Authors: Gail Faulkner
Cord had waited a damn long time
for the end of the world. He’d starved for most of those eons and was frankly
pissed it had taken so long to get here. Relief at last, time to go kill.
An animal designed to destroy, Cord
wasn’t prepared for the astonishing instincts that overpowered everything he
had thought he was. What he wanted more than life, more than the freedom of
death was something he couldn’t gather, command or capture—Kelly.
There wasn’t anything Kelly
wouldn’t do to protect her precious, gifted daughter. No act too humiliating,
no job too difficult. Being the one thing the air dragon could not live without
wasn’t exactly hard labor, and the humiliation part so shockingly sensual it
changed who she was. The problem she was having were the new items on her “to
Dispense evil wizards
Dispose of vicious dragon army
Ellora’s Cave Publishing
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Wicked Beast Copyright © 2011 Gail Faulkner
Edited by Mary Moran
Photography and cover design by Syneca
Electronic book Publication October 2011
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Pain burned past his nose with a sulfur sting, followed by
the barely there scent of rose petals. Seeking more of the last sweet smell in
his hazy, half-dream state, Cord inhaled deeply.
Abruptly fire bit low in his back and jerked him awake. He
jackknifed to a sitting position and dazedly swung his head around. Nobody in
the dark room with him. More than human senses made him certain.
The burn snaked up his spine. He shook his head and glanced
at the clock.
Four a.m. What the hell?
Suddenly pain washed over him as every cell in his body
screamed with primal demand. The invisible wave of torture was a force of
nature, totally uncontrollable, inescapable. Cord fell forward, head sinking
between knees to breathe through wrenching agony. Perhaps he was dying. Was
this what happened when there was finally nothing more?
The consuming pain evaporated into a rose-scented mist. Cord
frowned. What did flowers have to do with dying? He’d smelled all the scents of
death, and the flower crap never marked it until a funeral event occurred.
The fire eating his spine spread to his shoulder blades. He
gingerly stood and found he was steady. Kicking an empty bottle of scotch out
of his way, he stumbled to the kitchen, jerked on the faucet and thrust his
head beneath the spigot.
Icy well water penetrated masses of tangled hair and
scotch-induced fog. Cord gritted his teeth and endured a little longer just to
make sure. Flipping ropes of coal-black hair out of his eyes, he straightened.
The excruciating burn was not death, but it was damn close.
His eyes narrowed as focus returned, dark pupils elongated to slits, the beast
beneath man-skin came fully awake.
The call hit him again,
It came on the wings of white power with the kick of a bolt
arrow to the gut. The jolt slammed him across the galley kitchen and up against
the wall. Unprepared for the hit, he nearly blacked out as it thundered through
him. Power sizzled out his extremities. He looked down at his hands to be sure
they were still there.
White power! Where the hell had that come from? It’d been
thrown at him with dangerously clumsy strength. Cautiously he breathed deeply,
testing the scents left in the wake of the hit. Yes, there it was, the trail
whispered low in the air. Not rose mist but something he didn’t recognize, a
scent that could only originate with the sender.
His lip curled silently as he took the scent into his body,
marking it. He’d waited a damn long time for the end of the world, who knew
it’d call his ass? Time to go kill it.
Cord strode from the cabin, not bothering to change clothes.
Grimly, he swung into the truck. He had no other thought besides finding the
source, no other option.
This time he scented the white power coming and braced for
the hit. The only reason he’d missed it before was he’d been unconscious. Five
minutes ago the world was safe and white power didn’t exist anymore, hadn’t
since before time as humans marked it. Five minutes ago the beast required to
kill it hadn’t walked this world either. It did now.
The hit was more potent than last time, it pounded through
him, but he was able to absorb the energy, using it instead of letting it
escape his starved body. Ignoring the burn as long-unused faculties fed on the
extreme injections of fuel, he drove on. Being sober helped. The first shot had
evaporated the scotch.
The excessive concentration of life-force power meant he
couldn’t control involuntary responses and tears streaked down his cheeks. It
was unimaginable that the wielder had no idea what they were doing, but in this
reality, that seemed the case. Ignorance was no shield for the responsibility
of white power—it just made his job simple. Preserving the sender’s ignorance
about his intentions was not even a question. Cord sent a response.
“Calm. You must calm down. I’m coming.”
He hoped the
sender could read him. He’d put as much push as he could afford on the thought,
infusing peace and security into it.
He immediately felt the answer, puzzlingly faint in a
That was confusing, considering the strength of the wielder.
He hadn’t felt this type of ability since… Okay, perhaps he’d never felt
something exactly like this. Even back in the time before, he’d never
encountered this concentration of power in one individual.
And he knew it was one person. There were no melodious
strains of music to the power. No harmonious voices melding together to throw
it. This was a single voice that didn’t sing. The person had simply hurled
command at him as if it were a ball to be tossed about.
Barreling down the mountain, he skidded around curves. Speed
didn’t bother him. The wielder bothered him. He had no option but to respond,
and that’d never happened before. Questions about this event bloomed but they
were pointless. He was aimed at the wielder with one mission, to end the voice
and the threat it posed. There would be no question-and-answer session.
Cord automatically slowed as he neared town. The mystery
scent intensified. Power pulled him at the same time it forced its way into his
body. His eyes burned as did every vertebra down his back. His hands and feet
tingled with the endless sting of needles stabbing in nonstop staccato.
“Be calm. I’m coming!”
he sent again, trying to get
the wielder to tone it down. The power being force-fed into his starved frame
was merciless to assimilate this way. It lanced through every joint and system.
was the insistent response. The wielder
didn’t tone down the compulsion.
A child? Could this be a child? It didn’t seem possible.
Deep within him, the beast rumbled. His nostrils flared on the smell of that
response. Baby powder? No damn way! He didn’t even know what baby powder
Pulling into the drive of the house that compelled him, he
sat panting and looked at the tidy little Cape Cod cottage. The house glowed in
ultraviolet white power, outside the human sight spectrum but plain as day to a
creature like him.
Cord half fell out of the truck, only closing the door
because he needed to lean on the truck a moment to ensure he could stand. The
path to the front door was short but it was the few steps into eternity for
him. He was almost there when the door opened. He stumbled as a punch of power
flooded his system. He came to a stunned halt. The power called him with the
painful vengeance of an attack—he should have been prepared.
Framed by the lights behind her, stood three feet of
trembling, sobbing, pink footy pajamas, clutching a purple bear. Tears slid
silently down plump cheeks already glassy with misery. Cord pulled himself
through the power she was forcing into him and dropped to a knee on the bottom
step of the porch. He should have been ending her life, not lounging on her
steps. That thought slipped away as his senses read the child. The innocent,
completely vulnerable and utterly trusting little sender, powerful beyond
imagining, drew him in. So perhaps he could just see what she was, in the
interest of doing a thorough job. Yeah, that was it.
Rigidly controlling his eyes, forcing them to appear human,
Cord gritted as gently as he could, “Please, sweetheart. Try to calm down.”
He mounted the stairs slowly, waiting for the terror to hit
her. Currently his frame was six feet and lean. He hadn’t shaved in at least a
month and didn’t recall the last time he’d had his hair cut. Bathing might have
occurred last week. He was a mess. Burning eyes sent tears dripping into his
beard and haggard would have been a kind word for what was visible of his face.
Reaching out with his senses, he flashed through the house,
looking for occupants. Only one other life force in the house, and it was
quiet. Hesitation was not part of his nature, but at this moment, he couldn’t
make sense of any damn thing. The child was human and she was…not. But not
un-human in the way he was or any other way he’d ever known. She was his
target, and yet she was nothing at all like the projected target. And she was
Power like hers might be able to kill him with a thought.
She didn’t try. That earned her at least a few minutes to make him understand
what the hell was going on. The fuel ripping through him was accumulating fast,
so there really was no risk in investigating.
“Honey, I’m here to help. You’ve got to believe me,” he
crooned gently, hoping to reach her with friendly intentions.
“Yes, yes. Hurry.” The clear tones of her voice held no
fear. No fear of him at least. Her little hand reached out and grabbed his.
Pale as paper white lilies, her fingers curled around one of his to drag him
inside. “Dagon hurry. Mommy bassent!”
As soon as she touched him, pain dissipated and he was able
to concentrate as footy pajamas led him to the kitchen. His eyes caught every
detail. Boxes stacked against the wall. Some open on the floor. Things stacked
on chairs. The occupants were moving in or out.
Across the big country kitchen a door was standing open.
Feeble light punctured the damp darkness below, and the scent of rose petals
misted up from the depths.
Cord looked down into her tearful face. The little miracle
in footy pajamas compelled his future. Her fingers couldn’t even close around
one if his grubby digits. She clutched him, extending perfect faith that he’d
rescue her mommy.
He couldn’t read her, not like regular humans, but he could
feel her. She knew exactly
he was. She knew everything and she knew
nothing. Impossible as her abilities were, it was her knowledge that carved new
space in his brain. Something no one had ever imagined, even the majestic minds
that had made this reality possible hadn’t been able to dream big enough to
At the door to the basement, she let go of his finger and
stepped back, hugging the purple bear. Thankfully she was calmer and the
thundering power emanating from her churning emotions was a less-painful roar.
It was a roar of confidence that everything would be fixed now. He couldn’t
resist the need to go down those steps. Not really for her, but he suspected
that was part of it, mostly he went to see where this new reality was going.
He’d not seen something new in a very long time.
“Stay right here, sweetheart.” He tried to sound parental so
she’d understand the importance of remaining in close proximity to the basement
Little Miss Miracle nodded and jammed a thumb in her mouth.
Cord turned to the darkness and hurried down the stairs. His
eyes didn’t need the pitiful light from the bare bulb to see the problem. It
was his nose that told him he was in real trouble. The woman passed out on the
floor was the rose petals. The shattering power emanating from the little
miracle upstairs had shielded his senses from the real danger.
Her scent. Oh dear God in heaven, no!
Staring at the woman for less than a second was all it took.
The world had indeed ended today. Expecting to die was a lot easier than
knowing he was going to live and that was exactly what he faced. There was
really no choice, he literally had no choice. She was fast losing her choices
A feral growl built in his chest as the animal responded to
seeing her trapped and injured. There was no repressing it. She lay with a very
old, hulking water heater tank crushing her left leg. He could tell she’d been
there awhile, trapped and alone. He was thankful she’d passed out.
Remnant scents of her emotions were strong enough to tell
him what she’d been through. If she’d had an implement, it’s possible she would
have damaged herself to get out and back to her daughter. She’d considered
removing the leg. Wisps of that determination offended his system so badly he
nearly lost the bitter remains of the scotch he’d drugged himself with.
Sliding to his knees beside her head, his hand shook as he
brushed wisps of hair off her face. Words breathed out his mouth. Words no one
had spoken since the time when his kind disappeared from this world. The words
gave her peace, ensuring her sleep was deep and dreamless, protecting her from
Her skin was alabaster with shock. Looking at her face, he
knew it had all the regular features a woman should have, to him it was
stunning. The beast within was silent as he drank in the sight of her. Drawing
a deep breath, he closed his eyes and felt her scent sink into the center of
his being, where it belonged. Everything he’d known was wrong. Apparently.
The tank on her leg must have been brought down in pieces
and built in place, perhaps a hundred years ago. At full strength he could have
easily lifted it, but he was nowhere near that. Currently he was a starved,
gaunt shadow of a being and had almost no hope of moving it. Almost didn’t mean
Hurrying up the stairs, he dropped to one knee in front of
Miss Miracle. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked as calmly as he could.
The thumb came out. She glanced at the open door and back at
him, her forehead wrinkled in distress. “Bing Mommy.”
“Yes, I will bring Mommy, but I need your help. Please tell
me your name, and then we’ll get Mommy.”
“Minuet, have you seen Mommy?”
Light shimmered off flaming curls as her head shook. “Minuet
skeered bassent,” she confessed solemnly.
Damn, not good.
“You know what I am, honey?” he asked cautiously to see how
much she was actually conscious of.
“Dagon. You airs dagon.”
Again he was stunned with her innocent, clear understanding
that was uncluttered with normal human perceptions. “Yes. Air dragon. Do you
know why I look like this?”
Minuet frowned. “Dagon sick?”
“Exactly. Dragon sick, but I need to lift a very heavy thing
to help Mommy. Will you help me?”