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Inflame: Heritage of Fire Book 2 (Ebook)

Inflame: Heritage of Fire Book 2 (Ebook)

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Book 2 of 3: Heritage of Fire


It's been five years since I came back to life.

I might recently have brought London's supernatural underworld crashing to its knees and saved my friends from a terrible fate, but my enemy Lorne escaped. And my fellow dragon shifter is out for blood.

When an inexplicable sickness begins to creep through the local shifter community, I immediately know who to blame. But not only is Lorne elusive, he's carrying the Moonbeam -- a powerful weapon that could destroy the supernatural community as we know it. The same weapon that brought me back from death.

With our funds running out, the supernatural community suspecting us of spreading the virus ourselves and some seriously nasty zombies on our tail, it's up to me to find Lorne before my friends succumb to the sickness. Even with our fellow dragon shifter Zeph on my team, finding our enemy seems as likely as getting rid of the sinister ghost who's been following me since the last time Lorne escaped my grasp.

It's been five years since I came back to life, and they say death always demands payment…

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“A cat,” I said, “is stuck on the London Eye. That’s our mission?”

At my feet, my friend Becks meowed pointedly. Either she meant to say, we already said yes, or hey, I’m a cat shifter, and I don’t appreciate being mocked. A prod to my shin suggested the latter.

The call had said, Urgent rescue mission, wings required. I’d assumed we’d be tossing some faerie monsters out of a tower block or flying someone to safety through gargoyle territory. Giving a feline a lift didn’t promise the huge pay bonus we needed. 

Just another day in the life of a dragon shifter.

“You never know,” said Zeph, my fellow dragon shifter, who walked on my right-hand side. “Some cat shifters are scared of heights, aren’t they? If it’s a shifter with important status, we might get a tip.”

Becks gave an indignant mew, as if to say, hey, we’re not all scared of heights. Becks herself had a bizarre wariness around rodents, but loved napping and climbing fences even when she was playing human. Her tabby form was streaked in varying shades of brown which matched her hair when she shifted to human, while she’d pocketed her glasses in case we ran into a fight.

“If it is a shifter, Darcy’ll have to give us a raise,” I acknowledged. “But if it isn’t, we lose our dignity and time when they could have just called the fire brigade or a guy with a ladder or something. Why not hire a gargoyle to rescue the cat if it’s someone’s pet? There’s way more of them around than dragon shifters.”

Forcing us to rescue house pets from tourist attractions had Darcy’s bullshit written all over it. It was hard not to take it personally, but our killing the two biggest mobsters in London’s supernatural underworld and witnessing the criminal dragon shifter Lorne flee the city with a dangerous artefact stolen from the Mage Lords had put a bigger price on our heads than all our annual salaries combined. I didn’t blame Darcy for wanting to be rid of us.

Zeph gave a shrug. “Might be a laugh.”

Zeph himself wasn’t even on the mercenaries’ payroll, but he came with us on missions on his days off from working at the bar, claiming boredom. Like me, Zeph had auburn hair, but his was cut short while mine bounced to my shoulders in hard-to-tame curls. I was petite and ‘cute’, while his body was visibly toned and muscular even in a loose grey hoody and faded jeans. My plain coat and jeans hid my bright socks, T-shirt and scarf, but just the two of us standing next to one another would draw unwanted attention.

Especially from shifters, who could detect a predator a mile off.

Please say the gargoyles aren’t there. I’ll never live it down. 

The sky was clear, cloudless, and the fresh breeze off the Thames stirred my hair and filled my lungs with the taste of rot. I held my breath in an attempt to tame my sharp shifter senses. It was no wonder the only living things we saw in the water these days were carnivorous fae beasts and the occasional hydra. Zombies, dead faeries and other junk filled the murky river, but the wheel of the London Eye stood out like a snapshot from the world before the invasion. The mages had restored it using magic a dozen or more times at the request of the human government, supposedly to improve public morale. The glass pods weren’t currently in use, and I didn’t see any traces of a feline presence near ground level. There didn’t appear to be any spectators around, either. Good. 

“Ready?” I nodded to Becks. “Go and see what we have.”

Becks gave a despondent meow which probably meant, don’t tell anyone I did this. Then she leapt onto the lowest level of the wheel’s framework, lithely climbing higher. As the lightest among our group, Becks would have a much easier job scaling the giant wheel than the rest of us.

“The cat is probably at the top,” I said to Zeph. “Hope Becks can coax it down, otherwise we might end up being the first dragon firefighters of London.”

A grin dimpled his cheek. “Keeps life interesting.”

“You’re actually enjoying this?” As a fellow dragon shifter, Zeph shared my hot-tempered tendencies as well as the need for constant stimulation. Watching a cat climb a national monument was entertaining enough, but after two weeks of bed rest followed by another two weeks of low-risk missions, I was crying out for a real challenge. Not that I wanted to come face to face with my mortal enemy again, but if I handed him over to the mages, it’d be a ticket out of our financial hole. And a ticket to finding the person who was breeding dragonlings illegally. “I thought you wanted to find who’s hiding the you-know-whats.”

The merest hint of a flame stirred in the depths of his eyes. Zeph’s true quest in London was to track down the people responsible for continuing the experiments which had led to the creation of dragonlings—artificial dragon-like beings who, unlike us, couldn’t shift into human form. But since Lorne had disappeared and his allies had expired, no evidence remained behind.

A faint yowling came from above my head. “I think Becks found the cat.”

I tilted my head back to watch. Becks’s tail hung over the edge of the glass pod, then the rest of her followed, releasing a yowl of alarm.

I reached out my hands just in time to catch a shaking bundle of fur. Becks shifted back into a human—a wiry woman with pale brown skin, dark eyes, and hair the colour of her tabby fur. She stumbled backwards, and only Zeph catching her arm stopped her from tripping into the river.

“There’s not a cat up there,” she gasped out. “There’s a dead body.”

“A human one?”

She gagged and spat into the river. “He looked human, but… I don’t know. Something was wrong. Magically wrong.”

Zeph and I exchanged perplexed glances. The city had been neck-deep in corpses since the faerie invasion, and the body must be in a bad way for Becks to be so freaked out. She’d lived on the streets for most of her life since she’d come to London as a baby. Who’d put a dead body in the middle of a tourist attraction under mage protection?

“I’ll take a look,” I said.

Zeph’s brows rose. “You’re gonna shift?”

“Nah, I can climb.” I flexed my hands and shifted them to ruby red claws. With a bound, I reached for the nearest hand-hold, and stilled when the wheel dipped under my weight. I wasn’t worried about falling for safety reasons—more my dignity. I waited a few seconds then resumed my climb, moving swiftly without pausing for breath.

As I neared the area Becks had fallen from, the wind blew towards me, carrying the rotten scent of the river tainted with another foul smell I couldn’t quite discern.

There’s our dead body. The man had been tossed onto the wheel at a careless angle. It looked like he hadn’t been dead more than a few hours at most. A gargoyle kill, maybe, but they usually took their prey to pieces and dumped them in the river. 

Climbing across the wheel to reach him was awkward, especially with the foul-smelling wind stinging my eyes. I used my claws for leverage, getting close enough to the body to give him a shove into the river.

The instant my hand reached out, he grabbed my wrist in a lightning-fast movement that damn near unbalanced me. I held my body still, using my free hand to steady myself, then wrenched my hand out of his tight grip, jumping out of range.

The undead did a freakish monkey-like jump to land beside me. His eyes didn’t glow, which was odd. There was generally a faint blue shine around the eyes of a zombie—or so I’d noticed since I’d developed the spirit sight, anyway. Whoa, he’s fast. Undead’s movements were slow, fed by the spiritual force of the necromancer controlling them. They didn’t lunge out faster than a shifter.

The undead creaked upright, its legs trembling, body intact aside from the bloodstain blossoming over the dead man’s chest. At its full height, I’d guess the guy had been a gargoyle shifter. His ragged clothes exposed his collarbone, and a tattoo gleamed from just under his neck, a swirling symbol, like a witch rune, but with an odd shimmering effect.

The undead did another monkey-like leap over my head, and I ducked, my feet slipping over the edge. I caught myself by the fingertips, my heart jackhammering. “What the bloody hell are you?”

Unlike ghosts, undead had no awareness or memory of who they’d been in life. No intelligence looked back at me from his eyes. Despite his speed, he was still a walking corpse.

“Cori, you okay up there?” Zeph called.

“Just hanging around enjoying the view,” I called back. “Hey—Zeph, Becks, can you see if there’s a necromancer around? I think someone left their undead unattended.”

Swinging by my fingers, I leapt onto my feet. My claws sliced the zombie’s head off, sending it bouncing down towards the river. Bye bye, creepy.

There came a distinct meowing noise from somewhere close by. Oh, come on. There was a cat up there. Right above me.

Sure enough, when I climbed higher, I came to a small huddle of fur clutching the wheel’s framework with a death grip. “Hey.” I crouched down, hands outstretched. “I’ve come to get you down. Also, please say you’re human.”

The small tabby climbed into my arms. Okay, show’s over, folks.

I carefully climbed down, while the cat dug its claws into my arm, clinging on for dear life. “Not far now,” I muttered. “Easy…”

A winged shadow fell overhead. Crap. Gargoyles.

The cat’s claws pierced my sleeve, and I jumped down to the zombie’s level again. His head was gone, but the rest of his body remained intact, including that weird symbol. Perhaps he’d been sacrificed. Whoever would perform a ritual on top of the London Eye, though? It wasn’t exactly an inconspicuous location.

Another winged shadow joined the first. I cursed under my breath. This area was wide open, exposed. Nowhere near gargoyle territory either, but the gargoyles had reason to have a bone to pick with me after the incident with the Faulkner brothers.

You’d think ridding London of two of its most notorious criminals would count as doing people a favour, but the mess the Faulkners had left behind in the supernatural underworld had caused people to point fingers at the next available targets… us.

The wheel dipped alarmingly as the gargoyle landed in front of me.

“Get off,” I told the shifter. “You’ll make us both fall.” Not that I didn’t have wings myself, but gargoyles rarely travelled alone. “I’m just rescuing a cat, you numbskull. I’m not here to start a fight.”

The gargoyle shifted back to human form, turning into a stocky bald man with a pierced ear. “Then get out. And leave that dead man where you found him.”

“You know he was probably sacrificed, right? That’s a necromancer guild matter. I’m supposed to report it to my boss, at least."

“It is no business of the guild’s,” he snarled. “That undead is an abomination. Get away, or you will be infected, too.”

I blinked in confusion. Since when did gargoyles care what the necromancers did with their dead? “I’m not all that keen on touching him, to tell you the truth. I’ll leave your friend up here.”

“He’s no friend,” said the gargoyle. “That dead is cursed.”

A rattling noise came from nearby, and the wheel dipped beneath me. I looked at the zombie, and my blood chilled. The undead stood upright, headless, hands reaching for me. He still had life left in him—relatively speaking—after all.

The gargoyle shifted into his winged form, and the rocking motion knocked both of us off balance. Moving the cat onto my back and hoping it knew to hang on tight, I bared my teeth at the gargoyle and the dead man.

Scales spread up my arms and across my back, while wings sprouted from my shoulders. My clawed hands swiped at the undead, causing him to fly back into the river. Taking flight, I unleashed a roar that sent the two gargoyles fleeing.

Damn, that felt good.

Landing at the river’s side, I bunched my legs, and my tail swung around and hit the front of the nearest building. Oops. I shifted back into human form, taking a bow.

“Damaging national monuments and causing a public menace,” I said, setting the cat down on the pavement. “There you go. You can turn back into a human now.”

The cat licked a paw. 

Becks, who seemed to have recovered from her shock, sighed. “Real cat, then. Not a shifter.”

“Ah, well.” I scooped the little tabby kitten up again. “We’ll still get a bit of cash.”

“Not for the zombie,” said Zeph. “What was that gargoyle’s problem?”

“Hell if I know. He thought it was ‘cursed’. It’s swimming with the hydra now, besides.”

Still, I made a mental note to check into the necromancer guild at the next opportunity. That zombie should not have been able to move so fast of its own accord. Not that I was an expert. Thanks to my return from death at Lorne and the Orion League’s hands, I’d developed the ability to see and interact with ghosts, but nobody would ever believe a dragon shifter could talk to dead people. Or rather, that they could talk to me. Let’s just say they weren’t the most interesting conversationalists. No wonder the necromancers were so antisocial.

The dead man, though… I’d never seen one marked with those symbols before. Necromancers could raise the dead with a snap of their fingers. There was no need for mysterious runes or other trickery.

I glanced at Becks. “He moved wicked fast for an undead. Is that what freaked you out, Becks?”

“I just got a bad feeling.” She shuddered. “He felt… odd. Cold. And you’re right, he shouldn’t have been able to move like that.”

“Maybe someone left a witch spell on him,” I suggested. “I’d have checked, but I didn’t want to turn into gargoyle bait.”

“You nearly did anyway,” she said. “They’ve been on edge since you destroyed the arena.”

“Anyone would think I’d wrecked everything instead of killing the two dickheads who were forcing them to fight to the death.” I heaved a sigh. “I know, I know. The gargoyles who made a living betting on arena matches are desperate for someone to blame, and they never liked us much anyway.”

“That’s because they didn’t know or care about the shifters trapped in cages,” Becks said, her fists tightening. “And they don’t remember being hypnotised. Only the aftermath.”

“Maybe I should show up on their doorsteps with cupcakes.” I rolled my eyes. “Whether they blame us or not, they seemed as freaked out as you were about the body, Becks. Why would the gargoyles say the undead was cursed? There are zombies everywhere in the city.”

“Who even knows why the gargoyles do anything?” Zeph shook his head. “Best forget it. Get the bonus and then find our next job.”

“Shifts at the bar aren’t exciting enough for you?” I asked. “Or don’t you get enough in tips?”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I prefer more hands-on work, and the company here is better.”

There was the merest hint of a growl in his words that made heat climb up my neck to my cheeks. One of the downsides to being a dragon shifter… blushing like a furnace. I ducked my head on the pretext of adjusting my grip on the kitten, but not before I spotted the sly grin creeping onto Zeph’s face. I suspected he enjoyed winding me up more than the actual flirting, but he hadn’t made an open pass at me. Given our housing situation, it was probably for the best. He was also the first dragon shifter I’d made friends with who wasn’t my sister, and he’d told me he hadn’t met another of his kind since his village had been destroyed eight years ago. Maybe he just wanted companionship. He got on with everyone except Astor, and otherwise, my life was way too tenuous to consider ruining our friendship by hooking up with him. Besides, with my overprotective big sister around, chance would be a fine thing.

Becks strode ahead of us through the automatic doors of Darcy’s place, the local branch of the Official Order of Mercenaries. Not that ‘official’ meant much, considering most of the funding had been spent on the shiny chrome building rather than actually paying the employees. Darcy sat behind the desk, polishing a knife he’d probably never used. The broad-shouldered gargoyle shifter arched a brow as I deposited the wriggling feline on the desk. 

“What’s that?”

“It’s a kitten,” I told him. “You know—four paws, sharp claws, says ‘meow’? We rescued it from the London Eye on your orders.”

Darcy scowled. “The job description said a black and white kitten, not a tabby.”

“He was the only cat on the London Eye that I saw.”

“It also said Big Ben, not the London Eye.”

“That is not what the client said on the phone. We did the job to the letter.” I gave him a challenging stare. “I didn’t climb halfway up the London Eye and nearly get attacked by a zombie and a bunch of gargoyles for you to refuse payment.”

“Zombie? What zombie?”

“You know, a dead person,” I said. “Slightly vacant expression, lack of any living brain cells, tendency to stare blankly at you?”

“Don’t play the smart-arse, Cori,” he said. “There are some downright weird reports coming in from the necromancer guild. Supposedly, there’s a rogue stealing corpses again and setting them loose on the public.”

“Wait, so there are more of them?”

He grunted. “Not our business. We deal with the living, not the dead.”

Uh, yeah, about that. Some of us dealt with both and not by choice. “The cash?”

He handed me a twenty-pound note. “Take it or leave it.”

Twenty freaking pounds? Is that all? Even with the shelter temporarily closed, there were still seven people to feed, and three of us had wasted the morning on that joke of a mission when one would have been enough. I bloody well hoped Will and Kit had sold a shit-ton of spells today. It also said something about the state of the job market at the moment that Darcy was the fairest employer I’d had in my adult life.

“Any other missions for us?” Becks asked. “Preferably more high-profile than a human-style firefighter mission.”

“Return the Moonbeam to the mages.”

The grimy twenty-pound note slipped from my fingers, and Becks’s hand shot out and caught it before it fluttered away.

“You what?” I took the note from Becks, lowering my hand.

“The Mage Lords have put out a warrant for the return of the Moonbeam, and Lorne along with it. Dead or alive.”

“Is he even still in the city?” I stuck the money in my pocket. I’d like nothing more than to bury my claws in Lorne’s spine, but I was under the impression he’d fled London to hide with the Moonbeam he’d stolen from the mages.

The Moonbeam that by rights belonged to the dragon shifters.

“Just what I heard,” he said. “Other than that, we’re drier than a troll’s rear. No work here.”

“Thanks for that mental image.” Turning on my heel, I left the lobby, my feet clacking on the polished floor.

The automatic doors slid shut behind Zeph. “Maybe you should move to another guild.”

“This is the only one in the area,” Becks put in. “It’d be fine if we had transport, but we don’t.”

“Hello?” I flapped my arms in an imitation of wings beating. 

Zeph grinned. “I doubt you want to fly to work every day, considering the effort involved.”

He wasn’t wrong. It had taken me two solid weeks to build the stamina to maintain a full shift without spending the rest of the day unconscious. But I got stronger every time I shifted. This time, I felt positively energised. “No, but I’d fly to catch Lorne if I knew where he was. Then…”

“Ker-ching,” said Becks, snapping her fingers, and metaphorical dollar signs appeared in her eyes.

Zeph shook his head. “I doubt he’ll be easy to track even by air. I’ve been circling the city in my free time and… nothing. He must be travelling on foot or not in the city at all.”

“Maybe the necromancers would have paid us for the zombie.” I doubted it, but it’d be just our luck. Lately, our money leaked away no matter how well we rationed it. It wasn’t like we were unaccustomed to making do with next to nothing, but still.

“The cat’s following us,” Becks remarked.

I turned back. Sure enough, the little tabby padded along behind me.

“Hey, you can’t come with us,” I said. “Trust me, it’s not a good idea.”

“We already have a baby dragonling,” said Becks.

“He’s not so little anymore,” Zeph added.

He wasn’t wrong. The dragonling had remained the same size, more or less, for the first few weeks. Then he’d hit a massive growth spurt and was now the size of a small tiger. In another few weeks, he’d be the height of a person or bigger. And Kit was still hand-feeding him and calling him Cuddles when Will wasn’t listening.

That poor kitten. I wasn’t letting him within a mile of the dragonling, that was for sure.

I picked him up, and the kitten curled into my arm. “We’ll give him to Keira, then. She won’t mind another stray.”

We turned into Magic Avenue, which rested between two ordinary streets and looked equally normal despite its magical nature. Two reasons: tradition, and safety. The road had been hidden before the faerie invasion, and while its wards no longer concealed it from view, most people living here retained the secrecy of the pre-invasion world. The gargoyle-shaped dent in the road and the roof tiles missing from our shop were proof of the targets on our backs. We’d probably devalued the cost of every property in the neighbourhood just by living here, but this was our home.

I left the kitten with Keira, ducking her attempts to reel us into conversation. She’d taken a real shine to Zeph, which came as no surprise. Everyone liked him. The day he’d shown up here, he’d wandered into a local bar and immediately got a job without even trying. Perks of being a dragon shifter—he could work in dangerous areas with minimal risk. He’d settled surprisingly well into our family despite the ongoing tension of having too many shifters crammed into an enclosed space, but he earned his keep, being the only one of us aside from Will who could cook without starting an argument or starting a fire. Or both.

Will sat behind the counter in the shop, drumming his fingers on the wooden surface. His boyfriend Kit was feeding strips of dried chicken to the dragonling, who we’d mutually agreed to name Thorn. Being a Summer half-faerie gave Kit a natural affinity with nature, and the dragonling had become attached to him the instant he hatched.

“Hey,” I said, handing Will the twenty-pound note. “Sorry, the job was a bust. House cat, not a shifter. Unless you’d like to volunteer to fight a bunch of gargoyles over the zombie we found halfway up the London Eye?”

“I’ll pass.” He stuck the note in the cash register. “I hope your sister and Astor are having better luck.”

“Sure hope so.” The two of them had gone out on an earlier mission. “Darcy said the only mission left on the schedule was for the mages. They want Lorne and the Moonbeam back.” 

Will blinked. “You know where Lorne is?”

“Nope.” I wish. The Moonbeam’s magic might have saved my life, but I remained none the wiser about where he’d taken it. “Ah well. May as well take a nap if I have the rest of the morning free.”

Getting the same idea, Becks made for the back door into our main room. I followed, preparing to sprawl on the sofa. Except someone else already sat there.

Another dragon shifter.

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