Secrets long hidden are brought to the surface on the shiny scales of a dragon.
After thousands of years petrified in stone, Jiang is finally free. The search to find his friends leads him to the doorstep of Aden Gale. Will Jiang’s need for his comrades unravel a family’s hidden secrets?
Meeting pigeon shifter Kurtis changes everything for Jiang. Drawn to the sweet man, Jiang vows to find a way to end Kurtis’ curse. However, dark magic works against them, and it will take the combined strength of many people to keep back the tide of destruction coming their way.
“Hey, don’t do that. I don’t care if our connection has done something to change my DNA. I’m fine with that.” Aden rubbed his hands up and down Gallen’s back.
“But what if you start experiencing weird abilities?” Gallen asked.
Aden snorted. “What kind of transformation do you expect? Is my voice going to get deeper? Am I going through magical puberty?”
“Funny man. I’m going to keep an eye on you.” Gallen frowned at him.
Aden kissed him on the nose. “Good plan. You should examine me very closely, daily, perhaps naked in bed.”
Gallen laughed. “That could be arranged.”
Aden grinned. “Don’t worry so much love, there’s not much I can’t handle.”
He hoped the words would turn out to be true. Even with the knowledge of shifters, vampires, and sorcerers, Aden still found himself surprised by the variety of paranormals who were out there in the world without humans being the least aware.
A low roar outside yanked Aden’s attention away Gallen. On the other side of the glass a large blue dragon jumped through the water like a porpoise.
“Can no one else hear that too?” Aden asked.
“Not really. Humans will feel a twitch to vacate the area but they won’t hear or see him.”
Aden watched the dragon continue to play in the surf. Every now and then it gave out a cry as if it were calling to someone. A restless urge had Aden shifting uneasily on the couch.
“What’s wrong?” Gallen patted Aden’s chest.
“I don’t know. I think he’s calling to me.”
Gallen sat up then looked from the dragon to Aden and back again. “If you feel compelled to go to it, there could be dragon shifter blood in your family. It could also explain your tattoo.”
“You think so? Then why haven’t I ever shifted?” The thought of changing into a dragon terrified Aden. He’d watched his boys change into an eagle, a bear or a croc but never had he wished to become one himself.
“Maybe you weren’t ready yet. Not much is known about dragons. There aren’t enough of them to study.”
“You don’t have anything in your book?”
Gallen ran his fingers through his hair. “Not the one I have with me, maybe in the coven library. If they even have a library now. I’m the only one who ever cared about the books.”
From Gallen’s wistful tone, Aden know his mate missed his resources.
“We’ll start a new library, babe. We can put up shelves in the spare room.”
The dragon’s cry cut through the air, reverberating the glass.
“Let’s go see what he wants.” Aden’s stomach swirled with nerves. So far the water dragon hadn’t tried to hurt him, but if the beast decided to spit acid at him Aden had no defense. For the first time, Aden didn’t know how to take down a potential enemy. “On second thought, maybe you should stay here?”
The disgusted noise Gallen made had Aden smiling. “If you think I’m going to let you go talk to an acid spitting dragon by yourself, you’ve lost your mind. Now let’s go.”
Gallen stood up and offered Aden his hand. Aden let his mate help him up. They left the condo then crossed the street. No one else walked around in the cool winter air, so they didn’t have to worry about bystanders. Maybe the dragon had subconsciously run them off.
“Dragons tend to have a large territory. The only thing that could be attracting him here is you,” Gallen said as they approached.
“Or you.” Despite the mark on his chest, they didn’t know for sure the dragon was there for him.
“I’m thinking it’s probably here for you, since you saw that other dragon a few weeks back and I haven’t seen any without you present.”
Aden nodded, even though he hated that Gallen might be right. “True. It killed the guys shooting at me. It was a different type of dragon though, not a water one—it was gold and black and had wings.”
“Two dragon sightings within a few weeks can’t be a coincidence.”
“As long as I have my big, bad mate to protect me, I’ll be fine,” Aden teased.
“Damn right you do.” Gallen grabbed Aden’s arm. “Come on, love. Let’s go.”
Gallen steps slowed the closer they came to the beach steps. The dragon had abandoned the water to crawl up onto the sand. It watched them approach with liquid, brown eyes.
“Shift!” Gallen ordered.
The dragon ignored him. The large beast turned its head toward Aden.
“Tell him to shift,” Gallen whispered to his mate.
“Into what?” Aden didn’t know if he wanted the beast any closer.
“Oh, right. If you could shift please, we’d like to talk to you.” Aden politely addressed the dragon as he would a human. If the dragon were like his shifter friends, then he would understand Aden in either form.
For a moment Aden didn’t think it would work. The dragon snorted, spewing a fine spray of mist from its nostrils. Before Aden could say anything else a flare of blue light encompassed the dragon. The glow transformed from a large blob of icy fire to a smaller shape. When the light show ended, a slim oriental man in a suit of scales stood on the sand. The shimmering scales fluttered for a bit before transforming into a pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt, an exact copy of Aden’s clothing.
“Hello.” Aden bowed his head slightly to the Asian man uncertain of a proper dragon greeting.
The dragon bowed deeply at the waist toward Aden then straightened. He ignored Gallen.
“Greetings Protector, I am Jiang, a river dragon, first of all river dragons named after the river Jiangguo.”
“I am Aden Gale, and this is my mate, Gallen Theos.”
Finally Jiang examined Gallen as if he found an interesting new fish in the waters. “A sorcerer mated to a dragon—how odd.”
Gallen gasped. “I didn’t know any of you were still around.”
A sad smile curved Jiang’s lips. “There are of five of us that I know of. We’ve been imprisoned in stone for centuries. We’ve only recently been freed.”
“The sea water doesn’t bother you?” Aden asked.
Jiang shook his head. “I might have been formed from a river initially, but all water accepts water dragons. I will never travel to a desert again.”
It was a strange vow for a water dragon to make. Aden would’ve thought it was a rather obvious for an aquatic creature to avoid an arid desert.
“What are you doing here?” Gallen asked, interrupting their discussion of water.
Jiang raised an eyebrow at Gallen but remained silent.
“Answer his question.” Aden nodded toward his mate.
The magical power pouring off the dragon scrambled his brain a bit. It was like standing next to a lightning rod and waiting to be struck with a bolt.
“My fellow dragons and I were turned into stone by the emperor and his sorcerers. We had no chance to elude them once they set their trap.”
“What trap?” Aden questioned. He didn’t like this story. If the dragon was bringing danger to his doorstep Aden had to be ready.
“A dark spell that changed us. They placed fenghuangs and foo dogs as our guardians and companions. Sadly, the foo dogs died when the spell shattered and the fenghuangs went mad from their prolonged captivity. I woke up in the water. I’ve been calling for days but so far no one has answered my beacon except you. I need to find my friends.”
The frantic expression on Jiang’s face pulled at Aden’s heartstrings. His need to help out the lost dragon tugged at him.
“You came all the way from China?” Gallen asked.
Jiang shook his head. “We were brought here and put in a musical theater.”
“That was you? I don’t think anyone in Seattle knew those statues were living beings.” Aden frowned as he remembered the many times he’d gone to that theater and never known the decorations could come to life.
Jiang tilted his head to one side. “You didn’t know?”
“Why would I know?” Aden turned to Gallen, knowing his confusion must’ve shown on his face.
“Because you’re part of the reason we’re free.”
Jiang’s answer startled Aden into returning his attention to the dragon shifter.
Aden’s mouth dropped open. “Why would you think that?”
Jiang stared at Aden as if he were trying to see through Aden’s clothing. “Don’t you have a dragon tattoo?”
“I recently acquired one, yes.”
“Then you’ve come into your power?”
“So far I haven’t experienced anything considered power. I have a new tattoo and that’s pretty much my only super ability.”
Jiang laughed, a low rusty sound, as if he wasn’t sure if the noise should leave his throat. “If you are newly connected to your magic then it might take a bit before you gain your skills. It can take centuries for a dragon to get his first ability. I couldn’t spit acid for the first fifty years of my life.”
Aden scowled. “I’m still not certain I’m a dragon, and I won’t have centuries to figure it out.”
If Aden truly was the reason the dragon broke free, he had a responsibility to the lost shifter.
“When the spell shattered, we must’ve been sent to different locations. I can’t even sense my companions any more. I need to find our leader, Zhou. He can tell me what to do next.”
Gallen’s sigh dragged Aden’s attention from the dragon shifter to his mate.
“Are you sure you’re all right, Gallen?” Aden asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. What can we do to help?” Gallen asked the dragon.
Jiang snorted. “I don’t know if you can help at all, sorcerer, but I’ll never turn down extra hands. Like I said, I need to locate Zhou. Even more immediately I need to figure out where the fenghuangs have gone. They were the first ones to escape and they could cause immense damage in their current condition.”
“What are fenghuangs?” Aden asked. “You mentioned them before. Why will they be trouble?”
“They are a Chinese phoenixes,” Gallen said. “They come in times of peace. They are actually male and female pairs, feng is the male and huang is the female. They are known for being good luck, a symbol of prosperity and to represent the yin and yang, the symbol of the lunar cycle.”
The dragon shifter nodded his agreement with Gallen’s definition. “Except our fenghuangs have gone mad. Over two thousand years of being stone has snapped their minds. There are two pairs of them and I doubt they will leave the area without venting their rage. Luckily they are one of the mythological beasts pure humans can’t see. I think one of the males has kept his sanity but I could only hear snatches of their conversation, they mostly only talked to Zhou, but the past few years they kept to themselves.”
“How did the rest of you remain sane?” If the peaceful birds had snapped, why had the dragons remained sane?
Jiang shrugged. “We stuck together and kept our communication open. Our guardians didn’t fair so well.” Jiang’s eyes turned watery. “The foo dogs had grown too brittle to survive.”
Sadly, there wasn’t anything Aden could do to bring back the foo dogs. “I’m sorry for your loss. What do you think the phoenixes will do now?”
“If they aren’t stopped, they could set the city on fire,” Jiang said. “They aren’t like regular phoenixes. They are immortal. They don’t die to be reborn—they will continue to live and burn down the city.”
“They could try, but it wouldn’t get them very far,” Aden argued.
“After The Great Seattle Fire, they put a lot of extra fire protection downtown.”
“How would you know that?” Gallen asked.
“I took this tour with the boys a few years ago. It takes you underneath Seattle and they tell you all about the history. It’s pretty cool. We should go on it sometime.”
“Well I’m sure that would be great for a normal fire, but a phoenix fire is different. Magical fire is all but impossible to put out,” Jiang argued.
“How do you plan to deal with them? I’m not sure I’ve got the right weapons to kill immortal birds.”
“You have the blood of a dragon king. You will come into your magic when it is needed.”
“I hope you know what you are talking about.” Aden had barely survived his last injury. “If I were immortal, somehow I think my father would still be around.”
“What happened to him?” Gallen asked.
Aden shrugged. “I don’t know.”
His mother had never told him, she’d just said that his father had disappeared after Aden’s birth.
“Are there many dragon king descendants left?” Gallen asked.
Jiang nodded to Aden. “He’s the only one I know of. If another dragon child has awakened, he or she would’ve snapped our spell earlier.”
Gallen bit his lip looking from one man to the other. “Are you sure you have the right person? I’m pretty sure Aden’s mark is just a sign of our mating.”
“May I see your mark?” Jiang narrowed his eyes at Aden.
Aden sighed. With one swift motion he removed his shirt. The dragon pattern shimmered in the sunlight as if it had true scales with iridescent ink.
Jiang dropped to his knees in the sand. “My lord.” He bowed his head low.
“What are you doing?” Aden asked.
“You are truly a descendant of the dragon kings.”
“Kings? How many are there?”
“There were four main dragon kings of the seas but there are others. Once there were too many to count, but time and the emperor have killed most of them off.”
Aden’s heart went out to the displaced dragon. It sounded like he and his friends might be the last of their kind. “What do you need me to do? I can’t kill a mystical bird. Stand up and talk to me.”
He wasn’t comfortable with the dragon kneeling before him.
Jiang got to his feet. “You don’t need to kill them. We need to capture them before they destroy Seattle. Hopefully once contained, we can try to help them. They’ve suffered enough—they need to be rehabilitated, if they can.”
“Do you think Zhou might have gone back to China to hunt down the sorcerers who created your spell?” Aden asked.
Jiang shook his head. “No. He wouldn’t have returned without making sure all of us were safe. Zhou has watched over us for centuries, he’s not going to stop just because he’s been freed.”
“You are so certain he will find you?” Aden wondered if the newly freed leader might have flown the coop. As much as Jiang said Zhou wouldn’t behave that way, who really knew what went on inside the head of another?
“Yes.” Jiang’s conviction left no room for doubt