We got to Isaacs’s land when it was still pitch black out, but that didn’t stop Keegan from exiting the bus with Cooper’s lifeless form in his arms. Logan dug the hole in front of the biggest, most beautiful redwood tree I’d ever seen, and lowered Cooper into it. Then we all stood there silently. Sophie and Nadine clung to each other weeping, whereas I just felt … numb. It was my fault Cooper was dead. My fault for running away, and leading the druids right to me and my pack. But there was no time right now to properly mourn. We had a million things to deal with after our run-in with Steven and his evil master Ardan.
I sat across from the mysterious druid, Isaac. A good druid apparently. Logan was on my right and Keegan on my left. We sat there, silently watching the roaring fire dance between us, sending its orange embers up to the sky before turning to black ash. Eva and Danny were working double-time to heal the injured pack members, while we had a meeting with Isaac about what the hell was going on. Tattoos had sprung up on my arm and he’d said I was chosen by the Earth or something, that I was now his druid apprentice. But none of that mattered to me as much as when he’d said there were more skyborn. Dozens of them. We’d all gotten on his bus and driven two hours north, deep into the redwood forest. The trees here were bigger than most houses. It was magical and beautiful but I couldn’t enjoy it. Not right now.
“You must be mistaken,” Logan told Isaac. “I’ve searched for decades for more of my kind. There are none left.” I’d told my mate on the bus what Isaac had said and he’d immediately shaken his head, saying it was impossible.
“Oh?” Isaac raised an eyebrow. “I assure you, son, I am not mistaken. I’ve seen them. They hide, they wait, but they are alive.” He’d been injured in our fight with the druids, but the blood on his shoulder had crusted and stopped flowing. I assumed druids had healing capabilities as well.
I could feel my heart beating in my ears. More skyborn, that would really take the pressure off of Logan and I to keep the whole of humanity alive.
I could hear Logan’s teeth grinding beside me. He didn’t like the druid—he didn’t like any druids for that matter. Except me. He was sort of obligated to like me since I was his mate, and I was half druid. The mate thing was new so we were taking it slow, but I could tell a part of Logan wanted to believe the good druid. I could feel it through our bond. Hope.
Keegan shifted his weight and glanced over at Isaac, beyond the fire. “How are you … how is it possible that you’re a druid and don’t live off of dragon magic?”
Logan nodded. “Yeah. Why should we trust you?”
I flinched. That was harsh, but they were right to be concerned, although something deep inside of me had instantly trusted this man, way back to when I’d dreamed about him meditating under the waterfall. I was sticking with my motto that meditating druids didn’t kill dragons.
Isaac chuckled, the firelight making his already copper eyes glow brighter. “Gentlemen, long ago the druid line did not gain power from the barbaric practice of siphoning from others. They gained power from their greatest teacher, Mother Earth. I study the ways of the old druids. Earth magic.”
Earth Magic. Those two words thrilled me for some reason. I felt excitement churn in my belly. Logan gave me a wary side glance. Probably feeling my excitement through the mate bond.
“And you’re saying that Sloane is now … one of you?” Logan looked uncomfortable at that admission, Isaac burst into deep laughter.
“One of me? As if that’s a bad thing?” Isaac said, still wearing a smirk. I had to admit Isaac’s personality was a bit … unpredictable. One moment he would be staring at you seriously and the next laughing his head off. I hadn’t decided yet if it was unsettling or refreshing.
Logan sighed. “Look, the only experience I’ve ever had of druids is of them trying to cut my head off, so excuse me for not being excited that my mate suddenly has druid marks, and is your … what? Apprentice?”
Ouch. He didn’t want me to be a druid, I knew that, but there was no denying what I was. Suddenly I felt exposed; the marks on my shoulder felt like a brand. Like something evil.
Isaac stood and paced in front of the fire. “Let me enlighten you, son.” Logan visibly flinched at the good druid’s term of endearment for him. “I saved your life back there. Ardan cannot be defeated by you or I alone. We’ve both tried and failed.”
Logan looked shocked. How did he know that Logan had once lost an arm trying to defeat the evil leader of the druid race?
“I do nothing.” Isaac continued. “The Earth does everything through me. She brought Sloane to me, she initiated Sloane, and she will help me train her. Together we can kill Ardan and the skyborn can come out of hiding. The human race can be safe again. You can be safe again.”
No one spoke for a full minute. The snapping of the fire was the only sound. He spoke of the Earth as if it were a real person. A she. Maybe he was crazy. It would explain some things. But it wouldn’t explain the marks I got after purple magic exploded out of my skin and knocked everyone over.
“I still haven’t trained her in her dragon magic.” Finally, Logan spoke. He sounded tired. I wondered when was the last time he had slept. After I ran off, he and the pack came to find me, and save me from the evil sorceress Jeanine and the druid Steven. Now, it was nearing 6AM and the weight of sleep was tugging me down.
Isaac nodded. “We can train her together. I would have it no other way. She must learn to use both of her abilities equally, or they will continue to war inside of her.”
Chills ran down my back and my dragon tightened inside of me. “War within me?” I croaked. I had barely said anything, for once letting a man speak on my behalf. Mostly because I was in shock.
Isaac stopped his pacing and approached me, crouching down to rest on his heels. The firelight cast eerie shadows along his face. “Sloane, you’re a dragon and a druid. Although I do not use dragon magic as a source of my power, it is a source of power to all druids. It’s feeding your energy, and if you don’t learn to control it, it could kill you and those you love.”
My mind thought back to that huge blast of purple magic again. It had blinked Steven and Ardan out of existence; they’d escaped using their teleporting power, and it had brought Isaac to his knees. I never thought of it as a danger to those I loved … until now.
Logan’s hand slipped into mine. ‘I’m not afraid. You would never hurt us.’ He spoke in my head using the newly-formed bond.
‘On purpose no, but…’ Accidently, I could.
I met Isaac’s gaze and then looked to Logan. I hadn’t asked for this, to be born of two warring races, but I had to make the best of what I was given. Like Logan had once told me, the only way to control my dragon was to become a badass and teach her that I could handle any threat.
“Let’s do it. Train me,” I told them both. Logan groaned beside me, but Isaac smiled a goofy smile, that was meant for a five-year-old on Halloween with a bag full of candy. There was innocence still left in Isaac, I realized. An innocence and joy that most of us had lost. I liked him.
“Great, we’ll start in the morning,” Isaac instructed us cheerily. “I have five cob dwellings that you are welcome to stay in. They are two bedrooms each, with a small kitchen and bathroom. I made them myself from dirt of the Earth.” He spread his hands out in a welcoming gesture.
Keegan cleared his throat and stood. “Thank you,” was all he offered, ignoring Isaac’s Earth-loving gesture. They most definitely thought he was bonkers.
I knew cob was some type of mud paste but I hadn’t seen any “dwellings” when we drove up. We’d been too focused on burying Cooper to see anything but his limp red fox … the image still haunted me. Isaac bade us goodnight then and walked away, I guessed he was assuming we could find our way around. That’s when Keegan and Logan formed a tight huddle around me.
“How long are we going to stay here?” Keegan asked in a low voice, and looked at Logan.
Logan blew air through his lips and looked at me, shrugging. “However long Sloane needs to learn whatever it is she needs to learn.” He made sure to spend an extra amount of time looking at my shoulder and the new tattoo there.
Keegan didn’t like that answer. “He’s a druid! We’re just going to live here with him for months on end while Sloane trains to be…” He cut his protest off then.
“A druid,” I added for him, crossing my arms and pinning him with a glare. Keegan was back to being dick #1.
Keegan sighed. “It’s just hard to take in, that’s all,” he said, running his fingers through his blond military haircut.
“For me too.” I motioned to my tattoo, a freaking magical tattoo that the Earth gave me, and he nodded. I could see Logan was wrestling with something else. The way his face tightened, his thick lips turned down slightly.
“There’s more skyborn? That can’t be,” he said, almost to himself.
“Why would he lie about that?” I couldn’t believe it either. It was shocking after all this time of Logan thinking he was alone, and that only he was keeping humanity and our shifter friends alive. What did that do to a person? That much pressure?
Keegan ran a hand through his short-cropped hair once again. “I don’t know, but I’m going to play nice with this guy for a few days and then I’m going to make him tell me more about that.”
I smiled. I didn’t think Keegan could make Isaac tell him anything. He’d single-handedly held off Ardan back there. “Come on, I’m exhausted. Let’s find our ‘earth dwellings’ and check on everyone else.”
As I spun around to walk in the direction of the bus where our friends were being triaged, Logan’s hand slipped into mine and my core pulsed with heat. I had once thought I was stuck in perpetual heat, but now I knew he was my mate. I didn’t want to move too fast, but I wasn’t sure how long I could keep my dragon from claiming him fully.
Logan grinned hugely beside me, and I cursed myself for thinking so loud. I needed Eva to do her spell or whatever that helped bring down the volume of my mental broadcast. We trekked through the path of ferns and between two huge redwood trees to the large yellow school bus that was Isaac’s daily car. As we came around the corner, I saw a mini campsite had popped up. Ruben and Roxy sat on camp chairs in front of a fire grilling hot dogs, while Eva was hunched over Gear’s human form, finishing up wrapping his shoulder. Nadine knelt to the side and assisted Eva. You could see the anxiety in Nadine’s face. She secretly loved Gear, yet it was against pack rules to date unless you were mates. But shifter mates weren’t like dragon mates, you just fell in love with and chose your mate as a shifter. So basically Keegan’s system was broken. I felt bad for my friend, but now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Just standing here looking around at the pack reminded me of our loss. Of Coop.
Danny was talking to Dom and Sophie, pointing to something in the woods just beyond the fire. That’s when I saw the “earth dwellings,” adorable little dome mud huts. Five of them, with solar panels on top and little light-up walkways outside so you could see where you were going. All five huts were built in a circle around a small garden in the center.
“That’s incredible,” I breathed, anxious to get a closer look. The artist in me itched to draw the scene, and I inwardly mourned the loss of all of the pencils and drawing journals in my car. My car that was parked back a few blocks from Janine’s club. No way could we get it now.
Eva had finished with Gear and made her way over to us. Her suit coat was off, showcasing a sleeveless, collared shirt and some seriously buff arms. It was cold out here, but right now, with stress hormones flooding my body, I didn’t mind.
Eva sighed, no doubt strained from the night’s events. Her gaze followed mine over to the little dome village and she gave a tired smile. “Isaac is a visiting professor of sustainability at Berkley from time to time. He builds all of this by himself, and teaches students how to as well.”
I nodded, impressed, and was about to speak when Logan’s angry voice sounded next to me.
“Funny, you never mentioned your good buddy Isaac, the druid, in all our years of knowing each other.” His teeth clenched in anger, but I could see the hurt in his eyes. He had once told me Eva was like a mother to him. For her to keep this from him … it hurt.
Eva’s lips tightened as I saw her rein in her emotions. “Logan, what would it matter to you that I was friends with a druid? A good druid. A good man.” She put extra emphasis on the good.
Logan took a step closer, lowering his voice. “It matters when this man says he knows of dozens of other living skyborn.”
The sharp intake of Eva’s breath, and the way her mouth hung open in shock told me that this was her first time hearing about this. “Wh-what? He told you that?” she whisper-screamed.
Logan bobbed his head. “Just now.”
Eva nodded, rubbing her chin, and then gave a shrug. “Makes sense. I never told him what you were, so he would have no reason to tell me this. To trust me with it.”
It made me wonder if keeping our existence a secret was hurting as well as helping. Maybe we could have met up with other skyborn by now, if we had been a bit less secretive.
‘You’d be dead if you had done that,’ Logan said into my mind and I froze.
“Okay! Eva, I need that spell that keeps Logan out of my head,” I interrupted, giving my mate a look that could cut glass. He just smiled and gazed at me with his gorgeous green twinkling eyes.
Grrr. Stupid gorgeous man.
Eva blew air through her teeth; the exhaustion was showing on her features. “Step into my office.” She gestured to the front of the bus, where the mini triage center had been set up. I stepped over to the camping chair, while Logan went with Keegan to talk with the others.
Eva reached up and yanked a piece of my hair out. “Ow!” I rubbed the spot where it burned.
She gave me an eye roll mixed with a good-natured smile. She placed the hair in a mortar and pestle, and began grinding it with some other herbs.
“So … mates,” Eva said. Since Logan and I had kissed and had our little light-up show, we hadn’t spoken about it much with everything going on.
“Yeah. Who knew?” I shrugged, smiling.
Eva grinned. “I had a pretty good idea.”
My mouth popped open. “Thanks for telling me!”
She smirked. “Some things are better to find out on your own.” She winked without looking up from her spell craft, adding a few flower petals to her mixture and grinding them up.
“So … Isaac.” I left that open, not really sure what to say about the quirky druid.
Eva looked the direction we had just walked, where we had met with Isaac. “Isaac is a good person. You can trust him. He only wants peace for the Earth and all of her inhabitants.”
I nodded my head in agreement. “I sensed that. He seems to be against what the other druids want.”
Eva poured the contents of the bowl into her palm, and the second it hit her hand it burst into purple flames. I jumped back, but she called me forward with a flick of her wrist. Hesitantly, I stepped forward, and she threw the purple fire at my chest. I yelped, but when the fire hit my skin, a cool buzz seeped into my bones, causing a brief euphoric feeling to settle there.
“Now you two can talk in each other’s minds but no picking up on random stuff.”
I barely registered what she was saying. I was too busy staring at the place on my chest where the fire had died down. She could have warned me. Geeze. “I wish I was half sorcerer,” I told her. Because that was scary but cool as hell.
She gave me a tired smile and smoothed my hair, which I had come to understand as her motherly gesture of love. “Sloane, you are perfect the way you are. Just be you.”
I don’t know why that statement hit me so hard, but it did. My chest tightened with emotion. I realized I had been feeling bad about being half druid. I felt evil or dirty, but at her words a different perspective sprang up inside of me. I was born this way and there was nothing I could do about it. Isaac was proof not all druids were bad. So maybe it was okay.
“Thanks for everything, Eva,” I told her, and she pulled me in for a tight hug.
“You’re welcome, dear,” she whispered. “I’ll be gone in the morning, but I want you to know I’m never far away if you guys need me.”
I pulled back from the hug. “You’re going back? But they know who you are? Jeanine and Steven—”
“I’m not going back to Flagstaff. If there are more skyborn, then I must find them, unite them. Protect them. It’s my entire purpose in life, dear, protecting people like you and Logan.” Her voice was soft and I gathered that she didn’t want the others knowing her plan.
“But … we should go together.” I fought for the right thing to say. How would she even know where to start looking?
Eva shook her head. “You must train to control your dragon. Harness your druid magic properly. Stay safe. I will send word when I have any leads.”
“Eva…” It didn’t feel right, or safe, for her to be going off on her own like that.
“Shh. That’s enough. I’ve decided, and once I decide something, no one can talk me out of it. I’m the most stubborn woman you will ever meet,” she assured me with one raised well-manicured eyebrow.
I gave her a wan smile. “Will you tell Logan you’re leaving?” Sure, he and I were new at this mate thing, but it felt wrong to keep him in the dark.
Eva tucked a dark strand of long hair behind her ear and stared at the ground. “For decades I told Logan he was the only one. I did countless spells to reveal if there were any more skyborn, and only his black scales were available in the underground market. So we just assumed. He lived an isolated life these past twenty years because I assured him that there were no others of his kind. He’s lived with so much pressure and loneliness … I need to make this up to him.”
I reached out for her arm but she recoiled. “Eva, he doesn’t blame you.” I didn’t actually know that for sure, but I knew Logan loved her, and that he would never pin this on any one person. He was hurt she had kept information of Isaac from him, but it stopped there.
Eva shook her head. “I’ll be in touch. Stay safe, sweetheart.” Then she turned on her heels and walked in the direction of our fire-pit, seemingly to meet with the happy druid.
“Hey, roomie.” Nadine popped up behind me and I jumped a little, startled.
“Hey. Wait, what?” I asked her, confused. My mind was still reeling from what Eva said, wondering if I should tell anyone. I mean, she was a grown woman...
Nadine pulled her long black hair over one shoulder. “Well, there are five houses and everyone was matching up, but then your name came up and Logan got awkward, so I claimed you.”
I smiled, thinking of Logan getting all flustered over the topic of sharing a place with me. I was glad Nadine spoke on my behalf. I wanted to try to take things slow with Logan. Pretend we were a normal couple dating, and not two dragons meant to spend the rest of their immortal lives together. Suddenly, I realized the sun was coming up, and the full weight of exhaustion hit me hard. My limbs felt like they each weighed a hundred pounds, and my eyelids were hard to keep open.
Without another word, Nadine led the way to the cluster of mud huts. Everyone else seemed to have gone inside except for Logan. He stood outside of his door with Mittens clutched firmly to his chest. Nadine gave me a rakish grin and stepped inside the hut next to Logan’s, leaving the door slightly ajar for me.
“Get your mind speak thing all worked out?” He twirled his finger near his ear, making it look like I was crazy.
I smiled and crossed the space between us. With every step towards him my body heated up and my dragon pulsed inside of me. There was one thing we were both in agreement of. Logan Sharp was an addiction and I wasn’t sure I would ever get enough.
When I was a foot from him, I stopped and just let my eyes roam over the man before me. He stood well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and chiseled muscles that made every woman in the room stare when he walked in. It wasn’t just the body—okay, a large part of his sexiness was his body—but it was those eyes too. His green eyes seared into me and threatened to swallow me whole, sitting behind a bed of black lashes, half lidded.
“Yes, I did. Now I can keep my personal thoughts to myself.” I gave him a smug look and he took a step toward me, eating up the distance and pressing his hips into mine.
“Oh really? I bet I know what you’re thinking right now.” His eyes smoldered and heat flared to life south of my navel. As he leaned in to kiss me, my breath hitched and I closed my eyes. As he pressed his lips to mine, I realized I hadn’t kissed him enough. I needed more of this. Every day. I parted my lips and his tongue slipped inside, making me moan.
Suddenly something yanked at my long red hair and mewed. Pulling back abruptly, I looked down at Mittens, crushed between our two bodies playing soccer with my hair. Logan smiled, pulling my hair from her claws and tucking it behind my shoulder before leaning in to kiss my forehead.
“Night, Miss Murphy,” he drawled, and gave me his back, stepping into his hut and closing the door.
I stood there for a moment like a love-struck teenager and let that kiss replay in my mind. Then the thick pull of sleep had me fumbling through the hut, I now shared with Nadine, and finding the empty bed to crash onto. I didn’t care what awaited me tomorrow, today had ended pretty damn good.
We were alive, and I think I was in love.