Romania was just … freaking beautiful.
There was no other way to describe the snow-touched mountains and valleys that we traversed. Sure, in my twenty-two years I’d never been anywhere but Stratford, and now Romania, but I knew there was something special in this untouched land. It was ancient, nature at its most beautiful and brutal.
The private plane we’d used to escape had landed two hours ago, and waiting at the airport were two Porsche Cayennes, tires chained, gassed up and ready to go. Louis, the sorcerer, definitely had this little journey well planned. It had been easy to clear customs. Our brand new identities were barely even glanced at. And no alarms were raised when they entered the system, so Louis or the Guilds had taken care of that too.
I just wished the magic-man was here so I could ask him a few questions, like … I don’t know … where the hell were we going? I also really wanted to be able to phone home and hear that no harm had befallen my parents. I worried the Four might target Jonathon and Lienda, trying to get to me, and now I had no way to check on them. Apparently, we could be traced even if we used payphones. Seriously, a payphone … do those things even exist anymore?
I was slightly mollified by the fact my father was the leader of the shifter council, and also pack master – he had a lot of power and authority behind him. But still, I didn’t think the dragon marked hunters cared very much about that. My one meeting with them told me they were crazy and would stop at nothing to fulfill their calling.
Breathing deeply, I forced myself to focus on the here and now. We had split into two groups. Braxton, Maximus, Mischa, and I took the front vehicle. Jacob, Tyson, and Grace, our ring-in-healer, were in the second. I’d ended up shotgun in the SUV. Braxton was driving.
There had been a bit of a scuffle between him and Maximus, striving for domination, but in the end the dragon had won. To be honest, these mountain ranges were pretty scary, especially with the snow and ice. I was glad my alpha-animals hadn’t forced me to challenge anyone for control of the car. Both my wolf and dragon were content and snoozing at the moment. Despite the craziness of the last few days – what with ending up in Vanguard and being captured and almost stolen away by the crazy-ass dragon marked hunters – I was feeling pretty calm.
Still, I couldn’t shake my unease.
The only information I had regarding our destination was the letter and map Louis had sent with me, which I held scrunched in my right hand. At the airport I hadn’t wanted to tip off any of the staff to our destination. Paranoid I know. But the Four scared the shit out of me. Thankfully, with just a few questions – and stumbling over my shocking Romanian pronunciation – we now had a general idea of where we were going. Louis was sending us toward a range of the Carpathian Mountains at the peak of Romania, near the Ukraine border. It seemed to be about four hours from the small private airport.
I stretched out my legs; this car was surprisingly roomy. I could hear rhythmic breathing behind me, Mischa crashed out on the back seat, Maximus right beside her. My vampire best friend was staring out the window, his dark eyes assessing the craggy mountain ranges topped with pretty white snow. The broad, handsome planes of his somber face reminded me of what was weighing on my own mind. I was covered with layers of winter clothes, but I knew what lay beneath now. The dragon mark.
A visible reminder of the secret I was keeping from my sister and most of my best friends.
I hated secrets, and I was the ass concealing one. As if he’d heard my thoughts, Maximus straightened, and as I turned to meet his gaze I was knocked back by the intensity of his tawny brown eyes.
“I need to tell you something,” I blurted, my nerves raising the pitch of my voice. I knew Braxton was watching me from the driver’s seat. I could feel the heat of his laser blue eyes, but I didn’t let it distract me too much. “Something about my dragon mark…”
I trailed off as Mischa’s bright green eyes popped open. Now everyone in the friggin’ car was watching me splutter and stumble over my words.
“When the energy on the mark was released, well … I shifted.”
No one looked shocked yet, but they thought I was talking about my wolf.
“Into a dragon. I shifted into a dragon.”
Silence descended over the car. Braxton already knew, of course, he had been in Vanguard with me. My breath caught and guilt churned my stomach. Maximus had been pretty upset the last time I kept a secret from him. I had no idea how he would react now. Mischa was the first to speak, excitement trilling through her voice, and I forced myself to pull my gaze from my vamp.
“So that could explain my dreams right? If I break the spell containing my mark … I might shift in to a dragon also?”
Mischa hadn’t grown up in our world, she’d spent most of her life with humans so she didn’t understand the impossibility of what I had done. There were no dual shifters – hybrids between the races, yes, but shifters only ever had one animal to call. Even other shifters who were dragon marked could still only change to a single creature, and it was never a dragon, because dragons did not carry the mark. There was no need.
“I don’t know, Misch,” I said in an even tone. “I’ve never heard of a dual shifter before, but maybe as my twin you will find the same thing happening to you.”
Her face went pensive, worrying her bottom lip, which she did when she was nervous. I could only imagine the thoughts running through her head.
Maximus still hadn’t said anything, which had my heart rate increasing. I just knew shit was going to get real in a moment – or whenever he decided to explode. When I couldn’t stand the tension, or my own guilt any longer, I pulled my eyes from him, turning back to stare out the window, forcing something else to capture my attention.