The Hidden, Book 1
Grand Central Publishing (December 17, 2013)
ISBN-13: 9781455523221 ♦ ISBN-10: 1455523224
“A sexy and intense series. Jaime Rush has my undivided attention.”
—New York Times bestselling author Larissa Ione
“A passionate, spellbinding dragon tale.”
—New York Times bestselling author Pamela Palmer
They are the Hidden.
Not quite human. Far from normal.
And never, ever safe . . .
My name is Ruby Salazaar. My Uncle Moncrief raised me on a rich diet of stories about a hidden world filled with magical beings and humans who held the essence of either sorcerers, angels, or dragons. I cut my romantic teeth on the Dragon Prince, who kidnapped a young woman and seduced her to darkness.
I grew up, life got tough, and so did I. There were no magick or princes in my life.
Yesterday, Mon urgently summoned me. I raced to his home and found a freaky scene: a spear of lightning pinning him to the wall. He uttered one word on his dying breath: “Cyntag.” His murderer. The lightning set the house on fire. Then it raced after me. I barely escaped.
I remembered a magick weapon like that in Moncrief’s stories, but those were fairy tales. Weren’t they? I couldn’t deny what I’d seen, though, and I could tell no one. I searched the ashes and found his address book containing the name of the man who had killed my beloved uncle.
I would go to Cyntag Valeron. And I would make him pay.
“Rush is back with an exhilarating new paranormal romance series that features supernatural creatures hidden amongst the population. Rush’s new heroine is unaware of her unique heritage until the murder of her uncle reveals nothing is as it seems. A hallmark of a Rush novel is her excellent blending of character motivation and plot dynamics—this series is off to a terrific start!” – RTBook Reviews
Read an Excerpt
[edited for brevity]
“Moncrief finally sent you to me then?” Cyntag glanced around his office. “He didn’t come with you?”
“He’s dead.” Which you know, considering you killed him. The words burned up her throat and singed her tongue. The rage, she could hardly hold it back.
Cool and calm, calm and cool.
His eyebrows, shaped like sleek raven’s wings, settled into a furrow. “Moncrief is dead? How?”
“You sent an orb, some kind of lightning thing, to kill him. Don’t play dumb with me.” The words boiled out. So much for cool and calm. “He said your name. I asked him who had done it, and on his dying breath, he said your name.” Now she’d accused him. He would have to act, defend…or kill her. She pulled the gun from her back and leveled it at him, because the latter option was most likely.
An odd expression flickered across his face. “Ruby, what are you doing?”
Losing her mind, that’s what. She grabbed his phone and thumb-dialed her number. After her outgoing message, she shoved it toward him. “Say your name and admit you had him killed.”
He was eerily cool, the way she should have been. “I didn’t kill Moncrief.”
“He said you did.”
“I don’t think he said that, Ruby.” Gods, the way he said her name, slow and smooth, like thick honey. “You obviously saw an orb kill him. You were upset, scared. Like you are now.”
She pushed the gun closer. “I’m not scared. I’m pissed. I know how to use this. I hit the center of the target nine times out of ten.”
“Impressive. Are you shaking like this while you’re aiming?” In a flash, he turned her around, shoved her arm aside, and tightened his grip on her wrist. His arms encircled her, his bare skin brushing against her arms.
A sharp click, then another, and the magazine dropped to the floor. “I suggest you release the weapon, and we’ll continue this conversation in a more civilized fashion.”
The gun fell from her hand, thudding on the floor. He took the phone from her other hand and disconnected, then set it on the desk. Finally, he released her. She moved as far from him as she could, rubbing her wrist.
He casually leaned back against his desk. “What exactly did Moncrief tell you about me?”
“I only know your name because Mon said it as he was dying.”
That seemed to surprise him. “You know nothing about me?” He seemed to digest that. “Describe the orb.” Still pretending he knew nothing about it, huh? “It set the house on fire?”
“Yes, and how might you know that?”
His nostrils flared. “I smell the smoke on you. Tell me what happened.”
She intended to give him a cursory description and had to hand it to him, like an investigator, he extracted every detail from her. He even looked angry when she talked about how it blocked her escape.
“You must have been terrified.” Was he gloating?
“I was too busy trying to save my ass to be terrified.”
“Nobody saw it but you, right?”
“No, it hid when they arrived. Tell me why you killed him.”
He walked to the window, placing his hands on the glass and letting out a long, frustrated breath. Instantly, fog steamed around the perimeter of his palms and long fingers. “Old bastard wouldn’t listen to me. Thought he was invincible.”
She inched toward the door and reached for the handle. Suddenly Cyntag stood there, his hand tight over hers.
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“How…how did you do that? I didn’t even see you move.” She tried to kick him in the groin. Another dumb idea, considering he ran a dojo for a living.
He didn’t hurt her, not much anyway. He did, however, pin her against the door, his thigh pressing the offending leg tight. His hands gripped her wrists and held them at her hips. “That is not a wise thing to do.”
Panic, and something she couldn’t name, fluttered through her at the feel of so much man and heat so close to her. She coaxed her bravado from where it had scurried and lifted her chin. “Afraid I’ll hurt you?”
“Once my instincts are triggered, it’s hard to stop. I’m sure I’ll hurt you. As of right now, I do not wish to do that. That may change as days go by.”
“Days?” Fear coiled around her chest. “What are you going to do, keep me…hostage?”
He let her question hang for an agonizing moment, as though he were considering it. God, had she given him ideas? He said, “Not entirely.” That did not sound good, but before she could get too freaked out about it, he continued. “Your uncle and I did not share a warm and loving opinion of each other, but I didn’t kill him. Do you know why I would not harm one hair on his head?”
She wanted to believe that the guy whose hard, muscular body pinned hers against the wall and who could no doubt break her neck with a flick of his fingers hadn’t killed her uncle. “I’ll play your silly game. Why didn’t you kill him?”
He gave her a chastising look. “Because his death puts you in danger, and I am your sworn protector. Moncrief had your best interest at heart, but I told him it was a bad idea to try thwarting nature. And fate. If he’s dead, I am now saddled with a neophyte who has no idea the danger that stalks her, the world into which she was born, or her own powers. So believe me when I say, I would not wish death on him.”
He stepped back enough so she could escape from the heat of his body. Except her knees buckled, and she had to lean against the door for support.
She stared at him. “Do you know how friggin’ crazy that just sounded?”
He shook his head and looked up to the ceiling. “So much to learn. So little time to do it. Such a buffoon.”
“You’re calling me a buffoon?” And who used that word, anyway?
“That remains to be seen. I meant your uncle. He left us in quite the mess.”
This conversation wasn’t going in any direction she could follow. “It’s been lovely, but I need to scream now. I mean, go now.” She reached for the door handle, and he closed his hand over her wrist in a firm grip.
Which again put him in close proximity. “The orb that killed Moncrief, you saw its power?” His voice was soft and deadly.
“You’re threatening me?”
“Enlightening you. You put a gun to my chest. If I could make an orb, wouldn’t I have used it against you then?”
He continued. “And, in fact, I’ve had you under my physical control twice. I could crack your neck like this.” He snapped his fingers.
Hadn’t she thought the same thing?
“And I did not. We need to find out who did kill Moncrief though, because he or she may well be after you too.”
Ruby tried to pull away but he maintained his hold over her hand. His black-and-blue dragon tattoo stared at her, almost as mesmerizing as the man himself. She dragged her gaze to his. “Why would someone want to hurt me? Obviously Mon was involved in something dangerous, but that has nothing to do with me.”
“We don’t know why Moncrief was killed. At the least, you’re a witness. Reason enough to make sure you don’t blab your mouth about killer orbs.”
She could swear the dragon blinked. That Cyntag had the tattoo, the dragon decorations, and that he looked like Mon’s Dragon Prince from the fairytales he’d created for her was a bizarre coincidence. But no less bizarre than the rest of this encounter.
Cyntag released her and leaned against the door so that it would be impossible to open it wide enough to slip out. Okay, let’s not freak about being trapped in here with the crazy dude.
He assessed her with his dark gaze and then skimmed his hands down her shoulders and arms like he would with, say, one of his students. The action held no sensuality, no sense of impropriety, and yet, his hands left a heated imprint on her skin.
“At least you’re in good shape. That will help.” He nodded to the gun on the floor. “You came to take me down for killing your uncle. Because he uttered my name on his dying breath.” Amusement glittered in his eyes. “You, a mere girl, would take me down.”
“I’m not a girl, and don’t underestimate me.”
“I admire your bravado. You’ll need that. Still, you must never walk into the enemy’s den without knowing anything about him.”
“To be clear, I came here to snoop, because that was the only way I could find out more about you. The gun was for protection, just in case. You were supposed to be busy teaching your class.” How had he known she was there?
“To be clear, if I was your enemy, you would be dead now. Moncrief wasn’t naming his murderer. He was trying to send you to me because, as his life ebbed, he knew I was your only chance of surviving.” In a voice under his breath, he added, “I’m sure he loved that.” He picked up the letter opener from his desk and ran his finger down the edge. “You want his murderer to face justice, do you not?”
“With every cell in my body.”
“Good.” He held the letter opener out to her handle first. “Take it.”
She did, feeling the warmed metal against her palm and the curves of the dragon.
He raised his arms out to his sides. “If you’re sure I killed him, go ahead then. Take your revenge.”
She squeezed the handle and stared at a chest that looked so hard she wasn’t sure the tip would penetrate. He was taunting her. Daring her. She pressed the tip to the molded pec over his heart, just below the Dragon’s mouth.
“Could you do it, Ruby? As tough as you like to appear, could you sink a sharp object into someone’s flesh? It’s harder than you think. Physically and psychologically, even when you feel justified. Could you handle the feel of warm blood gushing between your fingers and down your arm?”
Every bit of the rage she felt since seeing the bolt piercing her uncle’s chest rushed in around her. “Yes.”
“Good.” He paused, staring into her eyes in a way that twisted her stomach. But nothing like his next words did. “You’ve felt it, haven’t you, a rage so hot and fierce that you believe you could take someone’s life? Even though that sane and civilized part of you abhors that ferocity, a darker part craves it.” Her denial withered on her tongue. He didn’t press her because he seemed to know she had. “Have you ever killed someone?”
She wanted to say one or two but somehow she knew he’d spot her lie. “I threatened someone. And I would have gone through with it too if he hadn’t paid for the merchandise.” She could hardly push the words out of her dry throat.
Her business partner hadn’t bothered to check the slip of paper the hulk of a man waved in his face, and off the restored motorcycle went—without getting paid for. When she’d hunted the man down, he dismissed her as a mere girl. She threatened the creep with bodily harm—oddly, not with shooting him but tearing out his throat. He must have sensed her suppressed violence, because he paid on the spot.
“Killing is not easy to do,” Cyntag said. “And should never be done out of rage.”
“Are you speaking from experience?” It sure sounded like it.
His mouth twitched ever so slightly. “I don’t think we should go there just now.”
Which meant they’d go there later. And that she was right.
Cyntag smelled of earth and fire and—where in the hell were these thoughts coming from? His energy and heat pulled at her. Were his eyes glowing? She swore something flickered in them, just for a second.
He nodded to the point of the letter opener. “Why are you hesitating?”
She took a step back. “Because I can’t be sure you did it.” He was right. If he was Mon’s murderer, she’d be dead.
“Very good. You put logic over your anger. As opposed to when you pulled the gun on me or tried to crush my balls. Never let your emotions drive you.”
“I’m not a rash and emotional person. Then again, I don’t usually watch someone I love die or get chased by a supernatural ball of fire.”
He leaned against the door again, though she couldn’t be certain it was to block her escape. He looked so relaxed. Yeah, as relaxed as a lion. “What do you know about the Hidden?”
“It’s a fairy tale world my uncle made up for me. How do you know about it?” She couldn’t imagine Mon sharing that with this guy. Or anyone, really.
“Tell me about this world.”
Fine, she’d humor him. “Centuries ago, there was this Atlantis-like island in the Bermuda Triangle called Lucifera that was governed by gods of Dragons and magick. Because of the weird energy that comes from crystals found deep within the Earth’s surface, along with a planetary alignment and a solar storm, some of the gods were able to take physical human form. They succumbed to human emotions and, as Mon put it, ‘fell in love’ with the people. What he meant was that the gods got with the humans, because they created children. They were called Crescents because they inherited a sliver of their sire’s godly nature.”
He dipped his head in confirmation. “Legend has it that three gods realized procreating with humans wasn’t a good idea. An angel, a Dragon, and a Deuce formed the Tryah and incited a war in hopes that the Crescents would kill each other off. It escalated into a magick war.”
“Alrighty then, glad you cleared that up for me.”
“Happy to do so. Go on, let’s see if you’ve got the rest of it right.”
Feeling like a schoolgirl being tested on history, she found herself striving to recall the details. Which was ridiculous, since it was a friggin’ fairy tale. “The war ended up destroying the island and forced the humans to the mainland. The naughty gods were trapped in a state of limbo between their plane of existence and the Bermuda Triangle.”
“That’s right. What else was part of Moncrief’s Hidden?” he asked.
“Monsters, demons, elves, that sort of thing, but only Crescents could see them. That’s why they were considered Hidden.”
“Was there no Cyntag in the stories then?”
She wanted to laugh, of all the conceit. “No.” Her gaze slid to the dragon figurines on his bookshelf. “There was a man who looked like you, but he was only known as the Dragon Prince. He kidnapped a young woman and seduced her to darkness. They fought a great evil together, but he was basically an arrogant butthead, and she ended up killing him.”
His upper lip twitched, not quite a sneer but close. “Seduced her to darkness, hmm? And did this woman have a name?”
“Garnet.” Mon’s sketches of her had reminded Ruby of Alice from Alice in Wonderland.
Cyntag slowly nodded. “I suppose he was trying to prepare you in his feeble way, giving you the truth without telling you that it was, in fact, true. Except the Dragon Prince would never kidnap anyone. How do I know? He based the prince on me, I’m sure, though I am no prince.”
“That I can believe.”
He very nearly smiled that time. “You never made the connection between Garnet and Ruby both being red gems?”
“Of course. I figured since he wrote the stories for me, he gave the girl a name similar to mine. Stories being the key word there, as in make-believe, fictional. Come on. Gods? Dragons?”
“You are the girl in the story. When you reached puberty, you should have been initiated into your full power. Moncrief could not do that because he’s not the same type of Crescent as you. You were supposed to move in with people like you to learn their ways. I swore to your grandfather that I would train you, prepare you, and be your protector. But Moncrief wouldn’t cooperate, stubborn old goat.”
He looked up at the ceiling and rubbed the back of his neck where his black hair curled in damp spikes. “You would have been so much easier to deal with then. Malleable. Impressionable. I can see you will be every bit the pain in my ass that your uncle was.”
“You mean I would have been brainwashed.” People like her, he’d said, as though there were in some cult. “You just wanted some young girl under your spell. Ew, you wanted me under your spell.”
He gave her a look that reeked of disdain. “I would only want a grown woman under my spell. I consider you far too young for me. And, beyond that, not my type.”
“I’m twenty-four years old. And you’re what, thirty?”
His mouth turned up in a slow smile. “I’m two-hundred-and-sixty-something, but thank you for the compliment.”
“Hah, funny. Look, I really must be going. I’ve got employees expecting me back at work. Strong, big, muscular employees. Let’s just forget this little misunderstanding.” She grabbed the gun and magazine and tucked them separately into her waistband.
“Ruby, you don’t seem to get that everything changes now. First, I need you to understand what you’re dealing with. Your uncle kept you in the dark, one of those bad decisions based on emotions.”
“Mon was the least emotional person I ever knew.”
“As a master of illusion, he revealed only what he wanted you to see. He was a magician in the truest sense of the word. Did he ever reveal to you how he performed his illusions?”
“No. Well, he did say it was real magic. When I was a child, I believed him. As I got older, I knew there had to be tricks. I saw those shows where the guy betrays his fellow magicians and reveals how the popular tricks are done. I figured it was something like that. Wait a minute. You said danger was stalking me. Why would someone harm me?”
“Where do I start?”
“There’s a list?”
“First it was from the people who had your parents killed.”
“Killed? Mon said it was an accident, that their boat hit something in the ocean and sank.”
Cyntag shook his head. “Someone ordered their deaths.”
“That’s as crazy as everything else you’ve said. More crazy.”
“We decided to let everyone think you died too. Did you ever wonder why Moncrief adopted you so quickly, changed your last name to his, and took you out of the country? It was too risky for Brom to raise you since he was a blood relation and easily connected to you. Moncrief had lost his wife and daughter years earlier, and Brom knew he would do good by you. His most important illusion was hiding that you hold magick.”
He slowly waved his hand in front of her face, his eyes staring straight into hers between his long fingers. “Crescents can identify one another by our eyes. Some are icy glitter, some swirling mist, and others burning embers.”
Her heart hitched. Hadn’t she seen a glow in his eyes?
He lowered his hand. “Moncrief cast an illusion spell to hide the magick in your eyes. You looked like a Mundane, a regular human. Now that he’s gone, the spell is wearing off. Soon it will be obvious to every Crescent who sees you.”
She walked over to a gilt-framed mirror on the side wall and stared at herself. No glow. He was full of it. “I don’t see anything like what you described.”
“Because you cannot see.” He came up behind her. “You have not been Awakened. Crescents are initiated in a ceremony at thirteen, when their powers begin to appear. It’s similar to those of many native tribes to celebrate a coming of age. But much more comes with being an Awakened Crescent.”
Thirteen. She remembered a gnawing hunger deep in her belly and vivid dreams filled with colors and longing and…dragons.
Cyntag brushed her bangs from her forehead, his thumb grazing the skin near her burn. “The orb did this?” She nodded, and anger shimmered over his face. “Unacceptable.”
“I thought so.”
He’d said it as though the attack on her was a personal affront to him. Like he owns you.
“Right now you’re like a baby chick fallen prematurely from the nest, without feathers developed enough to fly from danger or any way to fight enemies. Unable to even see them. You might get a glimpse now and then, but that won’t be enough.”
“You’re saying I have powers?” Could her disbelief be more clear? “Can I make one of those orb-lightning-bolt things?”
Another twitch of a smile. “Sorry, no. However, you are much more magnificent than mere magick.”
“I’m magnificent. Yeah.” She couldn’t help but glance down at herself. “Fine, how do I get…what’d you call it? Awakened?” Let’s play along.
“Considering the circumstances, only I can awaken your powers.”
Did his arrogance know no bounds? Dumb question, Ruby. “What do I have to give you for that?”
“You assume there’s a price?”
“There’s always a price.” She could see that he had one too.
He stepped closer, again breaching boundaries. She wouldn’t move away. If only she didn’t have to look up at him. Even being five-foot-eight, he was way taller. His heat reached out, beckoning her. She stiffened her stance. The dragon tattoo eyed her, but no, she did not see it move.
He waited until she drew her gaze back to his face. “The price is that once you see, you can never go back to being blind. Once you know, you can never forget. Once you experience your true nature, you can never ignore it.”
He released a breath. “We’d better start with the small stuff.”
Praise & Reviews
“Rush is back with an exhilarating new paranormal romance series that features supernatural creatures hidden among the population. Rush’s new heroine is unaware of her unique heritage until the murder of her uncle reveals nothing is as it seems. A hallmark of a Rush novel is her excellent blending of character motivation and plot dynamics—this series is off to a terrific start!” —Jill Smith, RTBook Reviews
“Dragon Awakened is a fascinating, action packed and sexy paranormal.” —Annetta Sweetko, Fresh Fiction
“What a fantabulously brilliant and unique world Jaime Rush has created in The Hidden. I am a HUGE fan of her Offspring series and have been chomping at the bit for Dragon Mine, the prequel novella for her new series.” —Mel Thomas, SmashAttack Reads