Title: The Lost Link
Author: Michelle Bryan
Genre: Fae Fantasy
Cover Designer: Gombar Sanja
Editor: Rebecca Jaycox
Publisher: Harris Publishing
Publication Date: March 23rd, 2020
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR
I die every night in my dreams.
Add to that the hallucinations of people I've never met and creatures that don't exist, and you can see why I donât work well with others. People usually steer clear of weirdos that can't tell reality from illusion.
That all changed the day a dragon attacked. Yup, you heard me. A real-life, smoke breathing dragon hunted me down in the middle of a school day. I only escaped because I jumped through a fire portal into a realm of magic. No biggie, right?
When I thought things couldn't get any worse, I meet him. The Fae Prince. Eyes of jade, ebony hair, and a smile that made my knees weak. Too bad he was my mortal enemy sent to finish what the dragon started.
Now faced with parallel worlds, a daring rescue plan, and an evil queen bent on taking over the universe, only one thing is for certain.
Iâm in way over my head.
Michelle Bryan is a USA Today Bestselling author. She resides in Nova Scotia, Canada with her three favorite guys; her hubby, son, and fur baby, Garbage.
She is a huge fan of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and never misses an episode. She also believes every day should consist of reading, writing, chocolate, and coffee-not necessarily in that order.
Author of The Crimson Legacy Trilogy and The Bixby Series. You can find out more about her books by visiting her website at http://www.michellebryanauthor.com/ or follow her on Goodreads or Facebook.
Bish ran a weary hand over his wrinkled cheek. âThis will be very difficult for you to understand, Jette girl, but everything you see is very real. We are no longer in Contigo Springs. We are no longer in the world you know.â
âNo longer in the world I know? What the hell does that even mean?â I stared at Bish in bewilderment before my panicked brain provided another explanation. âWait. I get it.â I shook a finger at Bish as laughter bubbled in my chest. âThis is a prank, isnât it? You set this up. Iâm on candid camera.â The laughter escaped. âGood one, Bish. Okay camera dudes,â I cupped my hand to my mouth and yelled into the trees. âYou can come out now. Iâm onto you.â
A hand grabbed my arm and pinched tight with a surprisingly strong grip. âStop yelling. Weâre in the middle of Dagger Woods. There are things in Dagger Woods you do not want to attract the attention of.â
âLike what?â I asked.
Her eyes darted over my shoulder and grew wide as her face paled.
I turned and followed her pointing finger. I really wish I hadnât.
The dragon-wolf thingy was there. Same one? Different one? I didnât know. And right now my terror didnât care. It stood upright on its hind legs; its large wings folded neatly across its back. It was bigâ¦maybe seven feet or more. The black scales flecked with blue, glistened wetly in spots where the sun broke through the dead trees. Its yellow eyes, spaced wide across its long snout full of blades, studied us with a malevolence that I could feel deep into my bones. It wasnât like one of those ugly dogs that turned out to be friendly and just misunderstood, stories. Nope. There was no misunderstanding this thingâs intent.
âMorqual,â Bish breathed over my shoulder and my own breath caught in my throat.
âTell me thatâs Latin for run,â I squeaked.
Bishop glanced at the tiny girl. âCan youâ¦â
âNo. The portal took all that I have. I canât fight it.â
âGive me the wielder.â The voice was hoarse, guttural. Every bit of skin erupted in goosebumps as terror fizzled in my gut and quickly spread to the rest of me. The damn thing spoke. Just like my dream.
âBish?â I squeaked in fear as the beast stomped our way, the ground shaking under our feet.
Even as Bishopâs affirmation fell from his lips, my butt was already making a break for the gnarled clump of trees farthest away from where the beast stood. My thought process at the moment; get as far away from that thing as I could.
Branches tore at my clothes as I hurtled through the forest, scratching at my face and bringing tears to my eyes. Sweat mingled with the tears, stinging my eyes and blurring my vision. I scrubbed them away with my fist, not slowing my stride. Crying was not an option when you were running for your life.
Heart in mouth, I kept running. By the time I stumbled out of the thorny trees and into a clearing of stunted, brown grass, Iâd felt like Iâd been severely whipped by with a cat oânine tails and I suddenly knew why this stupid place was called Dagger woods.
Taking a quick glance behind me to ensure I wasnât in immediate danger, I allowed myself a few moments to nurse the stitch in my side. Doubled over I gulped air into my empty lungs. No dragon on my tail. Good. But no Bish or sprite girl either. Not good. Iâd lost them both in my mad dash through these damn trees. Great. Just effinâ great. Lost and alone in some weird hallucination. Dream? Whatever was going on here. And being chased by a mythical creature. I needed to get out of my own head right now.
Reaching on instinct for the bag that was always attached to my back, I cussed softly as I came up empty. Dammit. I left the stupid thing back at the dojo. My backpack with all my medications. So not good. I had two choices. Get back to the dojo as fast as I could or find the nearest pharmacy. Without my pills to calm me down this hallucination was going to drive me straight over the edge and I couldnât afford another trip to the loony bin.
A tiny squeal dropped from my lips as a fresh rush of adrenaline flooded my body and my muscles clenched in alarm. I whirled on the shadow teasing my peripheral, fists raised. My heart pounding in my throat, I prepared to face the smoke-blowing beast. Instead I came face to face with the sword wielding, swarthy dude haunting Contigo Highâs hallway this morning. Had it just been this morning? Seemed like it was a week ago. Shit, I was losing track of time.
Unlike my early morning vision of him, Zorro appeared fully fleshed out this time. His dark hair was cropped tight to his head, with a hairline that dipped into a widowâs peak. His golden skin was bronzed darker across the planes of his faceâhigh cheekbones chiseled by the gods, strong jaw, straight nose. Dark fringed eyes so emerald green it looked like he was wearing a pair of cheap colored contacts.
On his hip a long, broad sword hung, his hand lightly touching the red hilt, and his sleeves pushed up over forearms tanned and corded with muscle. His hands and arms were covered in markings, etched both with scars and tattoos. Beautiful as he was, he was forbidding and scary, and a chill encapsulated my whole body.
I found myself drawn back to those eyes. Luminous, mesmerizing and achingly beautiful, they drew me in like a moth to a flame. I think I even took a couple of steps closer before the jolt of electricity in my wrist brought me to my senses. My birthmark caught aflame and buzzed over my skin in response to his presence, no doubt. Every single nerve ending reacted, from my toes to the roots of my hair. Pulling me toward him like I was some old nail and he was giant magnet. What the hell was happening here?
My brain yelled at me to run, but did I listen? No. I took another step closer. I couldnât help myself even though my gut was telling me this man equated danger. Just as dangerous as the beast I was running from.
Then Zorro grinned. A thousand-watt smile emphasized with deep dimples in both stubbled cheeks and I rooted in place like Iâd just stepped in quicksand. I still wasnât sure where âhereâ was, but they had a hell of a dentistry service from the look of those teeth. Man coulda made a killing doing toothpaste commercials, for sure.
The hand holding the hilt of the massive sword relaxed its grip, and I breathed a little easier. Okay. He obviously didnât consider me a threat. Good to know he wasnât about to lop my head off. I lowered my fists as he crossed his arms and my gaze jumped from the tats to the broad chest and wide shoulders. My eyes dropped lower, down to the narrow waist emphasized by the sword sheath hanging low on his hips, and muscled thighs encased in tight pants. Denim? Leather? I wasnât sure. What I did know was that he filled âem out damn fine.
âHello, Bridjette. Itâs good to see you too.â
His smooth voice glided over me with the softness of a silk sheet, and gave my goosebumps, goosebumps. The way he emphasized see, however, told me he was well aware of where my eyes were situated right now. Heat infused my cheeks and I yanked my gaze back to his amused face.
A million questions banged around my brain, but my tongue refused to utter a single one. It stayed stuck to the roof of my mouth as I swallowed a dozen times trying to unstick it. His eyes alit with green fire stared into mine, so intent a heated blush encompassed my entire body and my knees weakened. I swear I could feel the charisma oozing from his damn pores. Was he putting a spell on me or something? Finally, I managed to croak, âYou canât be real.â Closing my eyes, I released a pent-up breath, blowing the hair plastered to my forehead. âNone of this is real, Jette. You need to find the closest pharmacy else the next article of clothing youâll be rocking will be a straitjacket.â
âWhatâs a pharmacy?â
His question bounced about the clearing. Had I said that out loud?
âA pharmacy. You know, a store where they sell drugsâ¦.never mind.â I waved a hand in dismissal. âWhy am I bothering explaining to someone who isnât real.â
My fine-ass hallucinationâs smile dropped away abruptly as a crease formed between his dark brows.
âYou donât believe Iâm real?â
I snorted. âOh trust me, Iâd love for you to be real, but my luck doesnât run that way. Iâm in the middle of a psychotic breakdown and boy, itâs a doozy.â
It took just two strides for him to span the distance between us. He was so close now I could smell the smoky, pine scent emanating from him. Olfactory hallucinations. Great. I was probably about to have a seizure or something. I gasped out loud as he grabbed my wrist and the current fizzling between us intensified like Iâd just stuck a knife into an electrical outlet. His face hovered so close to mine the heat from it practically seared my skin, and my physical awareness of him made me feel panicky.
âHavenât you ever heard of personal space, dude?â I muttered uneasily as I tried to back away, but his grip was ironclad.
He placed my hand flat against his chest. The steady rhythm thudded against my palm.
âMaybe this will convince you Iâm real.â His voice sounded sincere, but I caught the mischievous twinkle in his eye.
It worked. He felt real. So did the rock-hard pecs my fingers were now touching as my second hand joined the first. I continued my perusal up his chest and down his equally impressive biceps. I gave the right one an extra squeeze for good measure. Oh yeah. That felt damn real.
âHow is this possible?â I whispered as my exploring fingers migrated to his face, under their own control. I couldnât stop touching him now even if I wanted to. The softness of his whiskers surprised me as I moved up his cheeks and boinked him on the nose with a fingertip.
âOkay, I think weâve ascertained Iâm tangible,â he grunted as he grabbed the finger hitting his nose.
âYouâre real.â I repeated in awe as a grin lit my face. âYouâre damn, effinâ real!â
My laughter joined with his. He was real. I wasnât imagining this whole thing. A bark of relief escaped my lips. Maybe I havenât gone over the edge. Not completely anyway.
The laughter quickly tapered off as another realization finally hit. âIf youâre real then that meansâ¦â
âYes. The morqual is as well. Thatâs why itâs imperative you come with me now. We need to flee before it senses us.â
He engulfed my hand once more in his and pulled gently, but I resisted by digging in my heels.
âHold on there, Zorro. I didnât just fall off a turnip truck. Wellâ¦ maybe I did. Maybe I got run over by one and Iâm really dead and this is purgatory, but Iâm still not going anywhere with you, even if you are retina-burning hot. I donât even know who you are.â
His amusement died away, replaced by a flash of irritation.
âBridjette, we donât have time for this. Iâll answer all your questions as soon as we are safe.â
âThen we make time, Zorro. Like I said, Iâm not going anywhere with you until you tell me your name. And how the hell does everyone in this weird place know mine.â
The irritation was quickly overcome by amusement again.
âAnd if I said my name was Zorro?â
âThen Iâd call bullshit on that. I want the truth, bro.â
He grinned, his dimples deepening.
âVery well. As stubborn as I remember. And yes. I remember you. We know each other. Or did as children.â
âItâs very true.â
I stabbed my index finger into his chest. âYah see, Iâm finding thar story hard to swallow. I donât remember meeting you at all or ever being inâ¦.â I spread my hands wide in the air, âSherwood Forest here. And I sure as shootinâ heck would have remembered you.â
I left out the part where Iâve hallucinated his face a hundred times over the past few months. He didnât need to know that part.
He did an impressive eye roll that would have done Lexa Buttface proud. âVery well. If you insist on playing this game. I have heard that being in the other realms for too long plays havoc with oneâs memory. My name is not Zorro. Itâs Starke.â
I arched a brow as a tiny grin lifted a corner of my mouth. âStarke? Really? As in Iron Man Starke or Game of Thrones Starke?â
I think he failed to get my sense of humor as his forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. âI donât know these clans you speak of. My name is Ungar Starke Ryhill, but I prefer to be called Starke.â