A Dragon Spirit Novel: Book 1
Two souls. One Body. Sharing is not an option...
Terrible news has turned Anaea Salis’s life upside down. There’s nothing she can do to make it right, and the stranger who stops to talk to her can’t help. But when that stranger, Hunter, an ancient dragon spirit, is viciously attacked and forced to transfer his spirit into her body, Anaea’s life takes a new terrifying twist.
Hunter should have known by now not to get involved with human affairs, but there was something about the woman that drew him to her, and he just couldn’t help himself. Trapped in her body all he wants is to get out, except whoever is trying to kill him is now after her.
Their only hope of survival… plunge into the deadly world of dragons.
Fire consumed him. It burned cold and blue from within, igniting bone and sinew into searing agony. He beat his wings, fighting to remain airborne, to escape the sorcerer’s spell, but each muscle contraction spread it closer to his heart. The scales on his chest blackened and cracked, and the soft skin underneath peeled and burst, raining blood on the earth below. He roared, spitting fire from between his teeth and snorting smoke from his nostrils.
An updraft forced him higher into the sky. Minuscule thatched roofs dotted the landscape, like game pieces scattered along a winding dirt road. A patchwork of fields stretched as far as the eye could see and only small forests, not nearly big enough for him to hide within, stood on the edges. His wings trembled. His whole body trembled, the fire blurring his vision. He couldn’t remain aloft for long, but every instinct he had screamed not to land so close to the humans.
And yet each movement, even the tiniest ones made in order to stay aloft, sent sharp agony straight to his heart.
More scales blackened, cracked, and peeled away. He strained ahead, stretching his snout forward as if that would make him fly faster. Each stroke burned, more unbearable than before. If he could just get away, maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be the next of his kin to die. The next to fall to human treachery. But that was just a desperate wish. The spell had been cast. Dark Egyptian magic cast by Greek sorcerers frantic to not let his kind become another weapon for the Roman army and nothing could stop it. No one could hide from it.
Sharp, sudden pain clutched his heart. He gasped, and with that inhalation, the spell entered his veins and consumed him. It burned brighter and hotter than even the core of a lava bath. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. All he could feel was pain. An all-consuming agony. He hurtled toward the earth, the wind biting the soft flesh exposed by his broken scales.
With the last of his strength, he roared the words his goddess had sacrificed her entire being to give to her children and cast the only counterspell he knew.
Anaea climbed over the railing of the Queen Street Bridge and watched the streetlights’ flickering reflection on the sluggish water and ice of the Allegheny River. She hadn’t stood on this side of the railing since childhood. Then, it had been summer. Her heart had pounded with exhilaration, and her friends, already swimming in the water below, cheered her on.
Now, her heart still pounded, but no one swam below. Now the river’s cold embrace called to her, promising to wrap around her and pull her down until she was numb and sleepy.
She sucked in a shaky breath, not believing what she was thinking.
Jumping would end it. End the fight, end the isolation, end the slow wasting loss of self and life.
She hadn’t thought this was how she’d die. Pills had seemed more likely. Heck, she had hoped she could win her fight and die of old age in some retirement home, not at thirty-three when her life was just getting started. But her doctor had said it: metastasized.
And now she was here.
She hadn’t even thought about it, just fled from his office and aimlessly driven around and around. The sun had set, but no clarity had come with nightfall, nor hours after. All she knew was she didn’t want to waste away, fading into death in some hospital bed. She had fought so hard and had still lost. Lost her job, lost her right breast, lost her husband — and good riddance to the cheating bastard — and now she would lose her life. It wasn’t fair. And while she knew life was like that, she had hoped so desperately for something better. But now the only thing left under her control was how.
Ice lined the river’s edge, but its heart still flowed, even in mid-January. If she jumped, her winter coat would drag her down, the cold would dull her senses, and she would slip into that which she had feared the most.
Her gut churned at the thought. She wanted to scream and rant and cry but knew it would be all for nothing. It wouldn’t make her feel better. It wouldn’t make her stop trembling.
She closed her eyes, imagining the summer sun warming her face, the laughter of her friends. But the winter’s evening wind picked up, biting her cheeks and nose. That little girl was gone, her friends grown up and moved, the courage for summertime swimming frozen by a loveless marriage and consumed by cancer.
In a way, it was a relief. Good or bad, her battle was done. Finally. And if she kept telling herself that, maybe she wouldn’t lose her nerve.
Really. There was no more left to do. She supposed she should call Mark, her best friend — ex-best friend — and say goodbye. But her marriage had isolated her, alienated her even from him, and she didn’t know if he wanted to talk to her anymore.
Her heart leapt, pounding furiously. This close to midnight the bridge should have been deserted.
The voice was firm and masculine.
Oh, great. A good Samaritan. Just what she needed. Why did this have to be more difficult that it already was? She should jump, avoid the conversation, save herself the trouble, but she couldn’t make herself let go of the railing. It wasn’t a sense of self-preservation, she was sure of that. It was something else, perhaps the tone of his voice.
“You know, whatever it is, I’m sure it won’t seem so bad in the morning.”
She snorted. Nope. She’d still be dying.
“Listen, I’m sure you mean well…” She leaned back and glanced at him. He stood a few feet away, one side of him illuminated by his car’s headlights, looking every bit like his voice, firm and masculine. He wore a double-breasted coat cut to mid-calf that accentuated a broad chest and narrow hips. His face was square with high cheekbones and dark eyes. A brush-cut of dark hair finished off the look. The overall impression was deliciously handsome, and if it were a different day or she a different person, she might have considered flirting with him.
Maybe she should. She wasn’t dead yet. But that was just a fantasy. No one would be attracted to her bald head and sunken eyes and cheeks. Her illness couldn’t be hidden.
He stepped toward her, crossing the headlight beam until it completely backlit him, casting his face in shadow.
“Why don’t you just climb back over the railing?” His voice held a tenderness she hadn’t expected from someone who looked so… well, so masculine. It was just fate being cruel that made them meet under such circumstances, and that, really, was neither here nor there.
“And once I’m safe on the bridge, then what?”
Ah, he didn’t want to waste extra time on her. Typical. He wanted to be the hero then rush away. He’d run even faster, if only he knew…
What the heck was she waiting for anyway? This stranger didn’t know her well enough to care, and even if he did, there was nothing he could do for her. No miracle cure for cancer expected in the next three months.
She let go of the railing, spread her arms, and leaned forward. This was it. She didn’t want to do it, and yet she didn’t want a slow death, either.
From the corner of her eye, she glimpsed a flash of movement, then something jerked her back. Her collar dug painfully into her throat, and she struggled to breathe. Shit. He’d grabbed her coat.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded.
She twisted in his grip, but he held tight. “What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re crazy.”
“Then let me go.”
God. She couldn’t even kill herself in peace. She fumbled with the buttons on her coat, her fingers numb from holding the metal railing.
“I will not justify myself to you.” He had no right to tell her what to do. Her fingers weren’t working, were too slow. Grabbing the edges of her coat, she yanked, hard, popping the buttons off. She twisted to face him, using his grip on the coat to shrug out of it.
He dropped the coat into the river and seized the front of her sweater. She clawed at him and he pulled her close, wrapping an arm around her back. She twisted, squirmed, but her last bout of chemo had left her weak, and the railing between them made it difficult to fight back.
Sudden, sharp pain bit into her shoulder. She gasped and froze. Samaritan’s eyes hardened, his mouth a tight line. Behind him stood a blond woman, whose smile sent a shiver down Anaea’s spine. A blade protruded from the man’s chest. The weapon had gone right through him and cut into Anaea’s arm. The blade had—
Oh God! That woman had stabbed him. Right here on the bridge. Anaea couldn’t make her mind work beyond that. She had no idea where this new stranger had come from. She hadn’t noticed the woman’s approach, but then she hadn’t been paying attention to the road, only to her thwarted desire to jump off the bridge.
The woman leaned against the man, pinning him to the railing. “Give me the medallion.”
Samaritan shook his head. His eyes were fierce, dark.
“You’re so predictable.” The woman jerked the blade from his body.
Samaritan coughed a mist of blood into Anaea’s face, making her eyes sting. Through her tears, like a slow-motion scene in a horror movie, she watched the woman raise her sword to swing at the man’s head. A sword. An actual, honest-to-goodness, medieval weapon. What kind of trouble was this man in?
He tensed and his grip on her sweater tightened. Something flickered in his dark eyes, a decision, but she couldn’t fathom what. With a ragged breath, his face contorted in pain and he threw himself over the metal barrier, his weight slamming into her. The railing tore from her grip and they tumbled off the bridge.
For a heartbeat, Anaea was weightless, her mind unable to focus on anything but the woman standing on the bridge. Her expression was stunned, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. The headlights from the man’s car glinted off the sword blade and blood ran down its length onto her hand. The man’s blood. Anaea’s blood. And now they were falling.
Her heart pounded hard, and the world leapt back into real time. She drew breath to scream and they hit the water. The air burst from Anaea’s lungs. Water whooshed around her, cold and stinging. She couldn’t see, couldn’t feel, couldn’t breathe. Her brain screamed at her to surface, but if she let go, relaxed, everything would be over. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted? To end her struggle and finally beat the cancer?
Her Good Samaritan appeared inches from her face, water billowing his coat around him, his eyes peering into hers. Good God, he was still alive.
He clutched at her arm and pressed something hard and round into her palm, his expression pleading, desperate. Then his demeanor changed, hardened. He jerked her toward him and smashed his lips against hers.
What the hell was he doing? She struggled against him, but he grabbed the back of her head and thrust his tongue into her mouth, forcing it open. A ferocious heat raced down her throat, pouring across her chest and deep into her gut.
The heat grew, melting away the bite of the freezing water until fire radiated from every pore. An inferno rushed through her veins, raced into every organ, muscle, and bone. Expanding, burning, until she felt she’d burst or burn up or both.
She threw her head back and screamed. Water flooded her mouth and white light shot out.