The memories faded yet again. I flexed my fingers and resisted the urge to scream.
“That’s the second time you’ve used past tense,” he said softly. “Why?”
I briefly closed my eyes. God, I was an idiot. Yet now that he’d picked up on the mistake, part of me desperately wanted to blurt it all out—all the confusion, all the pain. I needed someone to talk to, someone to confide in. Someone to be what Egan had been to me.
Someone to end up dead just like him?
Besides, no matter how good it would feel to confide in someone—anyone—about the stuff I could remember and the stuff I couldn’t, the truth was that I didn’t know if I could even trust this man. His sudden appearance seemed a little too convenient. And hell, trusting a stranger was what had landed me in this whole mess in the first place. I’d lost eleven years of my life thanks to that mistake, and I wasn’t about to repeat it.
Maybe I was being a little paranoid, but without the benefit of memories, I was working blind, and the urge for caution was humming through my bloodstream.
I couldn’t end up caged again.
I wouldn’t end up caged again.
“Slip of the tongue,” I said, twisting around to look behind us rather than facing the stranger’s knowing gaze. “The cop car is getting closer.”
“I’ll worry about it when it’s ramming our tail.”
“Worrying about it before it sends us flying into the trees might be a better idea.”
“They won’t ram. They’re probably arranging a road-block up ahead as we speak.”
I studied him for a minute. “What do they really want you for?”
He raised an eyebrow. “What do they want you for? I doubt they’d be so intent on chasing someone over a pair of sweatpants.”
“Well, apparently you’re wrong.” I hesitated, but had to ask the question that came instantly to mind. “Have you killed anyone?”
“Have you?” he shot back.
“No,” I said, but somewhere in the back of my mind, screams mingled with the splatter of blood and white matter across stark white walls. No, I thought. No.
But the memories would not be denied.
It wasn’t Egan’s death. The responsibility for that might be mine—if only because he’d died trying to protect me—but he’d been shot through the heart, not the head. The death I remembered was another one entirely.
I had killed. I just didn’t know how or why. And that was a scary thought.
Maybe the stranger should be scared of me, and what I might do, not the other way around.
He didn’t say anything and I looked behind us again. The cop car was catching up. No matter how powerful the engine in this car sounded, we weren’t gaining any ground. I glanced back at the stranger and studied his profile. His lips were like Egan’s—same shape, same lush kissability. I pushed the annoying thought away, and said, “Do you have a name?”
“Trae Wilson.” He glanced at me. “And I find it hard to believe that Egan never talked about any of us.”
“The only thing he ever said was that the past no longer mattered.”
“So he never talked about his clique and what they did?”
Clique? What the hell did he mean by that? His family?
“No, he didn’t.” I hesitated, my fingers clenching around the cold metal ring as the decision I’d made to return the ring to its owner reverberated briefly through my thoughts. “What did they do?”
“What didn’t they do might be a better question.” His gaze went back to the rearview mirror.
I twisted around again. The cops were closing in fast. The big man who’d tracked me to the dam was talking into the radio, meaning that Trae was probably right in his earlier assessment that they were setting up a roadblock.
“If I was the betting kind,” I said, “I’d reckon they’re working up a trap.”
“Looks like it.”
He didn’t sound in the least concerned, and I studied his face for several seconds before letting my gaze slide downward. Was it his similarity to Egan that had the flick of attraction racing through my veins, or was something else going on?
“Have you actually got a plan to get us away from them, or are you just playing it by ear?”
“I always have a plan.” His gaze met mine, the sky-blue depths holding an intensity and an awareness that sent a warm shiver across my skin. “Always.”
I rubbed my arms and pulled my gaze from his. I didn’t understand what was going on, but for once my lack of memory had absolutely nothing to do with it. This man seemed to be working on a whole different level.
The car swept around another bend, revealing a long straight stretch of road. Two cars sat across the road at the far end, completely blocking it.
“Well, there’s our roadblock,” I said, pointing out the obvious. “What are you going to do?”
He didn’t answer, just wrenched the wheel side-ways. The car slewed around, the tires screaming in protest. The unexpected motion threw me against him, hard. And that odd awareness rose again, thick and strong, until all I could feel, all I wanted, was him.
And then the car was straightening again, and I was thrown back, this time against the door, hitting my head so hard against the glass it was amazing one or the other didn’t crack.
“Seat belt,” he snapped, voice little more than a heat-filled growl.
Or maybe it was my imagination, a leftover of the weird awareness our brief touch had caused.
I took a deep, shuddery breath and tried to concentrate on the matter at hand—escape.
We were currently gunning down a dirt track that barely looked wide enough to fit a motorcycle, let alone a car the size of this one. Tree branches and God knows what else slapped across the windshield and scraped the sides, but somehow we were getting through. But a look behind soon revealed the cop still followed.
“Have you any idea where we’re going?”
I looked at him. “I thought you said you always had a plan?”
“Maybe I lied. Maybe I just like winging it.”
Amusement played about his lush lips, and I frowned. “Is that meant to be comforting?”
“Sweetheart, it’s not meant to be anything more than the truth.”
“I’m not your sweetheart.”
His amusement bubbled, stretching his lips into a devilish grin that had my pulse doing happy little cartwheels.
Why? That was the question that still echoed through me, even as another part of me bathed in the sexiness of that grin. What the hell was happening to me? Why on earth was I reacting like this to a stranger? A man who might yet prove more dangerous than the cops chasing us?
“You may not be my sweetheart,” he said, blue eyes twinkling as he glanced my way, “but you could be, if you play your cards right.”
“In your dreams, my friend.”
“You don’t want to know about my dreams. Trust me on that.”
I pulled my gaze away from his, unsure whether the sudden erratic beat of my heart was excitement or fear. A whole lot of me was praying for fear, because that was the sensible reaction in this situation.
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of sensible around at the moment.
The car hit a bump and jumped into the air. I did the same, yelping as my head hit the roof before the car and I crashed back down.
“You really might want to put on your seat belt,” he said. “This is going to get a lot rougher before it’s over.”
I looked out the windshield, saw that we were approaching a forest where the trees were all big and sturdy and impassable looking, and quickly pulled on the belt, as advised. “I really need to know that you have a plan right now.”
Especially seeing that the gap between those trunks didn’t seem to be getting a whole lot wider. I braced myself against the car and resisted the urge to squeeze my eyes shut.
“I do have a plan,” he said, voice calm and still touched by warm amusement. “Which is not to say you’re going to like it.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He didn’t answer, and I couldn’t really be unhappy about that. The tiniest loss in concentration on his part could easily send us splattering across the trunks we were approaching way too fast.
One thing was becoming obvious, though. This man and sanity weren’t exactly chummy.
He was driving us full bore at a forest. My heart began beating so hard I swore it was going to leap out of my chest, and the sweat trickling down my spine almost became a torrent. Part of me wanted to grab the wheel, the hand brake, do something that might divert or stop the car. Truth was, though, we were going far too fast and were far too close now to prevent the inevitable. I gave in to the desire to squeeze my eyes shut and hoped like hell I lived long enough to beat the crap out of the crazy man behind the wheel.
Only the crash didn’t happen. Instead, the surrounding light grew dim, as if someone had suddenly swallowed the sun. I forced an eyelid open, saw the trunks and shadows and branches slashing past, impossibly close, and promptly shut it again.
Better not to know.
“How far behind us is that cop car?” he asked.
The sudden sound of his voice had me jumping. I sucked in a breath that did nothing to ease the pounding of my heart, then twisted around. Through the green shadows and trees, lights flashed. They didn’t seem to be going as fast as us, because they were certainly a lot farther behind than they had been before we entered this forest. But then, I guess not everyone became a crazy person behind the wheel like Trae apparently did.
“They’d have to be a good ten or so car lengths behind.”
“It’ll have to be enough,” he muttered.
“Enough for what?” I asked, more than a little alarmed.
“Escape.” He glanced at me briefly. “What else would I be talking about?”
Who knew? With this man, it could have been anything.
I looked ahead. Though we were still surrounded by shadows and trees that zipped by at gut-wrenching speed, up ahead sunlight danced. It lifted my spirits a little, even though I suspected Trae’s surprises were not done with yet.
A point he proved by slamming a foot on the brake. I screamed as the car slewed sideways and shut my eyes, waiting for the inevitable crash. Which didn’t happen. The car came to a halt, rocking gently from side to side.
“Out,” Trae ordered. “Quickly.”
He flung his own door open, grabbed a backpack from the backseat, then ran around the front of the car.
I hadn’t moved. Fear—and disbelief—had me glued to the spot.
“Out, Destiny, unless you want to be caught by the cops.”
He grabbed my hand, half pulling, half assisting me out of the car.
“You’re a maniac,” I said, as he kept hold of my hand and forced me into a run.
“But I’m a free maniac, and I have every intention of remaining that way. Come on, faster.”
I obeyed. One good thing about having long legs and big feet was speed and surety of step.
We came out of the trees and into sunshine. Up ahead there was no land. Only ocean. Deep blue ocean, far, far down.
“What kind of escape plan is this?” I cried, trying to stop, trying to slow him down. To no avail. He ran on toward those cliffs regardless, pulling me with him. “You’ve managed to trap us, you idiot!”
He tossed me a grin that was all wildness and dangerous excitement. “You’re never trapped when you have wings, sweetheart.”
And suddenly a golden haze was sweeping across his body, and he was shifting, changing, growing. Becoming something more than just a man.
Becoming a beast with scales of molten gold and wings that swept me off my feet and out over the ocean.
Then I was in the ocean, and the sudden shock of cold water had my body shifting, changing, just as Trae’s had. Except he was the sun to my darkness—he was born to fire, and a brother to the wind. I was of the sea and the tides and the great ocean depths.
And suddenly the past was crowding close, filled with pain. Filled with bloodshed. Mine, Egan’s, and others’. It hurt, remembering. Hurt because there was so much I’d done, so much I’d yet to do. In so many different ways, I now realized, not remembering had been a blessing. A brief respite in the twisted bloody mess that my life had become.
But at least I knew who I was.
Knew what I was.
And most important of all, I knew what I had to do, and how many lives I had yet to save.
I swam to the wild surface of the sea, blowing water out of my snout as I looked around for Trae. He swooped low, powerful and beautiful against the brilliant blue of the skies, then flew on, heading down the coast.
I followed. I could have easily escaped had I wished to, because the sea was my home and my sanctuary, but even with my memories retrieved, there were answers I still needed.
Like why Egan might have called Trae to help us. He must have had a reason—a good reason. He wouldn’t have risked either of our lives otherwise.
But at least I knew now how he’d contacted Trae. Air dragons, like sea dragons, share a form of telepathy between loved ones. It is often restrained by distance—at least it is with sea dragons—but dire circumstances can sometimes shatter that restriction. And Egan getting shot could certainly be classed as a dire circumstance. I closed my eyes against the images that rose. I didn’t want to think about Egan just yet. Didn’t want to deal with the pain and the guilt.
Instead, I concentrated on the shoreline, wondering where we were going, wondering if Trae even knew.
Eventually the trees and wildness of the shore began to give way to houses. Trae dipped one wing low, turning lazily and heading toward the sand line. Then the golden haze swept across his form again, so that what strode onto the beach was human rather than beast. Only there was blood all over his back.
I shifted shape and followed. The magic that allowed us to change took care of the clothes we were wearing—although anything we were carrying as humans we would be carrying as dragons—but it didn’t actually keep them dry, so I was rather bedraggled by the time I joined him on the beach.
“Why are you bleeding?” I asked.
His eyebrows rose, as if surprised by the question. “I’m a draman.”
Like that was supposed to explain it all. “Which is?”
“Half human, half dragon.”
“And this is important because?”
“Because the magic that allows dragons to change is muted in we draman, and when the wings tear out of our flesh, we bleed.”
“Does it hurt?”
He shrugged, which could have meant anything, then looked me up and down. “You look cold.”
“That would be because it’s fucking freezing standing here in wet clothes.” I might be a sea dragon, and I might be able to stand the coldest of waters even in my human skin, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. “That was a bit dangerous, wasn’t it? The cops could have easily seen you in dragon form.” Or anyone else who happened to be walking along the cliffs at the time.
He shrugged. “They may see me, but who’s actually going to believe them?”
“People may if there’s enough evidence to back up the sighting. And air dragons are big enough to be tracked by radar, you know.”