Dragon shifter Caleb’s only hope of breaking his family’s devastating bad luck curse is an ancient, badly burned parchment. The incredibly useful surviving directions are as follows:
1. Find —– ome of the Aurum Lacu———
2. Prep——— caref———-
3. BEWARE! If not —————- DEATH ————— HORROR BEYOND IMAGINING
That, and a clue leading him to a small town called Girdwood Springs, are all he has to go on.
What he hadn’t counted on finding in his search was a beautiful, determined woman… who just happens to be his fated mate. And who has just busted him committing what might technically be considered trespassing.
What else could possibly go wrong?
With a property developer seeking to raze her beloved forest to the ground, ranger Kira has enough on her plate already. And now, to top it all off, some smoking hot guy with zero camping knowledge and an inability to read signs saying DO NOT ENTER has apparently decided to go on a strange scavenger hunt in her forest.
Obviously, it’s in her best interest that she personally escorts this oddly charming weirdo around the area. Helps him pitch a tent. Shares a cup of coffee with him. Confides her fears about the forest’s future to him. Falls head over heels, in more ways than one.
Together, with a little skill and a lot of courage and some fated mate destiny, maybe they can turn their luck around.
Caleb is traveling to Girdwood Springs to search for the cure for his cursed family. Someone each generation has manifested the curse and he is the one in his. Cursed centuries ago, with bad luck and now no one knows why or has the ability to reverse it. All he has is a burned parchment that he needs to interpret correctly. There’s a huge warning sort of spelled out on the parchment.
He figures he’s looking for some sort of golden artifact in the Girdwood Springs Forest, since Aurum means gold in Latin. Of course, his car breaks down and with no cell phone service he walks up the mountain to the town.
Girdwood Springs Forest has its own issues with the protective trust expiring and Kira Dearborn, who is a ranger there, is feeling the pressure with Tongle & Heit Property Developments’ people tromping through like they already own it. The thing is the trust was supposed to be for perpetuity but somehow the will and paperwork stating that has gone missing.
Kira starts her workday thinking about everything that is happening, and her run ins with the head honcho of Tongle & Heit she starts checking trails, beginning with one already closed. It’s here she runs into Caleb, and she thinks he’s working for Tongle & Heit.
This is a favorite scene.
The forest here truly was beautiful – the deep green cedars and the fall leaves of the smaller trees, the bright, clear blue sky, the mountains rising in the distance. Caleb had been a city dragon all his life, but he was starting to see why so many dragons still chose to stay in their ancestral homes in the mountains, refusing to join the modern world. The natural beauty of places like this simply couldn’t be denied.
I’d love to shift and unfurl my wings in a place like this, Caleb thought. He’d been tempted to do something like that this morning, even though he knew it wasn’t really possible so close to a human town. One hiker he hadn’t noticed, and bam – he’d be all over every conspiracy theory website in the country. Which wasn’t a huge problem, as such, since most humans would just assume it was a hoax. But it was so embarrassing – having to go back home and look like the latest idiot who hadn’t been careful enough while shifting. It had happened to his cousin Roland once, and he hadn’t lived it down for years.
Interestingly enough, as he spoke of the beauty of the place, Caleb noticed the woman’s face softening. He could tell by her uniform that she was a park ranger, so he supposed it made sense that she’d love this place – and he really couldn’t fault her for yelling at him, she’d only been doing her job.
“It is beautiful,” she said, her voice softer, before she bit her lip, residual suspicion crossing her face. “And… you’re really not from Tongle & Heit Developments?”
“Huh. No, I can definitely say I’m not,” Caleb said, shaking his head. Hearing those names was something he definitely hadn’t expected. Tongle & Heit were one of the largest dragon-owned corporations in the world, created when two already powerful dragon clans had merged.
They were known to be rapacious and ruthless – but then, that was simply their dragon natures. Getting between a dragon and something it wanted for its hoard was always a bad idea, and not all dragons had seen a reason to temper those instincts, even if they otherwise had joined the modern world of humans.
But why on earth have Tongle & Heit Developments been sniffing around here, of all places? Caleb wondered.
“But you know that name,” the woman said. “So you know what they’re up to.”
Caleb shook his head. “I’m sorry, I really don’t – I’m familiar with the company name, though. Who isn’t?”
“Well, that’s true,” the woman said, a little grudgingly. “They’re a big company.”
Ask her for her name, Caleb’s dragon hissed suddenly. She is our mate, and we are standing here making small talk! This is not the dragon way!
Caleb shushed it, but, he realized, he really did want to know her name. The tag on her uniform shirt read Dearborn – and Caleb quickly had to dart his eyes away, in case he got caught looking at the full, luscious swell of her breast beneath it.
“Uh, sorry, my name’s Caleb Tanner,” he blurted out. “What’s yours?”
Well, now Ms. Dearborn was looking at him a little strangely again. But he supposed it wasn’t strictly necessary for him to know her given name – not to mention it was a kind of abrupt change of topic.
“It’s Kira Dearborn,” she said, a little slowly, still looking at him with narrowed eyes. “Or Ranger Dearborn, since I’m at work. And look, as much as I appreciate your apology, you really shouldn’t be here right now. It’s not safe, between the rains and the… the increased foot traffic recently. So I’ll have to ask you to come back with me now, and I’ll try to recommend a different track so you can still enjoy your hike.”
Kira – or Ranger Dearborn, if she preferred – began to turn away, leading him back up the trail. Caleb wondered if he should try to chat to her a bit to make up for his earlier bad impression – perhaps if he made himself agreeable now, she’d change his opinion of him as a gatecrashing boor.
Plus, I’m really not in either the Tongle or the Heit clans. Perhaps she’s had some trouble with them? Does she know about dragons and other shifters after all?
Her having heard of Tongle & Heit Developments didn’t tell him much, though – it operated in the open, and its only secret was that it was dragon-owned. But the powerful Dragon Council had set down rules for dragons who wanted to run businesses in the human world, and Rule Number One was that they had to abide by human laws. Some dragons didn’t like that – but if they didn’t respect the laws that humans had set down, then the Dragon Council was always willing to make sure its own laws were enforced. Harshly, if necessary.
“Have you had some issue with that development company?” Caleb asked, as together they made their way back up the twisting trail. Kira seemed very sure-footed as she walked – perhaps her slip had just been a little bad luck. The kind of thing he’d usually be afflicted by. Perhaps he should have been thanking his lucky stars he hadn’t slipped over in front of her, and ended up in her arms. Not that he would have been complaining about that exactly, but it probably would have only compounded her first impression that he was… well, kind of an idiot.
Kira glanced over her shoulder at him. “Yeah, you could say that – they want to buy up all this forested land and bulldoze it, and turn it into a mall complex and holiday resort. They’ve been tramping up and down the mountain for weeks, ruining the trails and stomping all over the place as if they already own it. As you can imagine, I’m not a huge fan of theirs.”
“No, I can see why you might not be,” Caleb agreed, looking around the forest again. The thought of so much beauty being lost made his heart ache.
There is nothing those villains will not seek to spoil, his dragon said, smoke rising from its nostrils. You know it’s true. We should seek them out, and challenge them on our mate’s behalf. Show her how a dragon defends what belongs to its mate.
Caleb shook his head, pushing the dragon’s thoughts down. Fighting a dragon duel was out of the question for any number of reasons – not least because with his luck, he’d end up crashing into a mountainside and losing the fight before it even began.
“But I can tell you now, I definitely don’t have anything to do with them. I didn’t even know they had plans out here,” Caleb continued, once he’d shushed his dragon into submission. “Let’s just say I’m not that surprised, though.”
“The land is protected – for now,” Kira said, as they crested a small rise, and the cabin Caleb had seen on his way in came into view. “But at the end of the month that’ll all be over. The land is supposed to be willed to the township in trust for at least ninety-nine years, but the will that places it in trust has gone missing. And without that, the land is up for grabs.”
Caleb could hear the pain throbbing in her voice, and he heard an answering pain growing in his own chest. But then, that was part and parcel of the bond – her pain was his pain.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, meaning it. “Is there any chance anyone can do anything? The will might not be able to be found, but if someone else buys the land –”
“Who has deeper pockets than a massive property development company?” Kira asked, turning back to him with a shrug. Despite her defeated words, Caleb could see burning anger in her beautiful hazel eyes. “That’s what decides things, right? Whoever has the most money. And I don’t think anyone’s going to come along who’d be willing to try to outbid Tongle & Heit, even if they could.”
Caleb grimaced. As much as he wanted to argue with Kira, he knew there was truth in what she was saying. Anything he could say would just sound like a platitude – well, it would be a platitude.
We must not give up when our mate requires our services. If we do not even attempt to help her, then we have no right to think ourselves worthy of her, his dragon snarled. There must be a way.
Swallowing, Caleb wanted to believe it was right. But while his family wasn’t exactly poor, there was no way he could ask them for that kind of money. They simply didn’t have it. And with his luck… well, he was more likely to accidentally burn the forest down than save it.
“Anyway, I’m sorry about all that – we do have a fundraiser for a legal effort to challenge the sale of the land, if you’re interested in donating,” Kira continued. “So we’re not completely powerless. We can at least tie them up for a little while longer.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” Caleb said. “Any time you can keep them at bay is useful, right? If it gives you more time to find that will.”
Kira nodded. “Yeah. But it might be just wishful thinking. The last place anyone saw that will was in a small archive building by the town hall. Which burned down a couple of years ago.”
Caleb blinked. That… sounded just a little suspicious to him. And to his dragon as well, if the way it suddenly raised its head and narrowed its glowing eyes was anything to go by.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Caleb asked it, as he followed Kira to the cabin.
It sounds to me as if those scoundrels have had their eye on this land for some time, his dragon replied.
The more Caleb heard, the more determined he became to help Kira out. But before he did that, he knew he had to get his curse lifted. He’d just be more hindrance than help right now.
Chant, Zoe. Dragons and Cupcakes. Kindle Locations (281-349). Kindle Edition.
So now instead of just one goal, Caleb has two. First break the curse then find the proof to stop Tongle & Heit.
A few incidents in and Caleb knows he has to divulge everything to Kira including the fact he’s a dragon. When he shows her what’s left of the directions to reverse the curse, she knows exactly what he’s looking for and where to find it. He will also have to enlist the help of Silvie and Gale.
Fun, adventurous, intriguing and a dragon with a one track mind, Mate!