Thorn by Tia Didmon
The coffee grinder drowned out her screams. Ella inhaled the rich aromatic scent of espresso and caramel tinged with spices. The fruity aroma of steaming herbal teas and fresh baked goods replaced the memories of her attack, bringing her back to the quaint cafe across from her apartment.
It had taken her a month to leave her suite. The enticing aromas from the bakery had led her to sit on the outside patio and order a vanilla macchiato. She visited every day and most days included a visit from Thorn. The wolf who saved her. The wolf she had sculpted a hundred times before she met him. She hadn't ventured past the safety of the cafe and still had her groceries delivered, but the hour she spent watching people bustle to and from work gave her some semblance of normality. It allowed her to forget there were monsters in the world. The immortal ones that drained your blood. She took a sip of her spiced coffee as the women approached.
Zara had checked in on her often since the attack, but Ella had never met her friend.
The metal chair squeaked against the cobblestone as Zara pulled her chair back. "Hello, Ella. This is my sister-in-law, Mara. May we join you?"
Ella pointed to the chairs. "Please do." Fur rubbed against her side. He was back. Her friend. Her Saviour. Thorn. She stroked his ears. "I appreciate you bringing him to visit me. He's here almost every day. It's really helped with my recovery."
Zara and Mara shared a glance. "I don't bring Thorn to see you. He does that on his own," Zara said.
Ella could usually detect a lie. The police officer was telling the truth. "How does he get here, then? You said he lives in the mountains with your family."
Mara pursed her lips. "That's the reason we came to see you. Thorn is unique. He isn't a wolf."
Ella looked down at the blue crystalline eyes. They held a sadness that no four-legged animal should possess. Her wolf looked tired. While he didn't live with her, she had come to think of him as hers. The one friend that asked nothing of her and she could always depend on Thorn. Admittedly, she always preferred animals to humans. Their wants and needs were so much simpler than those of humanity. "Funny, he looks like a wolf to me."
Mara wiped a bead of sweat from her brow. The attractive, raven-haired woman was nervous. Afraid. And not of Ella. "He's more than he seems."
The beautiful woman's cagey behavior made Ella turn to survey the clusters of people seated on the cafe patio. The small array of black metal tables surrounded by a wrought-iron fence appeared as it had every other day. Nothing appeared out of place and the women noted the surroundings often. "I'm aware there are actual monsters in the world. Don't tell me Thorn is one of them?" Her chest squeezed. She believed in Thorn. The one good thing to come from a horrible experience. She hadn't put her trauma behind her.
Mara's eyebrows arched. "No. Thorn is amazing. We all love him, but if you don't help him, he will die."
Ella's heart stuttered. It was the last thing she expected Mara to say. "Die? Who would want to hurt Thorn?"
Mara smiled as the server placed the cups of coffee in front of the ladies. She took a sip, frowning as if she didn't care for the taste. Her eyes followed the server, waiting until the girl was out of earshot before she replied. "You've had a run-in with a dark dragon, but we didn't realize until Thorn's fixation on you that you are his Druid. You haven't reached your twenty-third birthday, but it's coming. With it comes the maturity of your power."
Ella took a quick sip of her espresso, allowing the fiery liquid to center her. It wasn't the strange nature of the conversation. She had a lifetime of unusual. It was the fact that Mara wasn't lying. Heat bloomed in her chest when Mara referred to her as Thorn's. "What kind of power do I have? And what is yours? Are you psychic?"
Mara's eyes glazed over. The pupils receded, leaving white, iridescent globes. Her entire body froze as if it were unoccupied.
Zara glanced around the café. "Shit. This isn't the time for a vision, Mara."
Ella leaned closer, gazing into the milky eyes. "She has visions?"
Zara nodded. "That's her power. Mara is a seer. She had a vision about you, and it involves Thorn."
Mara took a deep breath as her eyes returned to emerald green with streaks of blue. "Not the best timing."
Zara put her hand on Mara's arm. "It's fine. No one noticed. What did you see?"
Mara glanced at Thorn before meeting Ella's gaze. "It's the same as before. A vision about Ella. She's traveling in a dense forest. It isn't local. The Amazon maybe. Thorn is with her. So is Draco and another man I don't recognize. He's a Dragon and is helping them. They are searching for something." She rubbed her forehead.
Ella's hand trembled as she sipped her coffee. "What are we searching for?"
Mara grabbed two white pills from her purse, popping them in her mouth and washing them down with her coffee. "I don't know what it is exactly. Only that it's a key to Thorn resuming his human form."
Ella sat back in her seat. "What?"
The images formed in her mind. Thorn running through the forest. A man she didn't recognize shifting from his human form to Dragon. He was beautiful and obviously Thorn's friend. The wolf climbed on his back, soaring through the clouds as the wind whistled over his fur. The backdrop changed, and the countryside became something she didn't recognize. Rolling hill speckled with clusters of rock and long grass. An attractive muscular man with dark hair and blue crystalline eyes smiled at her. Thorn's eyes.
She clutched her chest. "Dear God." It wasn't the image of Thorn as a man that startled her. It was the way her body reacted. She was unprepared for the heat he created within her body. Why would Thorn show her an image of him naked? Was that a wolf thing?
Zara leaned over the table, dropping the pitch of her voice. "Are you all right?"
Ella placed her coffee cup on the table. "I saw images of Thorn as a man. As crazy as this sounds, I believe you, but why me? How am I supposed to help him?"
Zara pursed her lips. "You're a Druid. You haven't manifested your power yet, but the darks know about you. Roker knew you had Druid blood or he wouldn't have been after you. We don't know what your power will be, but it's crucial to saving Thorn."
Part of Ella wanted to believe what they were saying. That she was special rather than different. "I don't have any special powers. I'm just an artist."
Mara rubbed her temple. "You know that's not true. You have been sculpting Thorn your entire life. Not just any wolf. Thorn."
"I've tried to do variations. Alter the wolf's coat eye color, but it always comes out the same. That doesn't mean I'm a Druid. Maybe I have some psychic ability. It's obvious we have a connection." Ella closed her eyes, losing yourself in the murmur of voices. Hoping the sea of conversation would allow her to float away from the craziness her life had become.
"You are Druid and have a unique connection to Thorn. You know what it is, but you are unprepared to face it," Mara said.
Ella grabbed her coffee, about to stand, when Mara reached out and grabbed her wrist. Power flared between them. Sparks lit beneath her skin as Mara's vision played through her mind. Mara hadn't told Ella about the kiss. She and Thorn wrapped in a lover's embrace. Ella snatched her hand away as if burned. "Stop it!" she hissed.
Mara retracted her hand. "I'm sorry. I know you're still recovering from the attack. That you barely leave your apartment, and I'm asking you to travel halfway across the world to find a herb that will trigger the transformation. It isn't fair, but if you don't help us, we will lose Thorn."
Ella swallowed dry air, looking down at the calm wolf. His eyes held admiration. Love. Sadness. That last one she knew well. "What is this herb? How does it save Thorn?"
Mara shook her head. "The herb will start the transformation, but it won't save him. You search for something that will. I don't know what it is. Only that it will reverse the spell cast on him."
Ella glanced at the blond man sitting at another table. He sipped his coffee, glancing at Mara. Ella had seen him in the café but never talked to him. Mara was oblivious to his hungry stares. She was an attractive curvy woman, but unaware of her beauty. "I know I have to face my fears. I can't keep living like this." She took a sip of her espresso. "Let's say I agree to this trip. When would I leave? How would I get there?"
Mara's eyes swirled with blue flamed behind emerald. "You must leave now."