The Dragon's Mate
Book Seven, Shifters Series
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Kelly
“I knew it. You’re fucking faggots.”
Tyler’s stomach dropped and he pulled his mouth away from Corey’s. He looked behind him and fear slipped into his gut. Jeff Howell, along with three of his football teammates, were standing behind them.
Corey’s cold and shaking hand slipped into his, and Tyler squeezed it tightly.
“Get lost, Jeff,” he said with a bravery he didn’t feel. He glanced at Corey. The smaller boy’s face was pale and pinched with worry, and Tyler’s fear heightened.
“It’ll be okay, honey,” he said under his breath.
“It’ll be okay, honey,” Jeff mimicked in a high-pitched voice. He shook his head with disgust. “Jesus, you two are gross.”
Tyler didn’t reply. He’d been schoolmates with Jeff since kindergarten and he knew from experience the best way to handle him was to ignore his taunts. Although Tyler had never publicly announced he was gay and had done his best to quietly blend in, he’d been targeted by Jeff and his oafish friends for most of his life.
“Tyler, let’s go.” Corey tugged on Tyler’s hand, and Jeff glanced at his friends. They spread out in a loose circle around them and Corey made a quiet moan of fear.
They were too far into the woods for anyone to help them. They’d ridden their bikes to the edge of the woods and he and Corey had walked for nearly an hour through the trees to the long, wide river that wound its way through the woods. Tyler had grown up on the outskirts of the city and spent many happy hours playing in the woods. Now, he lived with his father in an apartment in the heart of the city.
Adrenaline was lighting sparks through his veins. Corey had moved to the city two years ago, and although Tyler was aware of him, had admired the way his lean, lithe body moved when he played soccer, it wasn’t until this final year of high school that he and Corey started dating. Corey, the captain of the school’s soccer team, was failing Spanish, and Tyler was assigned to tutor him. It hadn’t taken long for them to fall in love.
Tyler squeezed Corey’s hand again. They had kept it quiet, in fact many of the girls in their grade regularly swooned over Corey, and Tyler had no idea how Jeff had figured it out.
“Why the fuck you’d want to stick your dick up his ass instead of some girl’s pussy, I’ll never fucking know.” Jeff shook his head again. “Or are you the bottom? You strike me as the kind of guy who likes to take it up the ass.”
“You seem to know a lot about the lifestyle, Jeff,” Tyler said. “Are you and your friends a little closer than you want people to know?”
Corey moaned again as Jeff’s face turned bright red. “You’ll pay for that, you fucking faggot.”
“Original. Of course, I can’t really expect someone with your IQ to come up with better insults, can I?”
“Tyler, shut up,” Corey whispered.
Tyler shook his head. The fear on Corey’s face, the way his body trembled, had buried Tyler’s own fear under a sudden hot and throbbing pulse of anger, and he embraced the unfamiliar feeling.
“You and your idiot friends should leave, Jeff,” Tyler said.
“Oh, we’re not leaving until we teach you what happens to queers like you. What you’re doing is sick.” Jeff and his friends closed in on them. “We’ll see how you feel about your little boyfriend when you’re in the hospital with a broken -”
He took a step back when Tyler suddenly threw himself at him. He rammed his shoulder into Jeff’s stomach, knocking the bigger boy backwards, as he shouted, “Corey! Run!”
He dropped on Jeff and swung his fist. His hand screamed in agony when it connected with Jeff’s broad jaw, but Tyler ignored it grimly and raised his hand again, smashing his fist into Jeff’s nose.
Jeff howled with anger and threw Tyler to the ground. He pounced on him, wrapping his large arm around his neck and hauling him into a sitting position as his nose gushed blood down Tyler’s shoulder and arm.
He squeezed tightly as Tyler choked and clawed frantically at his arm. He released it enough for Tyler to drag in a whooping gasp of air.
“You and your boyfriend are going to burn in hell,” Jeff whispered.
Eyes bulging, Tyler watched as Jeff’s friends knocked Corey to the ground and kicked him in the ribs and back.
“Corey!” Tyler tried to scream as one of the boys delivered a brutal kick to Corey’s face and his eyes rolled up in his head.
“What the fuck?” Jeff’s hot breath puffed in his ear and his arm relaxed around his neck.
“Corey?” Tyler whispered. Corey’s limp body was rippling and changing, and the boys watched in fascination as he shifted to a small, orange fox. Blood trickled steadily from the fox’s nostrils as one of the boys reached down and prodded at it with the toe of his sneaker.
“Holy fuck.” He turned to Jeff. “He’s a paranormal.”
Jeff grunted with surprise when Tyler nearly wiggled out of his grip.
“Let me go! He’s hurt!” Tyler shouted.
Jeff tightened his grip until Tyler gagged. “It’s not bad enough that you’re fucking a dude, but he’s a paranormal too? What is wrong with you?”
Tyler, his face going purple from lack of oxygen, reached for Corey. He had to get to him, he had to help him. He clawed again at Jeff’s muscular arm as black roses bloomed in his vision.
“Let him go.”
The voice was soft, but there was hard steel in its tone. Jeff dropped his arm from Tyler’s neck and stood up. Tyler laid on the ground, gagging and gasping in air as Jeff scowled at the woman standing a few feet away.
“Get out of here, bitch. This isn’t any of your business.” Jeff wiped the blood from his nose with the heel of his hand.
“You’re trespassing on my land. That makes it my business,” the woman replied. She was wearing a long dark blue cloak with a hood, and she pushed the hood back to reveal her face as she glanced at the fox lying on the ground.
Tyler stared at the woman. She was tall, he guessed close to six feet, and she had long dark hair with streaks of blue woven throughout it. Her skin was pale and, as he squinted at her face, her eyes seemed to glow in the growing dusk.
“Fuck off!” Jeff clenched his ham-like hands into fists. “I’m not into hurting women, but I’m willing to make an exception for you.”
“Lucky me,” the woman replied. She eyed the others before shifting her gaze back to Jeff. “Go on. You and your little friends scurry off like the ugly rodents that you are. I grow tired of you.”
“Bitch! You’ll pay for that,” Jeff huffed again. He glanced at the three other boys and Tyler gave a hoarse shout of warning as Jeff suddenly rushed forward and his friends followed.
The woman sighed loudly, and Tyler watched in stunned silence as she beat the shit out of his classmates.
* * *
The woman, she wasn’t even breathing hard, bent and picked up the unconscious fox, cradling him in one arm. She gathered Corey’s clothes in her other hand. Scattered around her, Jeff and his friends were lying on the ground moaning softly, but she completely ignored them.
Tyler staggered to his feet and lurched after the woman as she walked into the woods.
“Wait!” He grabbed her arm and coughed hoarsely into the crook of his elbow. “He needs to go to the hospital.”
“We can’t take him like this. The hospital won’t treat him until he shifts to his human form, and he’s not going to shift while he’s unconscious,” the woman replied.
“Wh-where are you taking him?” Tyler squeezed her arm.
“To get him help.” The woman frowned as she stared at his hand. The knuckles were bruised and swollen. “Is your hand broken?”
“I don’t know.”
He glanced behind them at Jeff and the others. “What about them?”
“Leave them,” she said dismissively. “They’ll crawl home and lick their wounds.”
She started walking again and, not knowing what else to do, Tyler followed her.
“Who are you?” he panted. The woman was setting a brisk pace and he could barely keep up with her long strides.
“My name is Kaida.”
“I’m Tyler. That – that’s Corey.”
The woman nodded and Tyler lapsed into silence as he followed her into the trees. He could barely wrap his head around what had just happened. Corey was a shifter, and the woman carrying him in her arms had just beat up four teenage football players like it was nothing.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” he asked.
“Your grandmother?” He stumbled to a stop in his surprise.
She kept going and after a moment he hurried after her. “Well, thank you for helping us. I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome.” She glanced at Corey and her pace quickened further. Tyler was nearly jogging to keep up with her.
“Where are we going?”
“To my home. Hold these.” She handed him Corey’s clothes. Balancing the fox carefully in one arm, she reached into the pocket of her cloak and pulled out a cell phone. Tyler breathed a sigh of relief. The woman looked like she had stepped out of a time capsule with her long cloak and odd accent, and to see her holding a cell phone comforted him a little.
The woman held the phone to her ear. “Hey, it’s me. Can you meet me at my house? I have an injured fox shifter that needs your help.”
She listened silently for a moment before smiling a little. “I know. Thanks. I’ll see you in ten.”
She ended the call and made her phone disappear in the pocket of her cloak before glancing at Tyler. “What were you two doing out here, anyway?”
Tyler cleared his throat. “We were just uh, hanging out.”
“Why did those boys attack you?”
“I – no reason. They’re assholes.”
She eyed him carefully. “Is that so? It has nothing to do with the fact that they caught you two kissing?”
He blushed and stared at the ground. “They’re assholes and homophobes.”
She grinned a little, her straight white teeth flashing in the gloom. “That they are. Why do you hide that you’re gay?”
“My family doesn’t know,” he said.
“Well, my brother knows but my mom and dad don’t. I’m not close to my mom. My parents divorced when I was a kid and she left us with our dad. I haven’t even spoken to her in two years. My dad, well, it’s complicated.”
“It usually is,” she replied.
“Corey and I have been dating for nearly six months and I had no idea he was a paranormal,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows at him. “That’s strange.”
“Yeah.” He touched his knuckles lightly and winced. He knew damn well why Corey hadn’t told him he was a paranormal and he felt a combination of guilt and anger. He was nothing like his father, Corey knew that, and the fact that he hadn’t trusted him enough to share that he was a paranormal was like a knife in his heart.
The trees were starting to thin and he realized with a start that he knew where they were. For as long as he could remember, a small community of shifters lived in the woods. They kept to themselves, and most of the city people had forgotten about them. The rumour was that they were bear shifters who had grown tired of the underlying tension between the humans and the paranormals and had retreated into the woods to escape it.
The trees opened up into an obviously man-made clearing. Cabins were scattered throughout, he counted nearly twenty nestled among the trees, and he could see a dirt road winding past the cabins and into the woods.
“Where does that road go?” he asked.
“Back to the highway.” She strode past three cabins before stopping at one of the smaller ones. Flowers were planted in large pots on the tiny front porch, their blossoms starting to fade, and she climbed the steps and opened the front door.
Tyler hesitated at the bottom of the stairs and she gave him a slightly impatient look. “Hurry up.”
He took one last glance at the other cabins before hurrying after her.
* * *
The cabin may have been rustic on the outside, but the inside boasted a sleek and modern décor. The modern furnishings and stainless-steel appliances should have looked odd against the log walls, but strangely didn’t. The living room and the kitchen were combined into one big room. The kitchen was on the smaller side with a fridge and stove, one mid-sized length counter with cupboards above and below it, and a small round table with four chairs crowded around it. A narrow marble topped island helped divide the kitchen from the living room. There was a small couch and an armchair in the living room with a metal and glass coffee table and a television mounted to the wall.
He stared at the old woman bent over a pot on the top of the stove. She was bigger than Kaida, standing well over six feet with wide hips and shoulders, and she was dressed in faded green pants and a bright pink t-shirt that had ‘sugar mama’ written across it in large yellow font. Her hair was pure white and hung to her waist in a neatly made braid. Like Kaida, there was streaks of colour in it, although her colour was a rich, emerald green rather than the blue that Kaida sported.
“Hello, sugarpie.” The old woman straightened and gave Kaida a generous smile. Her eyes were the same golden colour as Kaida’s, and she dropped a small wink at him. “Who’s this handsome young fellow?”
“Hi, Gram. This is Tyler,” Kaida jerked her chin in his direction, “and this is Corey.”
“Put the fox on the couch and I’ll take a look at him,” Gram said cheerfully.
Tyler followed Kaida to the couch and stood anxiously at the end of it as Kaida laid Corey down. Gram joined them and poked and prodded at the fox’s body before lifting his eyelid. His eyes were still rolled up in his head and Tyler made a soft groan of dismay.
“It’s all right, dearie,” Gram said. “He’ll be fine.”
She felt his skull and his face carefully before wiping away some of the blood that had dried under his nose. She sniffed it carefully and Tyler made a low sound of disgust when she licked it from her finger.
“What happened to the poor thing?” she asked.
“He was being beaten by a bunch of human boys,” Kaida said. “Three against one and they were all twice his size.”
Gram shook her head. “Human or paranormal – teenage boys are the worst.” She grinned at Tyler. “No offense, dearie.”
She stepped back and straightened. “Well, I can’t do anything for the poor boy until he wakes up.”
“What if he doesn’t wake up?” Tyler said. “What if he -”
“Oh, he’ll wake up, don’t you worry. Fox shifters got heads like rocks,” Gram said. “Now, let me take a look at your knuckles while we wait for your boyfriend to come to.”
He blinked at her and she chuckled. “I might be old, but I still know a thing or two about love.” She took his hand and surprised him by leaning in and inhaling deeply. “Plus, you got his scent all over you.”
They must be bear shifters, Tyler decided. If she could smell Corey’s scent on him, she had to be a paranormal. He flinched when Gram probed at his bruised knuckles and she made a sound of sympathy.
“Ayuh, I imagine that hurts. Well, don’t you fret – old Gram has a poultice that will ease the pain and help with the swelling.” She pinched his cheek and returned to the stove.
Using his left hand, Tyler fumbled his cell phone out of his pocket and groaned to himself. He had two missed calls and three texts from his brother.
“I need to call my brother and tell him I’m okay,” he said to Kaida. “I was supposed to meet him over an hour ago and he’s freaking out. I’ll, um, ask him to come by and get me, all right?”
He stared anxiously at the dark-haired woman. Truthfully, he wasn’t going anywhere until Corey woke up, but the thought of being alone with a bunch of bear shifters as darkness fell was making him nervous.
Kaida glanced at Gram and a silent communication seemed to pass between them. Gram stirred the liquid in the pot. “That’s fine, dearie. Call your brother. Tell him the road is off highway fifteen. If he gets lost, he can -”
“He won’t get lost,” Tyler said. “We grew up around this area.”