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Faith Reynolds never felt more at home than she did in the middle of a dig. Sounds of rocks being moved and dirt shoveled into pails filled the air, giving her a purpose—and a goal.
All around her, people talked and laughed, but she didn’t hear their conversations. She was so deep inside the cave that the darkness and dampness that clung to everything didn’t even register. Her focus was on something much more important. Something much more valuable.
Bones. But they weren’t just any bones.
She moved the electric lamp and used the large cleaning brush to gently smooth away the sand and dirt to expose more of the jawbone. Over eighty percent of the head and neck had been excavated.
It wasn’t until she’d discovered the bones of what was obviously a wing that she confirmed what she’d found—a dragon!
A week later, and she still couldn’t believe it.
Nor did anyone else.
Since her funding came from The British Museum, they continued to send other archeologists, biologists, and zoologists to declare her a fraud.
Except not a single one of those idiots had been able to do that. It made her smile. They wouldn’t confirm it was a dragon, but they couldn’t name it as another animal either.
For the moment, that was enough. She was sure someone would attempt to say it was a new dinosaur. By that time, she wanted the entire skeleton excavated and brought to her lab so she could study it more.
Until then, she wasn’t going far from her find. She felt a connection to it that she couldn’t explain or understand. As if she were supposed to be the one to finally give it peace.
Almost as if the skeleton had been waiting for her to discover it. She shook her head, inwardly laughing at herself. A firm believer in making her own destiny, her thoughts were vastly different than her normal scientific reasoning.
She enjoyed hearing all the local tales and legends, but they were nothing more than stories. Nothing about them was real.
This dragon, however, was something else completely. It proved that the animals had once existed. It would also confirm that all the myths about dragons having magic were entirely false.
Her excitement to share what she’d found made her want to hurry and uncover the remains, but that would be folly. Something could go wrong, or she might damage the bones. No, she needed to proceed cautiously.
It was too bad her mother couldn’t be there to share in the delight. Molly had loved dragons so much that they were everywhere in the house—knickknacks, paintings, pillows, posters, wind chimes, and even a potholder. Faith never had to wonder what to get her mom. If it had a dragon on it, Molly Reynolds wanted it.
Faith looked up, her hand stilling as her eyes became unfocused. All of her mother’s dragons were now carefully wrapped and boxed away in a storage unit back in Houston.
She blew out a breath and blinked several times. Though it had only been six months since she’d walked into her mother’s house for a day of shopping only to find that she’d died peacefully in her sleep, the hurt was still there.
The first thing Faith had done when she’d found the skeleton was grab her cell phone and dial her mom’s number. Molly hadn’t just been Faith’s mother, she’d also been her best friend.
Faith had never cared that she didn’t have a father, that he hadn’t wanted her enough to stay. Molly had loved her enough that it didn’t matter.
She swallowed, her eyes filling with tears. “Oh, Mom. If only you could be here,” she whispered into the darkness.
Faith hastily swiped her cheeks with the back of her left hand. She sniffed and returned to her work. Little by little, she uncovered the rest of the jawbone.
She ran her hand lovingly over the head that was easily five feet long. The snout wasn’t rounded, but narrow. And the teeth were incredibly long and sharp, particularly the canines.
As intriguing as the four horns—extending from the back of the head like fingers—were, it was the two sets of ridges along its nose that she found most interesting.
She placed her hand between the two rows and spread her fingers but couldn’t quite reach either side. If the head were that large, just how big was the rest of the dragon?
“Dr. Reynolds,” Tamir said as he squatted down beside her.
She jumped, startled by her assistant. Faith turned her head and smiled. He’d just returned from a visit with his family in Israel.
With his thick black hair pulled back in a man-bun and his muscular body, every woman on the dig lusted after Tamir. Everyone woman that is, except her.
To her, Tamir would always be the gangly, awkward young man who was eager to learn from anyone.
“What is it?” she asked, rolling onto her side to better see him.
Tamir’s dark eyes quickly looked away. “Another news crew arrived.”
“Send them away,” she said with a shrug.
She sat up. “Then just ignore them. They’ll go away like the others.”
“I don’t think so.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” she urged as she got to her feet.
Tamir ran a hand down his face. “I found two men trying to get into the cave. Fair is small, Faith. Only seventy people live here, and the authorities aren’t prepared for any of this.”
That’s when it hit her. “You think those men were going to hurt me?”
“It’s certainly a possibility. There was something … odd … about them.” He gave a shake of his head. “I can’t explain what, but I sensed evil.”
“Did you call the police?”
At this, Tamir looked away. “No.”
“I wanted to.” He cleared his throat. “Then I couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t?” Now she was concerned. This was very unlike him. Had someone threatened him? “Did they try to hurt you?”
Now Tamir wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Just the opposite.”
“They came on to you?” she asked with a grin. It wasn’t the first time a man had taken an interest in him, nor did she suspect it would be the last.
She laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “What’s the big deal?”
“I … I wanted them.”
Them. Not him. Them. Since Tamir’s interests ran exclusively to women, this came as a shock. And explained why he was so upset.
“Where did they go?” she pressed.
He shrugged and fisted one of his hands. “They walked away. Once they were gone, I felt like myself again.”
She tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “We can’t help desire. Or fight it.”
“You don’t understand,” he insisted, his gaze swinging to her. “I wanted them. I would’ve done anything to have them, but even during all of that, I felt their evil. I think the locals are right. I think there is magic on this island.”
If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was people saying something was magic simply because they were either too lazy or too ignorant to find a scientific explanation.
“It wasn’t magic,” she stated. “How long ago did this happen?”
“Thirty minutes or so.”
She frowned, a thread of anger running through her. “And you’re just now telling me?”
“I took a little break.”
Which was Tamir’s code for going off and shagging some girl. Since he was still visibly upset over the desires of his body, she didn’t say anything else about the matter.
“Also, Dr. Reid called.”
Faith hated that she’d missed Ronnie’s call. They had become fast friends when they were paired up on a dig together—the first for both.
“Did she say what she wanted?” Faith asked.
“She’s sending someone to help us.”
At this, Faith raised her brows. “We have plenty of volunteers. Besides, you know I’m particular about who I let near my finds.”
“Well, I might’ve told Ronnie some of the issues we’ve been having.”
“With the reporters?” she asked, confused. “It’s not really an issue.”
“Actually, it is. You’re always in here digging. You don’t understand what’s going on out there.”
“Perhaps you’d better start telling me what’s really going on.”
He glanced at the dragon head. “There are some fanatics out there. Some who will do anything to see this skeleton. And … well, frankly, there are others who want to see it destroyed.”
“All this over a fossil?” she asked in surprise.
“You’re claiming it’s a dragon.”
She shot him a look. “I didn’t claim anything. I’ve not told anyone about this dig except for Ronnie. It was one or more of the volunteers who let that tidbit leak.”
“Then stop all of it by saying it’s a dinosaur.”
“I won’t lie.” She pointed to the head. “Does that look like any dinosaur you’ve seen?”
“New ones are still being discovered.”
“So you don’t think this is a dragon?”
He blew out a frustrated breath as his expression grew pinched and filled with tension “Faith, you know I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth, and if you say it’s a dragon, then I believe it is.”
His words were meant as consolation, but he had no idea just how deeply they cut. The one person she expected to have her back was Tamir.
“We’re lucky the cave is difficult to get to,” he continued, unaware of her hurt.
“That will keep them out, and allow me to finish my work.” She turned on to her stomach and returned to brushing away the dirt to reveal the neck bones.
Tamir remained a moment longer, then he got to his feet and walked away. When she was alone once more, she rested her forehead on her hands.
The people she could deal with. There were crazies everywhere. It didn’t matter if she was digging up a dragon, a dinosaur, or another King Tut. Some believed things were better left buried.
As for Tamir not believing that what she’d found was a dragon … That stung, but she was made of tougher stock. She knew what she had, and that’s all that mattered.
The cave was difficult to get to. A person couldn’t just walk into it. It took climbing skills in order to reach it. At first, she’d been upset by how hard it was to get to the entrance, but now, she was quite happy about it.
The crazies would be kept at bay until it was time to take the bones from the cave. But that was a worry for another day. There was no sense in wasting energy on that when she had other work to do.
Faith lifted her head and looked up at the bones once more. Why couldn’t others notice what she saw? Was she seeing something that wasn’t there because of all the dragon stuff her mother had had?
No. She’d compared the teeth with every known animal—living and extinct—and had come up empty. Nothing matched. Then there were the horns, again no match. And the wings.
There were no known birds—ancient or otherwise—that corresponded with the size. And she hadn’t even uncovered the rest of the skeleton yet.
She touched the pocket of her windbreaker. One of the teeth was tucked away to run a carbon dating test. The longer she was near the bones, the surer she was that the dragon might be the oldest fossil ever found.
It was a theory, one that she was keeping to herself for the time being.
“You’ll reveal all your secrets soon enough,” she whispered to the bones.
Dmitri sat with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep as the plane bumped along. The turbulence was brutal and caused many of the other seven passengers to gasp and shriek during the flight.
The plane ride was only about thirty minutes, but to the young Scot sitting next to him mumbling prayers, it was a one-way trip that ended in death.
It was on the tip of Dmitri’s tongue to tell the man that he should’ve taken the ferry if he was so sure he would die in the plane, but he decided at the last minute to hold his tongue.
By the time the small aircraft landed, Dmitri seemed to be the only one who didn’t let out a relieved sigh. Then again, it was difficult to frighten an immortal.
He stepped off the plane with his leather bag in hand and glanced at the sky to give himself a moment to adjust to being on Fair Isle. The clouds were moving fast, the perfect cover for a dragon.
It would’ve been so much easier had he been able to fly here himself, but none of the Kings had flown during the day in … eons.
Ever since the video leak, Con had refused to even allow them their nightly flights on Dreagan. With the whole world’s eyes seemingly trained on their land, it was a smart move.
But the Kings were less than thrilled about it.
Dmitri opened the mental link shared by all dragons, but right before he told Con that he’d arrived, he remembered that he had to look and act human.
So, instead, he took out his mobile phone and shot Con a text. It was all he could do not to roll his eyes. Con’s reply was:
That wasn’t so hard, now was it?
Bite me, he returned.
Putting the phone away, Dmitri finally looked around. In that second, he felt the strong connection to the land that touched his very soul. There was a reason it had been several thousand years since he’d last set foot on Fair.
Despite the passing of time, the land still smelled the same. Sea, salt, and wind. He closed his eyes, and was immediately transported back in time to when the isle had been his home. His dominion.
Of all the Shetland Islands, his family had chosen Fair to rule their dragons.
The waters had been deep and plentiful, the cliffs high and steep. It had been a wonderful playground for a young dragon to learn and grow.
While he had many wonderful memories of his time on Fair, it was the horrific ones that ruined it all.
“I should’ve never come,” grumbled the young Scot as he walked past.
Dmitri opened his eyes and looked at the human. How very right he was. None of them should’ve come. But they had. Their arrival had changed everything.
The planet had been the dragons’, but now, the humans had claimed it. He felt like an outsider on the very world he’d been born on. Sadly, that wasn’t going to change anytime soon.
He walked into the building that made up the airport on the isle and spotted a young woman. “Excuse me,” he said as he walked up to the counter. “I’m looking to get to the dig site on the west coast.”
“Aye. Another one,” she said with a nod of her tight red curls that fell just past her shoulders.
He glanced at the other passengers who were making their way to vehicles after meeting up with friends or relatives. “Another one? Have there been many?”
“Oh, aye. I can have Fergus take you. Fergus!” she shouted.
A tall, barrel-chested man with wild, dirty blond hair ambled in. He looked Dmitri up and down. “Another one?”
“Another one,” Dmitri confirmed.
Fergus motioned with his meaty hand. “Follow me.”
A part of Dmitri wanted to walk the isle. It was only three miles long, and a little over a mile wide. But he needed time to look around the dig site before he announced himself, so the walk would have to wait.
Thankfully, Fergus wasn’t a talker. On the drive, Dmitri rolled down the window and took in the subtle changes that had occurred since he’d last seen his home.
There weren’t many occupants on Fair Isle. When it had been his home, there had been no humans. It felt odd to see so many now. Houses stood against the constant wind, while boats drifted around the isle.
Everywhere he looked, there were mortals. A constant reminder of all he’d lost. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel anger, but it was the misery of seeing his home turned into something else that fueled the fires of his rage.
In short order, Fergus pulled up to the site and simply looked at him. Dmitri hid a smile and gave the big man a nod of thanks before climbing out of the old Range Rover.
As he stood looking out over the barren scenery with white houses dotting the countryside, the sound of the SUV’s engine faded as Fergus drove away.
Dmitri wished Con would’ve sent someone else. It was too hard returning—reliving the memories, knowing nothing was going to change.
Then again, that’s exactly why Con had sent him. Few of the other Kings ever got to revisit their homes. How lucky they were. They didn’t have to witness how the mortals had destroyed everything the dragons had once loved and cherished.
The force of the sudden fury that swelled within him took his breath away. If anyone had asked him even yesterday, he’d have said he didn’t hate the humans.
Yet, the truth lay before him now. He blamed them for taking his home. Because of the mortals, the life of every dragon had been altered forever.
He didn’t know where his family was. All he could hope for was that they were happy and healthy. Perhaps one day he might see them again. However, the reality was that that would probably never happen.
And how very sad that made him.
He drew in a breath, reining in his resentment, and turned around. The first thing he saw was the sea. It lay deep and blue and beautiful before him, expanding endlessly from horizon to horizon. How many times had he swum those waters, diving deep?
The wind buffeted him, urging him closer to the edge of the cliff. He heard the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks long before he saw them.
He couldn’t help but smile when he spotted various birds riding the currents, diving into the sea for food, or nesting along the cliffs. Their calls mixing with the sounds of the sea calmed him, removing his anger—or, at least, lessening it. A glance down showed a pod of dolphins frolicking not far from shore.
Except it wasn’t. Not anymore. Dreagan had been his home for countless centuries. Yet … Fair still pulled at him. It was his first home, the place where he’d been with his family.
The place where he’d been born, where he’d learned and loved. The place where he’d become King of the Whites.
The place where he’d lost it all.
“Can I help you?” asked a male voice.
Dmitri turned around, trying to place the odd accent. He stared into the dark eyes of a man in his late twenties. His skin was pale and his hair black.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the man said. “But we need to ask everyone not working the dig to leave.”
Dmitri gave a nod, recognizing the accent as Israeli. “I am working the site.”
A black brow lifted. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“Because I just arrived. The name is Dmitri.”
A smile broke out on the man’s face. “Ah. Yes! Dr. Reid said you’d arrive today. My name is Tamir.”
Tamir held out his hand. When Dmitri took it, the young man eagerly shook his. He immediately noticed the calluses on Tamir’s hand, proving that the mortal didn’t mind getting dirty if needed.
“Come,” Tamir said, motioning with his hand for Dmitri to follow. “Let me show you around.”
Dmitri shifted his bag to his other hand and followed Tamir down a path that took them to a set of tents. The wind howled, pushing and pulling the fabric that was strung as tight as a drum.
Tamir looked over his shoulder and said, “We don’t normally remain here overnight. The main tent is used to document the cave and collect any evidence Dr. Reynolds finds. But I always have tents set up in case of a storm or if we work late and decide to stay.”
“You’ve a place in the village?”
Tamir nodded his black-haired head. “That we do. The food is hot and good, and it’s nice to get a shower. That isn’t always possible on these digs, you know.”
Dmitri had no idea, but then again, he never minded sleeping beneath the stars—whether he was in human or dragon form.
Tamir reached a tent on the very end and tucked a strand of his hair that had come loose from his man-bun behind his ear. “I just had this put up for you. I already stopped two men trying to get to the cave this morning. You’ll be a welcome addition to the group.”
After ducking inside, Dmitri set his bag on the cot. Then he walked back outside and stood looking at all the people around the site.
Tied to a boulder were several ropes that disappeared over the side of the cliff. As he stared, a man climbed up the rope and set a bucket on the ground. A woman retrieved said bucket, and the man scrambled back down the rope.
“You aren’t much of a talker, are you?” Tamir asked.
He glanced at the young man. “No’ really.”
“You’ll get along great with Dr. Reynolds then.”
“Tell me about Reynolds.”
Tamir shrugged and waved a hand at the dig site. “This tells you everything there is to know about her.”
Her. Dmitri should’ve known Ronnie’s friend was most likely female. He’d hoped for a male. At least then he might be able to talk some sense into him. With a female … well, they tended to be more pigheaded.
“Why don’t I bring you down to the cave?” Tamir offered.
It was on the tip of Dmitri’s tongue to refuse. He didn’t want to go into the caves he’d explored as a youngling. Nor did he want to see the skeleton. But he was there for exactly that. There was no walking away from this.
Every Dragon King was counting on him.
And Dmitri wouldn’t let them down.
“Follow me,” Tamir said enthusiastically.
He trailed after Tamir to the boulder where they got into harnesses. Dmitri could climb down it without any such aid, but he was trying to appear mortal.
When Tamir handed him the helmet, he immediately bristled. But he took it anyway. All he could be thankful for was that no other King was around to see as he snapped it beneath his chin.
He could only imagine what jokes Rhys and Kiril would make up. Thankfully, Dimitri was saved from being the butt of such jests.
With Tamir beside him, they made their way down the sheer cliff. Halfway to the cave, Dmitri stopped, his gaze locked on a set of claw marks.
They were faded, barely visible to the human eye. But a dragon would recognize them. His heart hurt as he touched the marks with his fingers.
“Did you find something?” Tamir asked.
He gave a shake of his head and proceeded down the cliff. All around him were signs that dragons used to inhabit the isle. For whatever reason, the mortals didn’t—or couldn’t—see them.
How then did Dr. Reynolds know where to look for the skeleton?
And how in the world had he missed destroying it?
It hadn’t been enough to send the dragons away. After, every King had the duty of finding their dead and removing any trace of their existence.
Dmitri dropped onto a ledge and unhooked the harness from the rope. Then he removed his helmet. After, he simply stood, looking into the large opening of the cave.
The team had set up generators to power lights that flooded the darkness. He didn’t need the light. But it wasn’t because his dragon eyes allowed him to see in the dark, even in human form.
No, Dmitri could walk this cave blind. Because he knew every inch of it—and every other cave on the isle.
“Exciting, isn’t it?” Tamir said with a wide smile showing even, white teeth.
All Dmitri could do was nod. Words would be too difficult with the swell of emotion flooding him—excitement to be home, hatred for having to leave to begin with, and guilt for all that he’d lost.
He looked down at his feet. Two steps would put him inside the cave.
Once inside, who would he find when he saw the bones of his kindred? In the chaos of battle and getting all the dragons across the dragon bridge, he’d barely had time to say farewell to his family.
Tamir was talking, but he didn’t hear him. Somehow, his feet had moved of their own accord, and he entered the cave. With every step, he saw evidence of dragons.
Claw marks and tail marks.
He knew where the skeleton would be, though he allowed Tamir to lead him all the way to the very back of the cave. At least the humans believed it ended there. In fact, there was a hidden opening to the right a hundred yards closer to the entrance.
Dmitri stopped at the sight of the bones. He didn’t care about the people around him. His attention was focused on the remains of the dragon that had been exposed.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement and heard Tamir speak. It was by sheer will alone that he pulled his gaze from the dragon and looked down at the figure kneeling by the skeleton.
A woman turned, her sherry colored eyes locking with his. “Who are you?” she asked in a drawl he immediately recognized as Texan.
“The man who is going to keep you safe,” he replied.
copyright © 2017 by Donna Grant