of look all doctors plastered across their face right before delivering unfavorable news.

  Poppy wiped her palms on her skirt and braced herself.

  “Worst-case scenario, she’ll be admitted into the burn center. Everything depends on how fast a demon with her bloodline heals; she’ll more than likely need to stay for a week, maybe even two. Unless we have to schedule surgery—”

  “She has to have surgery?” Bane interrupted. “For a burn?”

  He nodded and then continued, “She has a full-thickness burn. This means both layers of her skin were singed away
. Like I said, it all depends on her healing ability.”

  Poppy’s eye involuntarily twitched, and then her lavender gaze moved over Sonnet’s wounded arm. “How did this happen?”

  The doctor put a pen into his breast pocket. “Captain Carver, who just left a few minutes ago, actually, said that your mother was hunting a dragon-shifter when the injuries occurred. Judging by the wounds she sustained, I’d say that she found who she was looking for.”

  Five minutes later, Poppy was at the nurse’s desk, signing her mother’s admittance forms. The super-sized, overly muscled nurse gave her a phony smile that didn’t seem to reach her rosy, too-round cheeks or her huge Colossal demon eyes. She then said, “Will that be cash or charge?”

  Apparently, Phantom City General didn’t deal with insurance policies. Which Poppy figured wasn’t an issue in her case anyways, considering she had none of the above. “Do you take I.O.U’s?”

  The demon’s face scrunched up into a grimace. “Look here, you little twerp—”

  “Ms. Vale’s stay has already been taken care of,” said a rich male voice.

  The nurse bit the inside of her lip and her eyes dropped as she dipped her head into a slight reverent bow. “Yes, of course. I will be sure to make a note of that, my king.”

  A shiver ran down Poppy’s spine, and she twirled around to find Remy, ruler of Phantom City, strolling into the ER.

  Intensely strong, tall, her uncle was wearing all black—as usual. His onyx hair was tied back, away from his broad shoulders, but still the shiny strands framed a chiseled, masculine face, one that, if it were softer in features, would closely match her mother’s.

  A hard breath left her with a rasp, and she ran to him, throwing herself into his open arms.

  “There, there, sweet child. Everything will be okay.” Remy stroked her red curls. “Your mother is one hell of a fighter. A stupid burn won’t keep her down, not for long, anyways. You just wait and see.”

  “I’m going to find the scumbag that did this and make her pay,” Poppy hissed into her uncle’s silk shirt.

  “There’s no way in hell I’m going to let you seek vengeance alone, Popcorn, your mother would skin me alive.”

  Popcorn… Emely! Thank God.

  Emely Jordon, Sonnet’s best friend and partner at Fang Squad Inc., pushed off the wall where she’d been leaning.

  Poppy pulled away from her uncle and bolted for Emely, who pulled Poppy close and held her for three full minutes, letting her cry until her eyes went dry.

  Lightheaded and infuriatedly pissed off all at once, Poppy gazed at Remy, and then back at the she-wolf. Remy strolled over to stand next to Emely at the ER entrance, their attention completely on her.

  Remy gave the she wolf’s arm a gentle nudge with his elbow. “Hi, Em, it’s good to see you, even though it’s under the worse kind of circumstances.”

  Her hard gaze softened for a moment, as she said, “It’s good to see you too, demon king. How’s our girl?”

  He shook his head. “I haven’t seen her yet, but from what the doctor told me over the phone, the princess has seen much brighter days.”

  Out of the blue, the earth beneath Poppy’s feet began to shudder, followed by a deafening roar that raged throughout the sterile halls of the hospital, a sensory shock to the body.

  Everything around her sped up as if a fast-forward button had been pressed.

  Remy ran for the door and disappeared through it. Emely jumped in front of Poppy.

  “What the hell is that?” Poppy yelled over another blaring rumble.

  Alarmed, she scanned the area. The doctors and nurses, hell, everybody in the emergency room, ran around as if their asses had been dipped in fire.

  “Seriously, what is that?”

  Emely shifted her stance to face Poppy. “That is the sound of one pissed-off dragon, Popcorn.”


  After a long blink and a pause for thought, Poppy let out a determined breath. “Maybe it’s time to fight fire with fire.”

  Emely shook her head, her hands coming down on Poppy’s shoulders. “You’ve never fought before. It would be suicide.”

  The doors slid back open and Remy ran inside, over to the nurse’s desk. The female giant behind the counter was all nerves, her hands and body turning and flying every which way, none of them helpful.

  “Call the PCPD; tell them the king has issued a code red!”

  Her eyes darted around, her hands and teeth clenched, but still she didn’t move.

  Another roar, the ground quaked.

  He stepped back and sent a wild burst of energy at the receptionist. “Now, woman!”

  That helped. The magic jolted her into action.

  “What’s a code red?” Poppy asked.

  Remy swallowed hard. “I’m informing the police that Phantom City is in immediate, life-threatening danger.”

  She gulped. “Oh.”

  Chapter Seven

  Sirens blared throughout the city.

  “Secure the hospital’s perimeter,” Captain Carver shouted to a group of men that was gathered in front of the building. “Vane, Pike, Crystal…canvas the interior of the building. Make sure there aren’t any threats hidden inside.”

  Three uniformed vampires hurried through the sliding doors. One veered left, while the other two made hand gestures at one another, ones that Poppy couldn’t understand.

  The female officer spoke in a thick southern accent. “I’ll take the top two floors, and you go on and search the lower levels. I’ll radio you if, and when, everything is clear.”

  The male officer nodded, and they both rushed deeper within the building.

  Poppy’s hands clenched into fists at her sides, her gaze sweeping over the mayhem all around her. She didn’t like standing off to the side, out of the way, still, useless, while others did all the heavy lifting—a personality trait she’d just learned the extent of. She was a predator—not prey. She was deadly—not some kind of docile creature. And she also happened to be the only other dragon-shifter in Phantom City. In her opinion, that put the safety of the city’s inhabitants—most of all her ailing mother’s—squarely on her shoulders.

  In the next moment, she didn’t think, just reacted. Surging forward, she ran from the building before anyone could see or stop her. As the doors swished shut behind her, she could hear the roars from the incensed dragon flying high in the moonlit sky, and watched the fiery creature as it circled the building, her flames blasting throughout the atmosphere. Luckily, her fury had yet to be released on any of the creatures, alive or undead, that scurried across the ground below.

  Poppy moved away from all the people, her strides lightening swift as she leapt over police lines and sprinted across the blocked-off street. She finally stopped running when she reached the middle of a deserted park about a half mile away from the hospital.

  “This will do just fine,” Poppy whispered staring up at the star-studded night. The moon hung full in the sky, a brilliant orb that never waned. It was one of the things she truly loved about her city.

  She closed her eyes and relaxed, willing her true nature to cascade over her. Her clothing vanished, mystically altered until compelled to return when she was human once more. Fire was a sweet burn as it seeped into her lungs, the pull of the magic rapidly shifting and extending her bones, sinew, and muscle mass, to accommodate her much larger creature form. Two wings, the color of dark rubies, jutted from her back, the leather-like appendages beating vigorously, lifting her from the ground.

  The chilled night air and the panic of the city flooded her senses. Chaos was all around her, another dragon was reigning terror upon her city. This, the beast didn’t like. She roared, a loud reverberation meant to draw in her foe, and lure it far away from the innocent townspeople.

  Poppy surged forward, her dragon body cutting through the winds with well-practiced ease.

  Screams, shouts, the continuous whirring of the city’s alarm were all around her—and that’s when the sc
ent of something familiar pulled her up short.

  Hovering in the air, she watched as the other dragon spotted her, and using preternatural speed, was on her in an instant, circling her much like she had the hospital. The scent of the other dragon grew stronger with each pass, pulling at something deep within Poppy.

  Suddenly, she instinctively knew why her body was reacting to the creature so severely—because like called to like, and there was nothing stronger than a blood bond between dragons. A terrible tightness constricted her chest at the realization.

  The murdering dragoness playing cat and mouse with Poppy was none other than her very own mother.

  And for some reason, this pissed her off even further.

  Poppy plunged toward the earth, pulling up short just before impact, her scaled belly skimming the grass, her nostrils flaring as smoke began to barrel in thick plumes from her nose. Her fire was building. She then shot straight up, filled her lungs with molten fury, and released a warning shot that missed the dragon’s snout by an inch.

  Go away!

  Poppy’s mental command made her estranged mother visibly flinch, and she felt a spike of sadness and pain emanate from her.

  The dragon’s features fell. My only wish was to find you, sweet Aisha.

  Well you have, and in doing so, have harmed the one person I love most on this earth. And my name isn’t Aisha. The false name was inflicted with a hissing sound. It’s Poppy Vale.

  The dragon veered left and did a complete turnaround, leaving her face-to-face with Poppy. The creature’s purple eyes, a color that matched her own, went wide with shock. The female hunter? She is who you speak of?

  Poppy let out an infuriated roar then glanced down at the hospital, where Sonnet lay badly burned. She saw Remy, the entire vampire squad, Emely, and even Bane, all gathered in the parking lot in front of the building, watching their interaction.

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