Authors: Nancy Straight
Touched Series, Book 3
Copyright 2013 Nancy Straight
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Printed in paperback in 2013
available from all major bookstores.
would not have been possible without the support of several incredible people. Linda Brant, my aunt, has painstakingly edited and polished
Rebecca Ufkes, Charles Young, Melissa Balentine,
and Christie Rich volunteered to be Beta Readers – their feedback was invaluable.
The beautiful cover was designed by Amber McNemar at eTHINK Graphic Solutions.
I wish there were a way to single out each of the independent authors out there who have helped and inspired me along the way, but a thank-you to each one would be a book in itself. A few that I cannot leave out of this section are Shelly Crane, Rachel Higginson, Charlotte Abel, Amy Bartol, Christie Rich and Shannon Dermott – each one has been an incredible inspiration to me, and I highly recommend all of their books!
Book bloggers are the unsung heroes for independent authors. There have been many that I feel indebted to, and you can find a list of great ones on my blog:
Three book bloggers deserve a special place on this page, because each one has been a true advocate for me and someone I consider a dear friend:
My husband, Toby, has been supportive of my every adventure. Thanks for all the nights you made dinner and did homework so that I could follow my dream! Alex and Zack, thank you both for all the humor you insert into my every day. There is no luckier Mom on the planet.
I love you all!
Camille, Deserted Motel in South Dakota
Bianca’s eyes were huge as she stood frozen in the door frame. Her shrill voice could have shattered a vase if the cheap motel had one, “What the hell?!”
Gage took a step inside the doorway
; his was a wordless reaction as he grabbed Bianca and yanked her behind him. They had just arrived in our remote hideaway in South Dakota, and from their reaction to seeing Drake, both had been unaware that he was no longer in human form. I wanted to shout, “Surprise,” but no one would have appreciated the humor – especially Drake.
I eased myself in front of Drake, plastered a smile on my face, and made my expression as welcoming as possible. Though my voice was unsteady, I tried to at least control the tempo, so it wouldn’t be too fast or too slow. “So, how was your trip?”
Gage’s eyes glanced my way, but quickly returned to the towering Centaur standing behind me. Drake stood over seven feet tall; his bare chest was exposed – every muscle rigid. At his waist, the body of a brown horse now stood where his legs should have been. He was an imposing sight, and neither Bianca nor Gage had been prepared to see him like this. Both were too stunned to speak for an uncomfortable minute.
Drake’s eyes went to the floor. He’d expected
this reaction and told me we should have warned them ahead of time. Drake and Gage had been close friends growing up. If anyone would blindly accept his transformation, Drake hoped it would be Gage. Their reaction to seeing him as a true Centaur wounded him – he didn’t need to say it out loud. I felt his pain.
Bianca peeked around Gage
’s tall shoulders. I’d missed her. Bianca reminded me of a living, breathing Barbie-doll. Her long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and easy smile drew people to her. A quick flash of a memory sped through my mind.
She and I had been outside William’s house shortly after I learned I was a Centauride
. I was still learning about Centauride powers, and Bianca took it upon herself to teach me how to hide my thoughts from others. A smile emerged at the memory. The thoughts she was helping me to hide at the time were of Drake –
I shared this memory with her
telepathically – when I did, her eyes lit up. She closed her eyes, and then pushed one of her memories to me. It was an image of Gage and her standing in the surf, exchanging their wedding vows. More than just an image, I felt the cool of the water on her feet, the heat from the sun beating down, and the smoothness of the sand between her toes. As her wedding day memory faded, she stepped away from her Centaur barrier, a.k.a Gage, and pulled me into a death grip of a hug.
he initial shock of seeing Drake had worn off, at least for Bianca. Gage and Drake both looked like they were ready to tackle the other if an aggressive move were made.
We had been through so much together in a short period of time
– all four of us had. Bianca and I first met at my brother Bruce’s wedding when she was engaged to Drake. Within days she decided Drake and I were destined for one another. She’d never told me why she believed it, but it probably had something to do with her being madly in love with Gage at the time. She didn’t let the fact that she and Drake were already betrothed stop her from matchmaking.
had become my first friend after I found out I was a Centauride. I wanted to know everything that had happened since we separated after our escape from Zandra’s house. What little glimpse she shared with me looked amazing, but it had been weeks since we saw each other. Bianca’s voice answered in my head, “
I’ll never be able to thank you enough.
I could have answered her telepathically, but Gage and Drake were still eyeing each other with concern.
Speaking for Drake and me, “We’re glad it worked out – for all of us.”
refused to take his eyes off of Drake.
Drake made it a habit of not moving around much in the cramped motel room
. The less he moved, the less damage happened to the little room. Drake took a ginger step forward; one of his strides now was nearly the length of two of mine. This landed Drake squarely in front of Gage, towering nearly a foot over him.
Gage’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. Bianca turned toward Gage
, scolding him as if he were a child. “No more trying to catch snowflakes – we’re inside. Close your mouth.”
Drake slowly held out his hand to Gage. “Good to see you.”
Gage’s head bobbed in response, his cheeks flushed a deep red. He took Drake’s extended hand, but no words escaped him.
I didn’t want the awkwardness to grow
, so I turned back to Bianca. “Tell me all about it. Don’t leave out any details. You got married in the Caribbean?” I grabbed her forearm, motioning for her to sit beside me on the double bed closest to the door. “Start with when we dropped you at Gage’s house.”
finally found his voice, “Bianca, dear, I think Camille may have more pressing things to share with us.”
I played dumb because this was too good of a chance to waste.
Looking up at Gage with the most perplexed expression I could find, I asked, “How do you mean? Oh, right, Zandra and I had a run in again, but she didn’t throw me in her car’s trunk this last time. I have a twin brother, Cameron. He seems okay, but I’ve only talked to him on the phone and he’s at Zandra’s estate – so I hope he’s not locked up the way we were. It turns out I’m part of the Lost Herd, and Centaurs everywhere don’t seem happy about it. Something else. . . what was it? I was sure I wanted to tell you. . . something.”
Gage didn’t appreciate my humor.
“Funny, Camille! What happened to Drake?”
Drake’s hoof did an involuntary stomp
; the lamp closest to him, along with the window pane, rattled in fear. Drake’s voice was quiet but clear, “Gage, ease up. I didn’t know how to tell you when you called.”
“A little warning would have been helpful
. Something like, oh, by the way – I don’t have feet anymore!”
“You were the one who wanted to come here. What was I supposed to say? I’ve put on a little weight
; we’re not sure if you’ll want to hang out with us.”
Gage shook his head
in disbelief. Bianca and I watched the conversation between them. The last couple weeks as Drake told me of all the things he missed about his old life, not having Gage around had been the hardest for him. The two had been like brothers. The shock of seeing Drake’s transformation without any warning ahead of time must have felt like some sort of a betrayal. Gage’s voice was calmer when he asked, “How did this happen?”
Drake exhaled deeply,
slicked his hand through his hair, gave a pained look in my direction, and answered, “Hercules’ arrow.”
” Gage’s eyes darted between Drake’s and mine. “You mean the stories of the Chirons having Hercules’ arrow were true? How did it transform you into a Centaur?”
“From what I was told, Chiron put all his remaining magic in that arrow. He felt Cami was in danger
, so this was his way of protecting his Centauride heir.”
Disbelief echoed in Gage’s voice,
“From what you were told? Who told you that?”
Drake looked at me, trying to decide if he could trust Gage and Bianca with the truth. Finding out that he had had an actual conversation with Zeus would be hard for anyone to swallow.
Drake’s expression was torn. I used our telepathic connection and encouraged him, “
Tell them. I don’t want to keep secrets from either of them. They can handle the truth.
Drake eased back from Gage, knocking the dresser
that was behind him and rocking the television that was positioned on it. He let out a breath as his word hung in the air, “Zeus.”
. “Zeus? Like the father of the gods? He talked to you?”
Drake nodded. “Yeah
. After the arrow transformed me, I hoped it would somehow be able to change me back. I went to retrieve it from where I’d hidden it away, but Goddess Harmonia took it.”
Confused, Gage asked,
“Why did Goddess Harmonia want the arrow?”
“She said it never belonged to Chiron. It was Hercules’ arrow and was too dangerous to remain on earth.
She took it back to Hercules.”
“I’m not following.
When did you talk to Zeus?”
’s eyes fell on me. He’d never told me the whole story, so I hung on his words just as the others did. His hand slid along the smooth surface of the dresser beside him. “I was angry. Cami had just found me. I thought maybe the arrow. . . I thought I could get my life back.” Drake’s gaze settled on Gage, “After Harmonia took it I got mad and cursed the gods.”
“I don’t know what all I said, but I cursed them. When I did, Zeus reminded me of his Centaur Tenant. I told him to strike me down because my life was over anyway.” He dropped Gage’s stare and looked at me. “I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Cami, again.”
He didn’t impose a death sentence? Your punishment for cursing the gods was to remain a Centaur Warrior?”
No. Zeus let the curse go. He even offered to turn me back to human.” The three of us stared at Drake for a second before he continued, “Zeus told me I wouldn’t be strong enough to protect Cami if I were a human. He said he could turn me back, but the only way to protect her was to stay a warrior. He was right. A couple nights ago, a few hours before you called me, we had just been attacked by thirty Centaurs. There’s no way we would have survived if I had been in human form.”
Gage’s eyes opened wide as
surprise colored his voice, “You
to stay like this?”
“I had to.” Drake’s voice was solemn as he confessed, “I couldn’t protect Cami when I was in a human form. Remember Phineas?”
Gage nodded. How could any of us forget Phineas? While I was under house arrest at Zandra’s estate, Phineas had been one of my guards. He was the one who helped me find Drake and Bianca, then helped us escape.
“Phineas is the leader of the Lost Herd. He and several other Centaurs kidnapped Cami and left me for dead
when we first arrived in South Dakota.”
“Wait! Why am I just now hearing about all of this?”
“You two were out of the country. We started out in Ireland, then Cami’s great-uncle told us we needed to go to South Dakota to find her twin brother. Right after we arrived she was kidnapped by Phineas. Cami’s family came to South Dakota to help me search for her. Even Zandra was in on trying to find her, but Phineas was smarter than that and got her away from here before everyone arrived.”
Bianca looked mortified when she interrupted, “How did you find her?”
Drake confessed, “I didn’t. None of us found her. We searched for days and kept coming up empty.” He dropped Bianca’s gaze and looked at me when he finished, “She freed herself.”
Bianca’s confusion was evident, “So
, tell me again. Why do you look like a horse?”
Drake crossed his arms
; his biceps bulged and his expression turned rigid. “Don’t you see? A few Centaurs took me by surprise and I almost lost her. Once word gets out that she’s descended from the Lost Herd, it won’t be just three or four Centaurs after her. I couldn’t take the chance of losing her, again.”
Bianca eyed him skeptically
. Before she could ask him another question, I pushed the memory of the thirty Centaurs who had ambushed us at Cameron’s house two nights before. Gage needed the same information even though I couldn’t
him what had happened. Reiterating what Drake had already told them, “Thirty Centaurs attacked us two nights ago while we were hiding out at Cameron’s house. The only reason we’re still together is because Drake chose this form and was able to fight our way out.”
After watching the memory of our escape
, she answered me, “
Okay, I get why he did it, but what kind of a future do you two have?
Without an ounce of hesitation, I answered, “
Our future. We’re together, that’s all that matters.”
My hand clumsily reached for Drake’s. His was warm and strong as it wrapped itself around mine.
Drake and Gage couldn’t hear us, but both must have sensed
Bianca and I were talking because neither said a word. She asked, “Will Zeus turn him back into a human when the danger has passed
My teeth sunk into my lip.
“No. Zeus told Drake it was permanent.” Although answering Bianca, I turned toward Drake and squeezed his hand that was still holding mine. “We’ve been through too much together. I chose him, and he chose this form to keep us alive. When it’s safe, he’ll be human again. I don’t know how I know – I just know.”
Bianca didn’t look like she believed me. I would have been more concerned
if she were a seer. The future didn’t lay itself out in front of her the way it did for Gretchen, Lacey and me.