What happened to all the noise? Where were the jets and that loud helicopter? Casidhe sat with her knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped tightly around them, rocking. Daegan said he’d come back. He wouldn’t leave her alone on a mountain in Spain. An unbearable silence pressed on her chest. Had Daegan survived the satyrs chasing him? Had he shifted into his dragon? She stopped rocking. His dragon couldn’t survive jets and missiles. What was going on? She grabbed her head, trying to keep the pounding from cracking her skull open. How would she know what happened? She wouldn’t. Not if Daegan failed to return. She couldn’t sit in this dark hole forever. Daegan had been gone an hour, maybe more, since shoving her into their hidey hole. He promised to come back. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but it would soon. Maybe. She had no mobile phone or watch to use for obsessing over the time.
Her crappy watch had not survived all the near-death moments since returning to this mountain last night. How long should she wait? Bigger question was how would she return home to Ireland if Daegan couldn’t make it back? That would only happen if he died. She’d never depended upon anyone to keep her safe, but she believed in him. That dragon shifter had been at her side through the crazy turmoil of reaching the oracle and going after the grimoire inside a hidden realm. Even when satyrs chased them around that world, Daegan had found a way to escape. At some point, she started to believe he could do anything. Human military weapons could blow up even Superman. Shifting to his dragon would have been suicidal. A dragon couldn’t outfly a jet, right? He must have stayed in human form and … what? She closed her eyes and fought to calm her breathing. He had to be alive.
She didn’t know what satyrs could have done to Daegan, but she’d seen the results of a missile blowing up a towering building the size of twenty dragons. Daegan promised to return. Then he kissed her. When he’d held her, she remembered every fleck of silver in his eyes and how his gaze had locked on her as if he couldn’t tear himself away, then he’d broken something loose inside of her with his kiss. She’d avoided men for so long, always focused on her duties. One kiss and he ruptured the tidy life she’d convinced herself fulfilled her needs. Maybe mentally, but not emotionally. He’d made her feel and want. She couldn’t go back to being alone and living only to read another ancient journal. That man kissed with more passion in one frantic moment than she’d ever experienced.
She touched her lips and closed her eyes, reliving all the crazy emotions that swamped her at the touch of his lips. She’d been kissed before, or so she’d thought. Now, she lived for the moment to feel that again. He just needed to survive. Oh, shit. Maybe that kiss had been a message? Had Daegan been saying goodbye? Her heart thumped wildly. A fist of anxiety punched her chest, but she shook it off. Now was not the time to give up. Dried leaves crackled nearby. Casidhe sat up quickly, heart racing, and alert.
What was that? She whispered, “Daegan?” No answer. Where was he? She struggled to breathe and her heart beat as fast as a scared rabbit. She needed air. Now. Moving her hand around in the darkness, she checked on the backpack for the hundredth time. Still there. She crawled out on her knees, pushing low hanging branches away from her face, and paused to listen before emerging. Nothing. Just bleak silence. Not even a noisy jet or helicopter.
She had no one to call and no phone even if she did. Her heart fluttered fast as the wings of a tiny fly caught in a spider web. Not much of a family guardian now. She folded her arms over her chest and bit down hard, to keep from making the sound of a trapped animal. She stared at nothing in the thick darkness, fighting to keep her head together. The sounds of nature trickled in, soothing her until she could catch her breath and think calmly. Herrick did not raise a quitter. She’d fought to survive while a street kid on her own before he found her. Do the same thing now. Live one minute at a time, then the next minute, and so on.
She ran cold fingers over her face, wiping her damp eyelashes. Time to buck up and face today. Not tomorrow. Just right now in this moment. She drew in one cleansing breath after another. She could do this. A soft glow peeked above the horizon, gifting her with the ability to see the outline of trees. She pushed up to walk around and stretch her legs. Thick forest covered the steep slope sweeping away from her all the way down to terracotta roofs on bright white Mediterranean-style homes. Boats floated in a still cove beyond the picturesque village.
Too far away for anyone to see her at the top of this mountain. Time to think strategically and not about Daegan, who might be just fine. She should be figuring out how to save her own butt if he didn’t return. She wouldn’t be in this emotional state if she hadn’t kissed him. What kind of fool got so personal with her family’s enemy? Her. She’d been a fool. No, make that a super-sized fool. Actually, she’d behaved as a classic Casidhe-sized super fool once again around a man. Hadn’t she learned anything from her one relationship back in college? A wise woman would have shut down that kiss the second his lips touched hers, or shoved him away, or yelled at him for daring to touch her so intimately. Anything but standing there like a schoolgirl who had never been kissed.
A result of not having been kissed in a long time. Years. That didn’t excuse losing her mind. She’d been mesmerized like a mouse entranced by a stalking cat right before being gobbled up. Guilt tapped along her shoulders. What if Herrick had seen her kissing Daegan? That would have been ugly. She had to stop being a fool over a kiss. That’s all it was and unworthy of angst. Cool wind off the ocean rattled the leaves, drawing her to attention. She’d never been one to sit still when she had books to read.
Sounded like a great way to pass the time and not dwell on stupid actions she would not repeat. Turning toward her hiding place, she stilled at the sound of a jet cruising the coast. Not far behind, a large military-looking helicopter followed. She picked her way to a higher point where she could see the lights of more aircraft silhouetted against the brightening sky. The helicopter moved slowly, sweeping a beam of light over the water just beyond the cliffs. If Daegan had shifted into his dragon, she hoped that dragon was as badass as she’d been led to believe by those who taught her the Treoir history. She hoped he outmaneuvered all those jets and technology capable of tracking a fly. But if he didn’t return … nope, she would not go down that dark path again when she’d just climbed out of her head to a better place. Focus on the positive. They’d survived climbing a mountain, entering a tunnel where the ground fell away, and meeting with a spooky oracle.
All that before they figured out a majikal code for passage into a hidden world. Daegan now possessed the bronze box containing one-third of the grimoire pages. She had the scepter the oracle expected for payment. Mission accomplished, but at what cost? First Fenella vanished after walking out of the ancestral research centre. Now, Daegan had disappeared. She slapped her head. Stop dwelling on things out of her control. Once she’d fought her way back through the low-hanging branches again and scooted around until she had a place to sit against an uneven rock wall, she dug out her tiny LED light on a keychain. She stuck her hand in the backpack. Her fingers landed on the scepter, a twenty-two-inch staff from the French Crown Jewels of the seventh century.
She ran her finger over the enameled gold and pulled the staff halfway out to study the fat bird on top holding a man. Someone had stolen this from the tomb of King Dagobert I in Saint Denis Basilica. Not a human thief, as many suspected, but a supernatural. Leaning back, Casidhe pulled the scepter against her chest and held it close like a comfort stick. Could she wish on this like a majik wand and end up at home in Galway? That might be her best hope with only a driver’s license in hand, no passport, and a rare artifact in her possession. Not to mention her powerful sword. She might find someone in the coastal village below to help her, but she’d likely draw unwanted attention from law enforcement. The sounds of the woods drew tension from her shoulders. Her eyelids drooped. She shook her head and blinked fast.
What if the satyrs showed up and she didn’t hear them? What if Daegan returned? She had to be vigilant. A soft breeze rustled the leaves. But it felt so nice to relax for just a moment. Her eyelids weighed a pound each. They fluttered closed. She shook herself awake again and lost her balance, falling sideways against her backpack. Opening her eyes really wide, she tried to force herself to sit up. Her body didn’t cooperate. She blinked again, murmurring, “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t … close … eyes.
” Sleep pulled her under. “Where are you, Daegan? Casidhe called out in the dark fog surrounding her. She heard a noise like someone groaning and walked in that direction. The fog billowed and shifted away from her until she saw a shadowy figure. She couldn’t see his face, but the figure had broad shoulders like Daegan’s. She kept walking. The distance seemed endless. The figure turned to her. Light touched his face. It was Daegan.
His lips moved, but no words came out. Her heart beat with the power of a war drum. “What, Daegan? I can’t hear you.” She took a step closer, thrilled to see him, but concerned. Something wasn’t right. She tried to read his lips. Why couldn’t he talk? Panic pushed her to take another step. He struggled to move toward her as if his muscles weren’t obeying him. He was only ten feet away. Her body slowed down.
No. Keep going. She could barely move her legs. They felt wooden and heavy. Darkness clouded her vision of Daegan again. She panicked and slashed her hands in slow motion to clear away the dark fog. All at once, his face and body came into view again. She could feel him close to her and started forward. Power hit her, like an explosion had suddenly detonated in her stomach, rocking her. What was happening? “Where are you, Daegan?” she cried out.
He groaned a sound that stopped her. So much pain! Her stomach squeezed into a tight ball. She screamed, “Daegan!” He moved forward from the shadows. She reached for him. His face twisted in agony. His entire body glowed bright yellow, the sickening color of the monsters. She yanked back. He shoved his face right up to hers with wild eyes a brilliant yellow. The pupils elongated and fangs dropped into sight. He screamed, “Ruunnnn!”