Knights of Stone: Mason
Highland Gargoyles, Book 1
Ebook ISBN: B00O9EHH5E
Print ISBN: 978-1503323384
[ New Adult Shifter Romance, MF ]
Gargoyles, tree witches, and wolf shifters have divided their island after a great battle. When Kayla, a tree witch, sneaks over into gargoyle territory, she’s fascinated by the gargoyle shifter, Mason. The temptation is strong, but forbidden.
The crowd pushed Kayla closer to the stage as the last trails of fiery sunset faded. They knew what happened once darkness fell. She recovered her footing and focused again on the five life-sized stone gargoyles perched on pedestals on the perimeter of the stage. The space between them was set with instruments—guitars, a drum set, mic stands, and massive amplifiers, while a bonfire in a pit behind them cast the statues in a warm glow.
A stagehand with tartan draped over one shoulder climbed onto the stage and walked to the closest statue. He fastened the kilt over its shoulder and around its waist with a thick belt, covering the statue’s massive thighs. Kayla flushed, picturing why the coverings were necessary once the transformation began. The kilt had become a key detail in her fantasies about the guitarist, since it was the only clothing he wore. The stagehand continued dressing each statue with the same brilliant blue tartan worn by the gargoyle clan.
The last vestige of sunlight disappeared from the sky, and night draped the stage like a closing curtain. The statues loomed, dark silhouettes barely discernible by the crescent moon with the backdrop of the craggy cliffs and the rugged peaks of waves in the Atlantic Ocean behind them. The murmur of voices was replaced by silence. Waiting…
Five torches blazed on the stage all at once, lit by an unseen force. The audience erupted in cheers as the dancing lights from the flickering fire basked the statues. The flames lowered, casting the gargoyles in an eerie, almost reverent glow.
Movement. So slight, Kayla wondered if it was simply a play of light and shadows in her anticipation for the change. She fixed her gaze on the statue in front of her, the one she’d gravitated to each time she had sneaked out to see the show. Its massive gray form stood straight on two legs built for sturdiness. Its chest jutted out proudly. Gray wings with detailed feathers etched in the stone arched from a point below its shoulder blades. Eyes cast straight ahead on a face that appeared to be a mixture of canine and lion. Its right hand twitched, so slightly she would have missed it if she hadn’t stared so intently. Then a clawed foot inched forward.
Murmurs of astonishment burst from the crowd as the transformation began. Their cries of fervor grew louder as the monstrous statues transformed into taller, slimmer figures with the bronzed skin of warriors who battled under the midday sun. The tartan fabric fell over their thighs as they stood erect, covering their nudity.
Kayla barely blinked, mesmerized as always, as the statue before her stood to full height, taking on the form of a human male, but with beautiful raven wings. Hair just as black snaked rebelliously past his chin. The stony eyes flickered with animation, turning to a mossy green. His deep gaze seared the audience, seeming to burn anything in the path. When he found Kayla, he stopped. His expression was unreadable, but the intensity in his unblinking eyes made her swallow. She froze under the scrutiny as if hypnotized, unable to break eye contact. Her stomach lurched, heart pounded, and every muscle in her body tightened, fueled with blood now scorching through her veins. His penetrating appraisal affected her so. When his eyes took on a smoldering glint, her skin tingled and a red-hot awareness grew between her thighs.
He broke the stare and continued to assess the audience. She gasped, not realizing she had been holding her breath, and panted while she tried to breathe at a normal rate.
He turned on robust legs and strode to a guitar stand. She tore her eyes from him to note the other gargoyles. They, too, had shifted into the form of striking males. One had black hair draped further down his back, one had long blond hair, and two had reddish-brown hair—one wavy and shaggy, the other straight. They took their place at other instruments. She sought the guitarist again and caught the first sound of the pick striking the strings. On hearing the guitar projected through the amp, the crowd roared again, pressing Kayla forward.
The freak show was about to begin.
Spotlights flooded the musicians, powered by solar panels near a massive amplifier. The guitarist continued playing and the others joined in, playing a raucous crossover between hard rock and heavy metal. The one with long blond hair grabbed hold of the microphone and belted out a shattering cry that sounded like a call to battle. The crowd went pin drop silent to listen and then cheered in unison as the band played on. The front man sang piercing growls and low croons about the Knights in Stone, the protectors of the ancient forests, battling against the evil tree witches.
* * * * *
Blood pumped through Mason’s system, animating him during the transition to his human form. Every cell in his body ignited with the change from stone to flesh.
He scanned the crowd again for any threats. Since humans on nearby islands had discovered the island, it was only a matter of time before the government found out about it. If they discovered the shapeshifters on the island, no doubt they’d try to capture them and study them in a lab.
Once reassured there were no threats, he searched the crowd for the woman he’d been thinking about. Energy from the change to human form invigorated him, especially his libido. He spotted the pixie-like female three rows back.
This was the fifth night he’d seen her at the Knights of Stone shows. Each night, she’d moved a bit closer, braving the frantic energy of the audience. He searched for her every evening now, figuring she must be from the nearby islands. One of these nights, he would have to seduce her, to get this woman who’d penetrated his thoughts out of his system. He needed to find a way to get her alone, away from this crowd. At least she didn’t appear to be with anyone. Peculiar. How many trips had she taken to the Isle of Stone alone?
Humans on nearby islands had only recently discovered the Isle of Stone. In decades past, the three clans of the island—tree witches, gargoyles, and wolves, had cloaked their land with many layers of protection. Their combined magic had created such a powerful force it had remained undetected by human technology. When a feud erupted between the witches and gargoyles twenty-five years ago it led to a division of land. Without reinforcements from the clans’ combined magic, the protection seeped away. Humans on nearby islands sailed over and discovered its mysterious inhabitants.
His brother Calum shrieked a wild cry that began the next song, The Hunt. Mason and his brothers played a driving instrumental that quickened as Calum sang a tale. The object of the hunt was left ambiguous—it could be an enemy, an animal, or even a lass—but as the music rose to its climax, it left no question as to the outcome.
The prey was captured.
Tonight, Mason had a hunt with one particular human in mind. He played his guitar with more fervor as he envisioned taking the young beauty into the woods. He’d drill into her against an oak tree in the forest beyond, giving her an even better story for her to brag about to her friends when she returned home. If there was one thing he and his brothers had learned about females on his visits to cities like Edinburgh and London, it was that few could resist the bad boy appeal of a rock star.
Mason and his four brothers were the only gargoyles who remained on the island. They didn’t cringe at their arrival as the rest of the clan had, but instead saw it as an opportunity to play for an audience as themselves—gargoyles—not masquerading as humans. They insisted the humans keep their existence a secret if they wanted the shows to continue.
Word of mouth about the show spread to other islands and it was only a matter of time before it reached the mainland, eventually reaching the ears of government officials. Scientists would flock to the island to try to understand how the isle had remained hidden all this time. Mason and his brothers had discussed how the isle would puzzle scientists and stimulate the imaginations of conspiracy theorists. Humans would come up with all kinds of foolhardy explanations ranging from secret military installations to alien colonization. His brother, Gavin, had come up with the best reason yet, claiming the isle had arisen from the depths of the Atlantic, an ancient civilization reborn through the shifts of the tectonic plates. And as sure as humans would invent bizarre reasons for the isle, their greed for money would soon follow. Corporations would exploit the mysterious origins of the island as a way to make money. Perhaps with tourism and advertisements of extravagant trips to a mystical island—possibly with bizarre claims such as the water’s ability to cure ailments.
The gargoyles knew their time here on the stage was limited and they had to have constant vigilance for human intrusion.
Mason kept watch for anything suspicious while he played, yet also kept his eyes peeled for attractive women. He scanned the audience to see the others who had come tonight, but his gaze returned to the dark-haired one. What was it about her?
His gaze bore into her, and she stared back from wide eyes, almost too large for her heart-shaped face. Blood rushed right to his shaft as he thought about how he would take her in the woods.
Why wait any longer? He’d try to get her alone tonight.
* * * * *
Kayla couldn’t tear her eyes off the guitarist. Something about the way he looked at her tonight overwhelmed any coherent thought. If her coven knew she was on this side of the island cavorting with the gargoyles, the punishment would be severe. He was one of the species her coven had warned her about. Vile, bloodthirsty creatures that had slaughtered many of her ancestors. She’d been cautioned to stay away from their lands since she was a child, forbidden to venture from the coven for fear of an encounter with one of these evil beings. But they didn’t appear evil or threatening.
Her curiosity had grown once she heard of the gargoyle rock concerts, and she’d slipped over once to see what the talk was about. She’d never been to an actual concert before, only heard about them from other young witches with their fascination for human lifestyles. She’d never even left the island. The tree witches kept to themselves, a self-sufficient coven specializing in certain skills. The witches sang, played music, and danced at the gatherings around the fire, but nothing like what she’d experienced when the gargoyles transformed. After the first night, she was hooked. It was a risk to return but one she was willing to take. She’d ventured to that different world to hear the unique group, especially to watch the guitarist with hair as black as midnight.
For the past four nights, she’d left before the show ended, sneaking back to her coven under the dense cover of the trees. Tonight, foolish bravery coaxed her to stay to the end. If she wanted to watch a show, she damn well would. It wasn’t her coven’s business to know everything she did. She was a grown woman, twenty-one years of age, and shouldn’t be constrained by inexplicable feuds from years past she’d never quite grasped.
But, if they discovered her gone…
The final song began with a march-like beat of the drums. It increased in speed as the guitarists and bass player joined in, and the singer wailed. Brilliant bursts of flame rose from the torches. The gargoyles put down their instruments and nodded to the crowd. Their black feathered wings spread wide, making them appear twice as large as the males in the audience. With a few flaps, they levitated a few feet above the stage and then soared into the star-filled night sky. She watched them zoom higher, captivated as their enormous wings gave them the appearance of dark angels watching over those on the earth below. The gargoyles shapes shrunk as they ascended, and soon even the tiny pinpricks were invisible. The unparalleled experience made her rebellion worthwhile.
The crowd dispersed and she crept back into the dark forest. It was much later tonight than the usual time she’d return home, and the darkness made navigating the root-filled terrain more difficult. Although it wasn’t prudent to draw attention to herself in an area inhabited by all kinds of wild creatures, she needed to see. Cupping her hands before her, she chanted a spell. A tiny orange light, no larger than the flame at the end of a match, flickered in her hands. She repeated ancient words, making the sphere grow to the size of an apple. The dim glow illuminated her way. After twenty feet or so, she noticed the dense thicket of trees and needed more light if she didn’t want to trip over a root or walk face first into a tree. She amped up the fiery glow with an incantation.
The sounds of the forest grew louder the deeper she ventured in. Crickets chirred, frogs croaked, and insects rubbed their wings. A breeze ruffled through the leaves, and running water from a brook flowed. Rather than soothe her as they did during the day, the sounds seemed more ominous by night, setting all her senses on alert.
Her coven lived in tree houses in Caledonia a Tuath, or Northern Caledonia, named for the ancient Scottish forests where her ancestors had originated. It lay two miles from the gargoyle’s territory, only taking about forty minutes to walk by daylight. Navigating through the woods by night might take twice as long. She clutched her locket several times as she walked, trying to cast away images she conjured of creatures that would find a witch an appetizing meal.
Nothing here will attack me. The gargoyles don’t appear evil. The wolf shifters stay in their territory. I will be fine.
Despite her attempts to reassure herself, rustling in the trees above startled her and she held back a squeal. Movement on her right was followed by a thump. She yelped, dropping the light. Sprinting in the opposite direction, she envisioned a monstrous predator. Before she made any headway, a dark figure flew overhead and landed in her path.