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Praise for

Dragon Gold

“Bring a smile to your face with this remarkable paranormal romance book.”

-@quotesasimage, Twitter



Praise for

Unicorn Gold

"As wild as only a ride on the back of a unicorn can get, Unicorn Gold has a little bit of everything for paranormal romance lovers to sample and love!"

-Megan Hart, NYT Bestselling Author



“So many beautiful paranormal beings that made me truly believe they could be real”

-Cindi, Amazon



It's really very fast paced and action packed as well

-Dracona, Goodreads



“This book is one that’s worthy of a million five star ratings”

-@quotesasimage, Twitter



I am relatively new to this genre and fell in love with the characters.”

-Janelle, Goodreads

Other titles by Kathryn Celeste.

Unicorn Gold (Golden Series Bk.1)

Dragon Gold (Golden Series Bk.2)

Wolf Gold

The Golden Series

Kathryn Celeste

Haven Press



Wolf Gold Copyright © 2018 by Megan Bamford

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the writer’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locals is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the Author, at the address below.



Haven Press

PO Box 352

Browns Plains QLD 4118

www.kathrynceleste.com



Editing: C. Jeannine Meador

Cover Art: P and N Graphics

ISBN - 978-0-6480536-5-1

First Edition 2017



To my husband who supports me in every way humanly possible. I love you always and ever.

“Throw me to the wolves and I will return leading the pack.”

Unknown

Glossary of Terms

ALICORN Equine with wings and a horn. Can appear as either horse or human.

ALTER EARTH Copy of Earth shifted slightly out of phase.

BLUE Australian word for an argument or fight.

CENTAUR Human torso attached to the body of an equine. Can appear as either horse or human.

DRAGON Large serpentine creature with empathic abilities. Can appear human.

DWARVES Humanoids of short stature who can work metal with their bare hands.

DRYAD Humanoid tree spirit.

FAE Tall Humanoids with pointed ears and slanted eyes.

FAIRY Tiny flying humanoids with butterfly wings.

GARGOYLES Humanoids capable of turning into stone monsters.

GOLDEN Earths Tnoran guardian

GOLEM Humanoids formed of clay.

GRYPHON Body of a lion with the head and forelegs of an eagle. Can appear human.

GUARDIAN Protects a planet from Alien incursion before the planets have reached a point in their evolution where they are considered ‘old’ enough to deal with it on their own.

HARPY Humanoid with retractable wings.

HAVEN Compound designed by paranormals to ease the transition from Earth to Alter Earth.

HUNTERS Humans that spend their lives hunting down paranormals.

K’LAX A race of energy based lifeforms from another world.

MADISON Town that houses Haven.

MERMAID Human torso with fish tail.

NYMPH Humanoid water spirit.

PARANORMALS All sentient humanoid species that are not human.

PHOENIX Fire spirit capable of taking human form.

PIXIE Tiny flying humanoid with dragonfly wings.

PROTECTOR Those marked by a guardian to protect their physical body while they are protecting the planet.

SAYTER Legs of a goat and torso of a human.

SHAPESHIFTER Can change into a single animal form and a single human form as part of their birthright. Creatures that can shift due only to gifts from Golden are not included.

TNORAN Immortal humanoids from another world.

TOMBS An alien species that appears as a source of information.

UNICORN Equine with a horn. Can appear as either horse or human.

VAMPIRE Humanoids that require blood to survive but have abilities as a result.

Prelude.

Wrapped in a golden shimmer of power the lone woman stood still among the rush of creatures eager to escape the hunters. As each neared her position a flare of raw power reached out to caress them until they vanished. Wolves streamed from the trees. The inner circle moving slowly towards Golden, an island of calm in a sea of motion. And then the Gamma tripped over his own paws rolling to a stop at Golden’s feet. Then tension in the glade vanished as Golden tilted her head back and laughed. The musical sound brought joy to all that heard it. The Gamma sprawled on his back, mouth open in a toothy grin. The Alpha quickly shifted kneeling naked at the wolfs side.

“I apologize Golden. It's the Gamma’s job to..”

“I know what his job is Finnobar,” Golden said a gentle smile lighting up her beautiful face. “It's to reduce pack tensions. Niall is doing a marvelous job.”

Bending Golden stroked her hand through Niall’s fur smiling.

“Thank you, Niall. I needed that.” With a pulse of magic, the mottled brown wolf vanished beyond the shift, the scent of ozone all that remained. Looking up Golden smiled at the Alpha. “Forgive him. I may not be pack, but to know your Gamma thinks of me as a family, cares enough to help me, to try to lighten my load. It means everything to me, you’ll never understand how much.”

So saying Golden reached out with her power and sent the rest of the inner circle onward.

The scent of ozone burning his nose Niall opened his eyes to a whole new world. The sky seemed a little bluer. The clouds a little fluffier. His Alpha a little crankier. Groaning Niall rolled exposing his belly, a mad Alpha was never good, especially when he’d made an ass out of himself.

“Get up son,” Finnobar growled running his hands over his arms briskly. “I’m not mad. My fur is ruffled by whatever the hell just happened.”

Jumping to his feet Niall shifted before bounced around his father. “I loved it, it was great. Like a fizzy thermal pond except without the nasty smell.” Nose crinkling Niall thought of the stench some of those ponds released. There wasn’t a worse scent in Niall’s experience than the scent of rotten eggs. “I like this way more.”

“We’re going to head for the pack lands son. Do you remember where they are?”

“Sure. I might be a Gamma but I’m not an idiot father.” Niall said flopping onto the grass.

“If you were an idiot you wouldn’t be part of my inner circle,” Finnobar said smiling as he knelt to ruffle Niall’s hair. “Some of the pack haven’t made it yet. I don’t want to leave behind the lost. Will you wait and direct them to the pack lands if they make it?”

Standing Niall met his Alpha’s eyes. “Are you sure you won’t need me? Tensions will be high with the packs merging, I mean the thought of everyone jostling for the best spot to live is making my brain bleed.”

“Avik will cope.” Finnobar gestured towards the Omega. “I’ll help, we can balance the pack without you. Sure it's easier with you there but we will be fine son.”

Niall ducked as his father reached towards his head. What was with the man and messing up his hair? “Dad.”

“There’s been so much tension in the pack the last couple of years with the hunters coming after us, I haven’t been able to give you a break. You’ve been absorbing and defusing it nonstop. Using a Gamma’s abilities continuously like this will burn them out. I don’t want to burn you out Niall. You deserve a break son and I’m going to insist you have one.”

“Fine.” Niall rolled his eyes. “I’ll sit on my butt and watch the fancy paranormals go by for a couple of days until the shift closes. I’ll even point wolves towards pack lands rather than sending them over to the dragons for a snack.”

“Soak up some sun and spend a few days doing nothing.” Finnobar turned and watched the wolves flow off to the east. “You know where to find us when it's time.” Turning Finnobar shifted, shook his midnight fur and, with a howl headed after the pack.

Niall flopped back on the grass and blew the hair off his forehead with a puff. Relaxing, he let the planet soothe him. The burdens of the past months sloughing away as the pack moved out of range taking tension and anxiety with it. Only the soothing, and necessary, feedback from the pack bond remained.

Finally. Alone. It was rare for a Gamma to ever be alone, forget being out of range of the packs emotions.

A shadow fell over his body, blocking the warm sun. Niall cracked an eye open and saw a dark silhouette above him. A dragon, no a group of dragons. Huffing Niall rolled to his side. The dragon whose shadow he was in wasn’t paying him any attention and getting stepped on seemed a crappy way to go. The deep rumble of the dragon’s conversation touched the edge of his mind but determined to relax Niall ignored it. Dragons in general thought themselves above shapeshifters he wouldn’t make any new friends here. With a sudden gust of air, most of the dragons took to the sky. The flock of dragons was prettier the further away they got, sparkling now like gems in the sky.

“I wonder what you call a flock of dragons.” He mused quietly.

“A Weir.” Came a quiet voice from behind him. Whirling Niall spotted a pixie hovering behind him. “Pack left ya?”

“Someone has to point stragglers to pack lands,” Niall said with a shrug.

“Sure. It’s the same reason loads of folks are still here.” The pixie said gesturing at the others gathered around the meadow. “Pretty sure it don’t have ta be inner circle though.”

Niall shrugged. If his father thought it best for him to be here directing stragglers who was he to argue with the Alpha. Not that he didn’t agree with the pixie. As a member of the inner circle he should be with the pack as they settled into their new homes. As the Gamma even more so. What if there was a fight with one of the other packs because he wasn’t there? Niall heaved a sigh, there was nothing he could do. If he took off after the pack stragglers could get lost.

“My names Niall.” He said rolling to his side as the pixie flew low to the ground.

“Gamma of the Hill pack, me mom taught me all kinds of stuff about the local pack. She’s taken my brothers and sisters to find a new place.” The pixie said his wings shading with blue. “Dane.” He said gesturing to himself. “Me pa made me wait too. I reckon I’m about as thrilled as you are.”

Rips and scuffs in Dane’s clothing became apparent as the pixie moved closer, clear signs that his time at the rift hadn’t been easy.

“Looks like he should have left you with company.”

“Nah. I saw them fairies off,” Dane said with a smile. “Jus gets lonesome. Pixies ain't meant to be alone.”

“Wolves either, especially a Gamma,” Niall admitted with a sigh. “How am I meant to defuse pack stresses if I’m not with the pack?” His wolf brushed against him offering comfort. A sudden influx of paranormals by the shift drew Niall's attention.

“I didn’t even know that many could come through the shift at once.” Niall murmured feeling the ruffle of fur under his skin as his wolf bristled. His wolf stiffened within him, adrenaline shooting through Niall’s body as a low growl left his lips. The entire planet shook not stopping until Golden fell through the shift to land on the soft grass, an arrow protruding from her chest. Above her, the shift closed with a quiet pop.

The magical beings surrounded the youthful-looking Guardian who had saved them all, their fear for her appearance. If this woman died their magical haven would become unstable destroying them all. A drop of golden blood seeped past the arrow. It became a trickle, causing flowers to bloom where it dropped beside her. The sight of that flow of golden power galvanized the paranormals to action. Lowering his onyx horn the unicorn began healing Golden in the way of his people. Raising his head in shock he looked at the still bleeding wound.

"It did not work," Rourke muttered in disbelief, shifting to human form.

"I tried to heal her. It did not work."

"Is she dying?" asked a fairy, a pucker of worry forming between her perfect brows.

Rourke checked, "No. Her life force is stable and the tiny amount of bleeding isn't a problem. The arrow has come to rest next to her heart. I don't think she can heal with or without help while it's there."

"Well, you can't take it out," snapped the fairy. "If she dies, so do we. I say if she's not in danger of death we build her a shelter, make her as comfortable as possible and leave her here."

An alicorn moved gracefully through the crowd, his wings tucked tightly to his side the only visible difference separating him from the unicorns. Lowering himself carefully beside the guardian, Ahearn gently extending a silver wing to warm her.

How much do you expect this stranger to our world to give? Already the price to her is far too high. One day her people will seek her out, what think you they will do if they find her like this? Ahearn blasted along the communal mental path.

Dane hovered near the wound.

"You can see the arrow quiver as her heart beats," Dane whispered in horror. "How will we get it out without killing her?"

"Does it hurt her?" asked the autumn colored dryad.

David moved forward lowering his head to the prone woman. His breath knocking the small pixie back a foot as a crystal tear ran down his cheek solidifying before it hit the ground.

"Aye," David choked out. "It pains her greatly. I have taken as much of her pain as I can." Golden’s pain shot through David's mind both physical and mental. Tearing his walls down until he felt shredded by not only Golden’s pain but the smaller pains of the other paranormals around him. Tenfold the pain, the cost of using his empathy.

In the shade of the nearby trees a vampire watched. The blood called to Bram. Its power obvious from even this distance, more than that though, Golden called to him. The care that she had taken to know his species. To discover they were not evil as humans had long assumed, they meant no one harm. It had touched him in a way that was not exactly comfortable. He had to help. Leaving the shade would weaken the only powers he possessed that might be of use though.

"I can control her bleeding if I can get some shade," Bram called, resigned to facing the mistrust of the other magical creatures to aid the Guardian. Without another word, the autumn dryad dipped an acorn in the blood of the Guardian, thrusting it into the earth nearby.

"No, Alona!" yelled Rourke, "She told us not to make our homes too close to the edge of the shift. Golden said it would disrupt our magic."

"Too late," said Alona, smiling as her color changed from autumn to spring. A proud oak growing from her acorn into maturity bathing the area in a cool, solid shade.

"Shade guaranteed with my life vampire," she called, "Now come, prove her faith in your people."

David extended his massive wing to provide a shaded path to the tree's shelter for the vampire. The approach of the vampire stole David's breath. The pain the vampire felt was immense, only shadowed by Golden’s.

Bram arrived at a run, heart pounding he hoped he could help Golden. Extending his hands he laid them one above one below the arrow. Everyone watched as the trickle stopped.

"Someone will need to remove that," he said, nodding at the arrow.

Rourke took a deep breath reaching for the shaft.

"Wait," Bram said, flicking his head to toss his dark hair back. "Can you heal like this? Because I can tell you from experience that arrow's going to leave a hole the size of your fist when you pull it out. We could push it through but if it's resting against her heart you should know that while I can control the small bleeds if you rip a hole in her aorta she will die."

Rourke paled, "No, I can't even see what I'm doing in this form." He cringed at the thought of what his carelessness might have done.

Niall stepped forward, his hair showing the mottled color of his pelt, his eyes dark amber. "I have the strength needed unicorn. Take your natural form, let your wisdom guide my hand as you heal her," he growled wrapping a large but gentle hand over the arrows quivering shaft. Rourke shimmered briefly before lowering his dark horn to the wound once more as he sent his consciousness pulsing forward to study the wound. A moment passed, then another before in the deep silence of the communal pathway Rourke whispered, It's a barbed arrow. If we pull it the size of the scratch in her heart will enlarge to a definite hole. It will take some time to repair such damage, it's possible she will bleed out before I'm done even with the vampire slowing the flow. If we try to push it through it's going to take out half her heart though. I know I can't heal that in time.

"Out it is then," said Niall, heart pounding against his ribs. If they were wrong Golden would die, and all of them with her. With one decisive tug, he pulled the arrow free.

Blood sprayed out spurting as high as the dragon's wing, the rich metallic fluid marking everyone nearby. The young pixie dove headfirst into the wound, retreating a moment later. Stepping lightly across her breast the pixie coughed and spluttered, clearly missing one segment of his prismatic dragonfly wings.

"What's gotten into you lad?" growled Niall, all their effort to save Golden could be pointless if the pixie kept doing idiotic things like that, Dane had seemed like such a normal pixie. Diving headfirst into an open chest wound wasn’t normal though. Watching the wound carefully Niall smiling as the blood slowed then stopped.

"They grow back. She was bleeding so much, I did not think he could help," Dane said, gesturing at the vampire who grimaced. "Plus the ’corn already said it would take him time to heal it. Me mum could have done it more neatly, but she's taken me brothers and sisters off to find a spot for the family."

"That was not you?" Niall asked the vampire, as shock rolled through his body. There was no way Golden should have survived without the vampire controlling the bleeding. What on earth had they gotten him over here for if he wasn’t going to stop Golden bleeding out?

"No, I was trying to keep her heart steadied so the shock would not kill her. I figured the ’corn would have her healed before she could bleed out," mumbled Bram his face graying from the strain.

"What did you do little one?" Niall asked Dane.

He used his wing and much of his power to make a patch for the hole in her heart. The wing is waterproof, so blood couldn’t seep out. Thanks to him and the vampire I should have her all fixed up in a minute. Rourke muttered mentally.

Niall watched as the unicorn worked to heal Golden keeping his hands on her shoulder to keep her still. Blood dripped down his face onto his neck and chest. Raising a hand to wipe the blood from his eyes Niall felt his world begin to spin as a viselike pain seized his head. Falling back on his heels Niall clutched his head. Pain shot through his mind stealing his consciousness as Niall fell to the ground.

Niall woke to emptiness where his pack bonds should be. A great gouging wound on his wolf spirit slowly draining his lifeblood as surely as if someone had cut his throat.

A wolf howled, its soulful cry echoing the pain in Niall's heart. A sob broke the howl and Niall realized it was him. The pain of being alone broke through him. Wave after wave of agony filling the gaps once filled with his pack, his family.

Only Alpha’s and Omega’s could survive without a pack. A Gamma had no way of self-supplying the mental feedback needed to survive as a lone wolf.

“Calm.” The pain fell away replaced by a sense of connection as a bond clicked into place.

“Sorry. I had no idea you needed mental feedback to keep you balanced. Don’t worry I’ve got you.”

Opening his eyes Niall saw Golden; her hand buried in his fur. The bond between them blazing and strong. Different from pack bonds but feeding him the essential flow of power needed for survival. A whimper rolled from his throat, hoarse and painful after his earlier outburst. The pack was gone. No Omega to ease his pain. No Beta’s to protect him. Worse, no Alpha or Luna to guide him.

The family ties were gone along with the pack bonds. His parents and siblings were dead. He really was a lone wolf. He had nothing, no one. Just a future of pain and insanity to look forward to.

“You have me,” Golden said her voice causing his fur to settle. Just like an Omega. Calm washed over his body leaving him limp and panting in the grass.

“You’re going to be okay Niall. You aren’t as alone as you think. You’re mine now. I need you.”

Niall felt strength flow through his wolf. His mind found and locked onto other connections flowing from Golden and for the first time since waking Niall felt not alone.

“What happened to my pack? My family?”

Golden flicked her eyes away from him and the scent of her unease brushed past his nose. A sour-milk note amidst the rich earth and forest scent Niall knew was Golden's own.

“When one of my people guards a planet we choose protectors from the local inhabitants to look after our bodies. We spend so much time searching the skies for threats outside ourselves it is the only way we can remain safe. I didn’t need to for this world. The greatest threat here isn’t to me, no one hunts me here, at least not yet. The greatest threat is to the paranormal beings of this world, by humans without gifts, out of fear or jealousy. If I had chosen protectors I would have marked them with my blood. A single drop is enough. You were splashed with considerably more, it marks you as mine as surely as if we were pack Niall. And I couldn’t be happier.”

The acrid scent of deceit burned Niall’s nose, Something Golden said was untrue. Did she not want him as her protector? What had he done wrong? He always thought Golden liked him, was it because he needed a link? Was he too needy? Niall’s decent into depression halted as Golden ruffled his hair before swirling her hands in front of his nose. A small reflective surface formed so Niall could see the strands of bright glittering gold fur mixed in with the mottled brown coat he recognized. Tilting his head Niall looked down at his chest and legs only to see more of the golden fur trailing down, not only on his front limbs but down his chest onto his belly. Attempting to follow the sprinkles of gold Niall somersaulted to land in a tangle of limbs at Golden's feet.

The tinkle of Golden’s laughter caused Niall’s ears to perk up and happiness to swell in his chest. Seems he was still able to perform his duty as Gamma. Arching his neck Niall strutting his stuff for his amused audience. His paw landed on something soft and warm, seeing a hand under his paw Niall jolted back hoping he hadn’t hurt the owner. Looking around he saw carefully constructed shelters covering a large group of paranormals. Sunlight splashing through on the species that needed it to survive. Clearly, they had been here awhile. Everyone he could see bore the mark of Golden’s blood. Shifting Niall turned to Golden.

“How many of us are there?” He asked. There were so many bodies.

“Many,” Golden answered. “Although so far none I’ve awoken have been mad. I’m hoping no one will be too upset.”

“I’m not upset about being your protector Golden. I’m honored that you would even think of keeping me on in such an important role. I’ll do my best not to embarrass or disappoint you. I’m upset about losing my pack, my family. But you’ve promised I’ll have a new family to replace them. I can learn to manage.”

“Given a choice, I couldn’t have found a protector filled with more joy than you Niall. You’ll lighten my heart of the burdens I must bear.”

“But what did happened to my pack, my family?” Niall asked. A trickle of fear working its way through his body. There were many reasons he might lose his connection to the pack but only one reason he could think of that he’d lose the family bonds. A reason so terrible he didn’t even want to think about it.

Heaving a breath Golden looked down at her toes. “It’s been a long time since you saved my life and I marked you as a protector. Your pack, your family, they lived long and happy lives. They had pups who grew and had pups of their own. But the pack you remember has long grown old and passed.”

Niall felt his heart drop. His whole family—gone. Fur sprouted from his skin as his wolf tried to take control, to outrun the pain within. Taking a deep breath Niall shook off his grief feeling the air move through his fur. Forcing the fur to recede Niall knew that if he ran now he’d never stop running, the new pack Golden promised him wouldn’t be there to help him. If he ran he’d be a lone wolf, a lone Gamma, he never wanted to go through that pain again. Sitting down he leaned against Golden’s side. “Even knowing I’d lose my family I’d have agreed to be your protector. If you needed me, if you wanted me. I mean you’ve done so much for us. Given up so much. It's the least I could do. You saved us. All of us.”

“Not all,” Golden said frowning. “Come we’ve got others to awaken.”

Standing before her newfound protectors Golden lifted her head to address them. “I have a request, a journey I must ask you to undertake in my place. The untimely interference of hunters caused us to leave behind some who should reside with us. Eight hundred years have passed in the world beyond the shift. The descendants of those we left behind have no idea of what they are, or what they are capable of. Many live in human form, although I sense some in their base animal forms. The gifts that are their birthright alienates them. You must find them, explain what they are. This will not be easy. All of you are creatures of myth and legend. The truth believed by only the most stubborn of hunters, the most quixotic believers. The hunters still stalk your kind, without your natural defenses those that remain are helpless, targets slaughtered at the hunters’ convenience.

You must not be seen in your natural forms or committing any public act of magic. I know what I ask of you is hard, nigh impossible in fact. I will not think less of any that choose not to go.” Dropping her head, her lashes fluttered down. ”I ask now, who will embark on this journey?”

Chapter One

Hope became aware of the smell first. A sterile astringent smell that brought hospitals to mind but wasn’t. It was a familiar smell, as horrible as that thought was. Trying to open her eyes proved futile, her body unresponsive to her commands. Her heart beat loud and rapid in her ears as panic threatened to overwhelm her. Not that it would do her any good. It never did her any good. Still, it was hard to stay calm when her body lay frozen. A flesh coffin for her terrified mind. Her worst nightmare brought to life.

A deep breath and the fear receded enough for Hope to hear voices. She couldn’t understand them but that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes after they drugged her the inability to understand even simple words would last for days.

Whatever they were giving her was messing with her mind. Or maybe they were. The feel of the soft mattress under her, supportive and recognizable. Hope felt relief in the knowledge she was in a familiar prison. She hated waking up somewhere new. Hope became aware of fabric moving over her chest with each breath, a silken stroke against heated flesh.

Struggling Hope tried to force her eyes open. Not yet. She thought as her eyes flickered. Fingers twitching over the soft sheets beneath her Hope grimaced internally. If she ever got out of here she was going to miss this bed. Maybe she could steal the sheets on the way out. Eyes flickering again she tried once more to open them and was rewarded with the tiniest slice of vision. The same crack greeted her as the last time she’d opened her eyes, and the time before that. All the times for what felt like forever but was probably more like seven or eight months. Time had lost meaning since her captivity.

Releasing her breath on a sigh Hope forced herself to accept, once again, the truth of her reality. Despair flooded her, what she wouldn’t give for a peek at the sun. Once she’d thought about giving in to what these people wanted just to see the outside again. For a chance to breathe fresh air. But no one here had asked her for anything. Most of them didn’t even talk to her. It was like she was a thing, a tool. She’d seen test animals treated better in labs. Well she hadn’t, but it sounded good in her head.

This all has to be a massive nightmare. Hope thought the crack above her blurring as tears formed and rolled unhindered towards her hairline.

One of these days I’ll open my eyes in my bedroom back home and realize that this is all a horrible nightmare.

Feeling slowly returned to Hopes limbs until, with a moan, she could turn to her side. She had always hated lying on her back.

“Hope? Are you awake?” The voice came from the cell next door. Jaidyn, her only friend in this hellhole. The main reason she was still sane after months in captivity.

“Yeah. I’m awake.” Hope said her voice hoarse and slurred with misuse.

“You okay?”

“I’m getting there. How long?”

“You were gone a couple of days,” Jaidyn admitted quietly. “Nearly another spent waking to the point you noticed me calling you.”

Hope heaved a sigh as she rolled off the edge of the bed landing hard on her hands and knees pain shooting up her limbs at the impact.

“Well, that was graceful.” Hope mumbled, bracing herself as pain throbbed through her and dots formed in front of her eyes.

“Hope? What’s going on over there?” Jaidyn’s panicked voice forced Hope to focus. Forced her to stay conscious. Last time she’d passed out Jaidyn had gone apeshit battering against the bars and injuring himself. She couldn’t let that happen again.

“I’m fine.” The lie tasted like ash on her tongue but there wasn’t any point telling Jaidyn the truth. “Just fell out of bed.”

A soft chuckle echoed around her. “Dork. You know you need to stay down until your head clears properly.”

“You know I never do.” Hope said panting as she crawled towards the barred wall facing the hall.

After what felt like forever she made it, limbs weak and shaking as sweat poured from her body in copious amounts. Propping her back against the wall separating her from Jaidyn she took a deep breath trying to slow her racing pulse. Sliding her hand through the bars Hope felt his hand waiting for her. The comfort of human touch spread through her. This man she’d never seen gave her such comfort.

“I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you Jaidyn,” Hope said squeezing his hand.

“It’s probably my fault they captured you Hope,” Jaidyn said. “If I hadn’t called the other hunters in to go after Kaitlyn and Rourke they wouldn’t have been around to snag you.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Hope said eyes sliding closed as exhaustion set in. Jaidyn was right she should have stayed in the bed. Still she had to try and make him understand. “We’ve gone over this a thousand times. You’re in a cage just like me. In fact, you’ve been in a cage longer than me. I’m not going to blame you for something that happened while you were a prisoner.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate your attitude. I hope that Rourke and Kaitlyn can be so forgiving if we ever get out of here.”

“I don’t know about Rourke, I haven’t met him yet. But I bet Kaitlyn has already forgotten about it. Once you explain it to her the way you did to me. She’ll forgive you.” Hope was sure her best friend wouldn’t hold Jaidyn’s past against him. “You know when you first told me about the paranormals I thought you were mad.” Hope shifted trying to get more comfortable on the hard ground. “And then I met a dragon.”

“Hey. Can anybody hear me?” Hope called quietly, her heart pounding so loudly in her chest that she expected to see the beat shaking the walls. She could see other cells but they were all empty. Maybe there were more cells on her wall. Surely she couldn’t be alone among the morons that had kidnapped her. Fear caused her teeth to chatter together as she tried once more. “Please let someone hear me.”

“I hear you.” A masculine voice hoarse from lack of use came from the cell beside her. Pushing her face up against the bars Hope tried to see her fellow prisoner.

“Did they kidnap you too?”

Maybe this was one of those kidnapping rings you heard about when you traveled. If so they’d find themselves shit out of luck. Hope was an orphan with no rich parents to rescue her.

If they were trying to sell her into the sex trade, well she’d never been what people considered attractive. You’d think they’d do some research.

“No. They didn’t kidnap me.” The voice came again thick with despair. “I’m here because I deserve to be here. After what I did, they should never release me.”

“No one deserves to be here, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done.” Hope said looking around her cell. Crudely cut walls made of stone without even a window to the outside world. The dank rock emitted a chill and dampness you just couldn’t escape with the thin scratchy blankets their ‘hosts’ had supplied.

“My name’s Hope.” Sticking her hand through the bars Hope extended it towards the cell next door.

“Jaidyn.” His voice strengthened as his large hand grasped hers gently. “But I do belong here. I fell for their bullshit and helped to hurt some ----I don’t know they were good, or innocent but they weren’t bad people. I didn’t realize that I was the bad guy until too late. I helped them get away though, the not bad people. I hope they made it.”

“You’re locked up. Presumably by the bad guys seeing they kidnapped me. I mean this hardly looks like a jail cell. It certainly doesn’t adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Clearly, someone bad didn’t think you waited until too late.”

“I’m sure they think that I can still be of some use to them. My family has—gifts. They probably want to make sure I pass them on before they kill me.” Jaidyn sounded resigned to his fate.

“What kinds of gifts can they possibly hope to get you to pass on in a cell? I mean it’s not like you’re going to be meeting women in here.”

“I met you.”

That statement chilled Hope to the bone. “You’re going to rape me?”

“No, and they can’t force me to.” Jaidyn’s voice strengthened with determination and Hope relaxed slightly.

“But you think they might try?”

“Probably. They’ve tried it before and I’ve turned them all away. I hear them hitting the women afterwards, but when I warn the women they always act like I’m threatening them. I never realized how badly the hunters treated women or I’d have known I was the bad guy much earlier.”

“How long have you been here?” Horror filled Hope and tremors wracked her body. What the hell were these bad guys into?

“I’m not sure. I lost track of the time when we moved here. No window to count passing days and my meals have always been sporadic so I can’t count by them. What’s the last date you remember?”

Hope told him and heard his gasp. “Not possible! That’s a whole year. More even. I thought for sure they’d have killed me by now.”

“Well good news. They haven’t. So what gifts do you have that they think are so useful they feel the need to keep you in captivity until they can breed a replacement?”

Another thought hit Hope. “And who exactly are they? I thought a kidnapping ring, which would suck because I have no one to pay a ransom for me.” Hope took a quick breath as another thought hit her. “Although being part of a forced breeding ring isn’t any better. I mean do they have other guys they give the women to after you turn them down?”

A soft chuckle echoed down the hall. “Wow, you like to talk huh? Let's see if I can answer all your questions. I can sense paranormal beings when they use their gifts. That helps the hunters track them down so they can kill them. The hunters kill paranormals because supposedly they are evil and out to destroy humanity, a notion I have found to be false by the way. They won’t ransom you, if you are here they have you here for a reason. You aren’t paranormal, or if you are you aren’t using powers at all. I’ve gotten a lot more sensitive to energy changes since I’ve been in captivity. I don’t know about other hunters but the only reason they’d try to breed you at all was if you were hunter-born. That I can’t sense but they have others who can. Did I get it all?”

Hope leaned against the wall in shock. “Paranormals? Hunters? Oh god did they lock me up next to a crazy man? Wait, am I in a nice padded cell? Am I crazy? That seems likely if I have a crazy roomie.”

Twisting her hair around her fingers Hope gnawed on her bottom lip in thought. “You know the more I think about it the better it looks. I mean if I’m in a looney bin then I haven’t been kidnapped by crazy people. Although if I haven’t been kidnapped then am I even talking to you? And If I’m not talking to you then I don’t have a crazy roomie.”

“You’re not crazy. I’m not crazy and while a nice padded cell would probably be a hell of a lot warmer and come with some pretty nifty drugs I’m sorry but we’re not there.”

“A crazy man would say that,” Hope said slumping. “In fact, that seems exactly like what a crazy man would say.”

“I can’t prove anything of course. I won’t have to. Eventually, they’ll catch someone non-human and you’ll get to see a paranormal yourself. You know what they say, seeing is believing.” Jaidyn said. “Those poor souls don’t last long down here. The hunters torture them for information then take them away and once they go the paranormals never return.”

“So what exactly is your definition of paranormal?” Hope didn’t care if they were both crazy. She couldn’t go back to silence. Didn’t want to be alone.

“There are different paranormal species. I met a unicorn and his mate just before they locked me up. A little werewolf too although it’s my understanding they prefer to be called wolf shifters. I’ve heard of dragons and dryads fairies and dwarves…”

“Hey, that’s not politically correct. I believe they prefer little people.”

“No, I’m not talking about little people I’m talking about an actual species of dwarves…think Tolkien.”

“Oh.” Hope was lost for words, something that didn’t often happen to her.

“I’d felt paranormals using magic around my hometown for years but I could never track it down. My parents and brother thought I was mad for following the old ways. Turns out they were right.” Jaidyn choked out. “I mean I went from respected sheriff of Madison to a loser in a hole just because I didn’t think they should rape a woman I’ve known most of my life. Worse after they’d stuck me in a cage they tried to rape the little wolf shifter. She was only a little girl, couldn’t have been more than six years old the sick bastards. But apparently, I’m the traitor for helping her escape.”

“Oh hey,” Hope said turning so she could reach out once more. “Once you realized you were on the wrong side you stopped right? Then they locked you up for doing it. That doesn’t make you a bad guy that makes you a hero.”

“I’m sure Kaitlyn and Rourke don’t see it that way,” Jaidyn said not taking her hand.

“Kaitlyn? Wait. Kaitlyn and Rourke are paranormals? I know a Kaitlyn who is marrying a Rourke just outside Madison. I was on the way to the wedding when your ex-buddies kidnapped me.”

“Yeah, Rourke is a unicorn. I’m not sure about Kaitlyn but she’s a something. The others said witch but I’m not so sure. I mean she’s a healer, that’s not witchy.”

“Historically it’s very witchy,” Hope said with a shrug. “Many women burned at the stake because they’d offered herbal remedies to cure illness. Healers but not evil or in league with the devil.”

“Unicorns are healers too. Or at least they are in the lore. I wonder if that’s why they were drawn together.” Jaidyn mused. “I’m glad they stayed together though. What happened after I captured them was ugly and brutal. I tried to stop it but—”

“You ended up here for your trouble.” Hope interrupted.

“Yeah.”

“I’ve known Kaitlyn for a really long time. She’s an amazing veterinarian but I would never have thought she had magic powers.”

“Did you never feel ill or hurt around her only to have it run out to be nothing?” Jaidyn asked.

“I never once got sick or hurt when I was around her. I come from pretty hardy stock.” Hope admitted.

“If we can get you out of here then you can go ask Kaitlyn yourself. I’m pretty sure she’ll tell you the truth if you ask.” Jaidyn seemed confident that his truth was in fact reality. Hope wasn’t so sure.

“What makes you think we can get me out of here?” Hope asked. “If there was a way to escape wouldn’t you have done it before now?”

“I haven’t looked or tried. I told you, I deserve to be here” Jaidyn said quietly. “But you don’t. Something big is going on upstairs maybe we can get you out while everyone is distracted.”

“How do you know?” Hope asked curiously.

“Well you’ve been unconscious for— well I’m not exactly sure but I think it’s been at least a couple of days. In that time they haven’t fed me. That means they’re distracted. We should get some company in the cells soon.”

“Days? Oh no, I’ll have missed the wedding.” Hope frowned. “I was so looking forward to it. Kaitlyn had a fancy designer who was going to whip up custom gowns for us. I haven’t got to hang out with Kaitlyn and Emma for ages.”

“That’s good though,” Jaidyn said excitedly. “They’ll be looking for you if you missed the wedding.”

“Sure they would,” Hope said dejectedly. “If I was anyone else in the entire world. I kinda have time management issues.”

“Issues?” Jaidyn asked.

“I um…The world is an interesting place and I get, let’s just call it distracted. Like this one time, I was on the way to meet the girls at the movies. I left an hour early just to make sure I was there on time. But I was in such a rush that I forgot my phone, then the car broke down on the side of the road so I had to walk to find a pay phone. Do you know how rare pay phones are nowadays? No, where they might as well not exist. So I asked this guy if I could borrow his phone but he thought I was soliciting. I don’t know why, it’s not like I had provocative clothing on. Well I didn’t think so anyway. Anyhow it turned out he was a cop so instead of getting to the movies an hour early I ended up in lock up for the night.” By the time she finished talking Jaidyn was laughing hysterically.

“This happens to you often?” He gasped.

“Well, not exactly, but other things. No one is surprised when I don’t show up for something or show up late. They just write it off to me being me.” Hope sighed. It would be nice to think her friends were looking for her but she knew better.

“Surely they’d expect you to make contact eventually?”

“Yeah.” Hope perked up. “I always touch base eventually so in a week or two they might start looking.”

“And I know where they are from here. I can get you there if we get out.” Jaidyn added. “They might kill me on sight, I probably deserve that. Don’t get in the way, just let it happen.”

“No truly evil person could think they need punishing as much as you do. At least not for actions they thought were righteous at the time. If you were evil you wouldn’t be sitting here blaming yourself. You’d be sitting here blaming Rourke and Kaitlyn.”

“I thought there was something odd going on even before I led the capture of Rourke and Kaitlyn. I continued anyway, even though I’d already had to kill hunters for attacking children. That’s why I deserve punishment.”

“How about we let Rourke and Kaitlyn decide when you get us out?” Hope said gently. If Jaidyn had been locked up for a year maybe Kaitlyn would let it go. She did have a soft heart. A gasp followed by a moan came from the cell next door. “Jaidyn? Are you doing something obscene over there?”

“Whatever they were after they’ve caught it. I don’t think we’re going to see it down here though it’s huge. The power, it burns me.”

The rock under Hopes' cheek vibrated as the entire mountain shifted. “Earthquake!” Hope looked around and wondered if the cell was going to cave in on her. Sure it was carved out of rock but earthquakes shifted rock, right? Blood roared in Hopes ears as she rocked back and forth against the wall. She didn’t want to be buried alive. That was way worse than being kidnapped. How long would it take her to die if a cave fell on you? Would she be crushed or would she be suffocated. A moan left Hope’s lips as she wrapped her arms around her legs tight.

“It’s not an earthquake Hope. Calm down.” Jaidyn called. “I told you they caught something big.”

A roar filled the air, the pressure causing pain to shoot through Hope’s ears. “What the hell?”

A movement at the end of the hall caught Hopes attention and the quickly shifted to the back wall. Maybe they would ignore her if they couldn’t see her. When the big burly men stopped in front of her door she knew she wasn’t going to be so lucky.

“Come on little lady.” The tallest man said as he unlocked the door using a weird looking key card. “It’s time to feed you to a dragon.”

Hope screamed clawing at the rock bed, floor and walls. Desperately searching for a handhold to stop them from feeding her to a pissed off giant lizard. When a man grabbed each arm she dropped her weight forcing them to drag her from the room.

“Remember paranormals aren’t the bad guys,” Jaidyn said loud enough for her to hear over the panicked whimpers escaping her throat. Her view of him was blocked by the man at her side but the words gave her comfort. Maybe the dragon wouldn’t eat her after all.

“I wouldn’t bet on a dragon being friendly.” The thug on her right said. “The lore says they love to eat young women and unlike a unicorn, they aren’t fussy about your virginity or lack of.”

Hope’s heart raced as they dragged her into a room the size of a warehouse and in the center painfully caged was, in fact, a large unmistakably alive, Dragon.

“I thought you were crazy,” Hope admitted quietly.

“I know. I don’t blame you, it is all crazy.” Jaidyn said with a smile in his voice.

“Doesn’t stop it from being true though,” Hope said laughing.

A noise from the end of the corridor got Hope’s attention.

“Already?” Hope said with a sigh.

“It might be for me this time,” Jaidyn said his voice suddenly weary.

“It hasn’t been for you since you started co-operating with the great masturbation plot.” Hope said giggling

“You know, you laughing at me doesn’t help can I just say,” Jaidyn added sounding disgruntled.

“You want me to go all phone sex girl on you, babe?” Hope said breathily watching the far door warily.

“Eww. No that wouldn’t help either. I’d be like listening to my sister trying to get me off.” Jaidyn's revulsion was clear.

While they had a solid friendship there was never going to be a sexual relationship between them. No chemistry. Their relationship had grown to nearly sibling levels. Heck, even the sounds of Jaidyn jacking off for the pseudo scientists that ran this wack joint made Hope feel nauseous. Why the hell did it echo so much?

The door opened and Hope withdrew fully into her cell.

I am not here. She thought. It hadn’t worked yet but she was determined to keep trying. They insisted as a hunter-born woman she should have a mental gift. Of course it’s possible they’re full of shit.

“Subject two. Hunter-born woman. Testing of her waste shows that she requires more iron in her diet. We must keep the subject healthy until she presents us with the hunter-born child.” The scientist pronounced.

Hope didn’t know his name, didn’t know the names of any of the scientists who had been experimenting on her since her captivity. They didn’t think it was important to introduce themselves before they knocked her out and did who knew what to her body.

“Do we know if she carries yet?” The second scientist asked eyeing her dispassionately.

“Yes. We confirmed pregnancy before we returned her to the cell. The child should be powerful. Between her natural talent and the fathers we believe the child might be the most powerful hunter-born in our entire history.”

Hope hit the ground hard. She was pregnant? She thought they’d been harvesting her eggs so they could make their super army but they’d been raping her while she was unconscious instead. The scientist's voices carried on but the buzzing in her ears prevented her from understanding them further.


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