Oh and here’s a cover reveal!
I’ve decided to do the author’s equivalent of showing my undies to the world.
That’s right I’m going to post my UNEDITED chapters of my forthcoming book BELONGING TO THE DRAGON.
(I’m inspired by Ilona Andrews’s fabulous Innkeeper series, in which they serialize the unproofed versions of their books to their blog before having it edited and published. And if you haven’t checked out their current serial out, go do it. You’re welcome 🙂
You’ll get the whole story as I wrote it and handed it to my editor, all typos, no proofing EXCEPT for explicit sexy times and any scene or details that my editors told me I needed to add. For the most part, the story is pretty intact, but I have to admit, I have problems with my epilogues in that I always need my editor’s help in writing a good one that works.
So this serial will not include the wedding epilogue (oh no look, I spoiled it, but come on, this is a romance; you GOTTA know there’s gonna be a happy ending RIGHT?)
I’ll be posting chapters every Monday and Saturday until BELONGING TO THE DRAGON releases on August 28. After August 28, all chapters except for 1, will be taken down in order to comply with Amazon Kindle Unlimited’s exclusivity requirement.
If you enjoy the story, but would like the sexy times and the epilogue, sign up to my mailing list so you can be the first to hear of the limited time new release price drop (hint: DON’T PAY THE FULL PREORDER PRICE!).
BELONGING TO THE DRAGON – THE AUTHOR’S ROUGH CUT SERIAL
(Again, That means unedited, unproofed with all typos included!)
I twisted the cheap silver ring around my finger, the one my friend Val had given it to me a long time ago. Val was missing now, and it was up to me to find her.
There was a chime on the intercom and on the linked app on my phone, an image popped up.
My stomach fluttered at the sight of the last man that I thought I would see.
He gazed at me with those blue eyes I had crushed on as a teenager, the ones I had tried to forget, and now haunted my dreams. “I know you’re in there Lana. Open up.”
Three months ago, I had tried to stab those baby-blues with a magical dagger. To be fair, he had been trying to cut off my head but we had both been under the control of a monster from another world. Even so, some things were hard to get over.
I tapped on the green button on my phone screen, allowing him entrance.
I only had moments before the elevator would arrive at my floor. I kicked my three-inch heels under the couch, grabbed a bathrobe and threw it on over my gold curve-hugging dress. A quick stop in the bathroom to wipe off my lipstick while I ran my fingers through my hair.
A knock sounded and I took a deep breath, opening the door.
You’d think at this point, after knowing him since he was a chubby little eight-year old I’d be immune to his charms.
But this was the all grown up version of rich boy Lucas Randall. He was a towering vision of aggressively ripped don’t-fuck-with-me masculine perfection. Mountainous shoulders threaten to explode out of the short sleeve gray Einstein t-shirt he was wearing even though it was mid-November in New York City.
Those laser blues focused on down me, and belatedly I realized I still had eye shadow and mascara on.
Shit. Still, no choice but to keep going and hope he didn’t notice.
He leaned forward, taking up almost all of the space in the door frame, holding up his phone so I could see the screen.
It was a picture of me, well, my body without a face. It should have been anonymous, but there was that tell-tale birthmark on my hip in the shape of a star. He must have seen it at some point when we were younger. How would he even remember?
Apparently, he had.
Nostrils flared. Pupils darkened, he asked. “Are you soliciting anonymous sex from strangers?”
A thousand potential replies flashed in my mind in a quarter of a second. I settled on casual disregard and disdain, even as my heart fluttered in my chest. I folded my arms, drawing my bathrobe closed, as if I were trying to hide my heartbeat. “After so many months, this is what you come here to ask me? In case you’ve forgotten, I don’t answer to you.”
A golden flame flickered in his eyes. If I didn’t know what he was, I would have called it a trick of the light.
But I knew his secret.
And I couldn’t let him find out mine.
He leaned further inward, and with my heightened senses I could smell him, all sweet smoke and musk. His words were all gravel. “You stink of perfume. You’ve got eye makeup on. Your nails are done. Tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.”
I almost wanted to take a step back from his invasion of my space but I held my ground. I could stop him. I had that power now.
But if he knew what I could do, it would raise more questions that I didn’t have time to, nor did I want to answer.
And my time was limited. “My life is not your business.” I paused wavering on whether I should take the shot, low and dirty as it was.
He leaned forward, seeking to intimidate me into compliance.
I felt a strange exasperation mixed with regret. Just like a Randall. Some things never changed. “I’m not your employee, Lucas.”
My mother had been his nanny and housekeeper. We had grown up together in a strange kind of sense. I had once thought we were friends, but looking back with the distance and knowledge of adulthood, I realized I was just…convenient.
A thick vein popped in relief from his neck and he looked as if he was about to roar like the beast he truly was. “I never thought you were. I just want to know: Why?”
There were a million reasons why. Because I felt like it. Because I had nothing else now, now that I had lost my job. Because there was something bizarre and strange inside me that enjoyed the hunt. But more importantly, there I had a promise to keep to a friend.
None of which were reasons that I owed him.
So I used the most potent weapon I had. Guilt.
I began to close the door on him. “Go away, Lucas. You almost killed me last time. I lost my job because of what I did for you and your friends. I’m done with dragons, magic, fairy princesses and immortal monsters. Leave me alone to my normal human life.”
The attack worked better than I expected. My words were like water on his rage, melting it away to a stony expression. To my surprise, he actually let me close the door.
I locked the knob, the deadbolt, and braced my back against the door, as if that would stop him. If he was truly intent on pressing the issue, he could break it down with a sneeze if he wanted to.
I listened for footsteps, and heard him walk away. Double-checking to security app on my phone revealed him actually leaving the building.
That was easier than I had thought it would be. Was it a residual effect of the armor?
I pulled up the arm of my robe, looked at my smooth brown skin. For a moment it remained the same. I concentrated, and my skin began to itch. Then black scales rippled forth.
I stared at them, shining, almost metallic.
Once they had horrified me.
Now, for better or worse, they were a part of me, to be accepted like my brown skin, curly hair, and behind that was far rounder than I would have liked.
Months ago, I had agreed to help some old childhood friends. Like Lucas, they were also dragons, actually his cousins, but unlike Lucas, they had actually made an attempt to keep in touch with me as we had grown up. We had liked and commented on each other’s social media posts and had rare, if deep chats over random things like the violent and tender nature of humanity and the best organic fertilizer for a container garden. I was still positive that Daniel was using magic for his cherry tomatoes.
We had been captured by what I now understood to be literally some alien monster that had been bent on hunting and eating all magical creatures of Earth, of which there weren’t many left. For some reason, the monster had placed mind-control bands on our heads and had us try to kill one another.
The monster had also forced something else on me, a power that had given me odd, inhuman abilities.
And yet, Sophie’s friend Chloe, who was a real witch with sparkling magical hands they had charged with my care, had said that I was free and clear of the monster’s magic.
The scales along my arm flickered, responding to my thought of the Devourer with a visceral hate that at times, felt more solid than the ground I stood on.
It was that hate that strangely enough, made me feel safe about letting it live inside me.
From the images it had shown me, I knew this much about: It was a symbiotic life form that had been a weapon of the dragons in their old world. It remembered being deployed against the Devourer when the dragons were fleeing to Earth. It’s original bearer, a grizzly old bearded warrior whose favorite weapon was a massive axe that was bigger than my coffee table had died when the Devourer destroyed the original homeworld of the dragons, but somehow it survived.
I couldn’t get much else out of it. It otherwise expressed itself in feelings like rage and hunger.
It was the blood hunger that was most troubling. And perhaps one day I would have to show someone what had happened.
But not right now. Not while Val was in trouble.
I dropped my arm, sleeve falling and covering my scales.
Cursed I might be, but right now I needed the monster’s magic.
I had a serial killer to track down and a friend to save.
The line to the club was out the door, wrapping around the corner, and as I walked up in my four-inch golden heels, the music thumped in to the street, Damn girl. You got it girl you got it girl.
It wasn’t like I didn’t have any experience hunting criminals. I had worked for the FBI after all, not as an agent, but from behind screens, whiteboards and closed doors. I had been one of the many contract data analysts it had once deployed until budget cuts had killed the obscure department I had worked for.
Of course, having Daniel turn in a resignation letter when I was in a traumatized coma didn’t help the job situation either.
Lucas, covered with blood, screaming my name, as I swung a sword at his head.
I squeezed my eyes shut, slapping the side of my head as if I could knock the memory away.
The Devourer had captured Lucas and I, and placed devices on our heads, controlling us like puppets, forcing us to fight each other.
The scales underneath my skin itched at the memory of the Devourer.
I took a deep breath, opened my eyes, and centered myself in the present.
Damn girl. You got it girl you got it girl.
I strutted up to Jamal, the bouncer in the front. He was a big brown bald monolith of a man, standing there, arms folded with a look designed to mean business.
“Hey,” I said, with a smile. “Got some room in there for me?”
Jamal unhooked the velvet rope. I had helped his girlfriend out of a sticky situation with some corrupt cops not too long ago. “For you? Always.”
I ignored the cold jealous stares of the others in line as I entered through the doors into a universe of swirling flashing neon lights and a base beat that reverberated in my core.
Damn girl. You got it girl you got it girl.
I had never been much of a club goer but I was here because this is the last place anyone had ever seen Val. We had taken different paths, but a long time ago, Val and I had once been the only two brown girls in Oakwood elementary. In kindergarten, Val had gotten in trouble for getting in a fight with Tommy Warner, the mayor’s son, after he had broken my glasses on purpose and called me a nigger.
I wish I could say that she had been my best friend from that day on.
But that’s not the way things worked out.
Damn girl. You got it girl you got it girl.
Some guy with a backward baseball cap and sneakers way too white, made his way towards me, beer cup sloshing in his hand. He planted himself in front of me and yelled.
“Is your name Wi-Fi? Because I’m feeling a connection!”
I turned, and he put his hand on my left breast and squeezed. I glared at him in disbelief.
He shrugged with an unabashed grin. “You can’t be wearing a dress like that and not expect to be touched.”
I briefly checked the space behind him. All clear.
I smiled, put my hand in the middle of his chest and shoved.
He went flying, crashing into empty barstools behind him as I put my best “whoops” face on, before disappearing into the crowd.
Shit, I was underestimating my strength.
I kept dancing, shimmying and shaking my shoulders into the mess of people letting the music come over me. I put my hands up.
Once in awhile, the armor spoke in my head, always when it was hungry, always when it sensed food nearby.
Something tingled in my head indicating where the prey was. There was a momentary green shimmer around the man, a totally unremarkable guy with ash blond hair. Average height, short hair, black collared shirt, surveying the crowd from behind a drink like any number of other people watchers in the crowd.
I caught his gaze and smiled as I shimmied and turned in the dance.
That was something I had never understood about clubs, all the people which came to sit and drink and watch people dance without being part of the dance themselves.
In another lifetime, that probably would’ve been me. Always watching, never part of the dance.
But now I had the power to accomplish things I had never dreamed of.
Damn girl. You got it girl you got it girl.
I danced my way through the crowd towards him. Once more I made brief eye contact with him and smiled. And then I turned my back and ignore him for a few minutes.
Hunger erupted inside me, so empty, so dry, craving the taste of fresh warm blood.
My own horror blossomed along side it, the human part of me that knew that this feeling wasn’t right, wasn’t normal
And just as quickly the gaping maw hunger was closed off, as if it had closed the connection between us.
Then just the simple word again.
When I caught the quarry’s eye again, he gestured to the empty seat next to him.
I turned away from him and danced little more, making sure to shake my ass at him letting the lights play over my shimmering gold dress.
In a few minutes I made my way to the bar, casually next to him. I ordered a drink, something expensive, and looked at him.
“Put her drink on my tab,” he said, his stare glued to my exaggerated and exposed cleavage. If the neckline was any lower, I’d be showing nipple. “Those were some nice moves.”
At least it wasn’t another Wi-Fi pick up line though he got no points for originality. “Thanks.”
He opened his jacket and handed me a card. “I run an agency of sorts. I have some prestigious clients who I think would be very interested in you.”
He thought I was an escort. Perfect. “I’m not for sale.”
“I wasn’t implying that you were.” Underneath the clashing club scents of smoke, and pot, liquor, and sweat, and perfume, and cologne, I suddenly scented him… bleach and acid.
Just like the other serial killers I had found.
“I’m not easy to handle,” I said, playing with the umbrella in my drink.
His hand snaked to my waist. I wanted to chop it off and leave him with a bleeding stump. The blood hunger from the armor agreed. “Maybe you just need the right master,” he said.
“Master?” I arched my carefully contoured eyebrow as sexily as I could, and fluttered my fake eyelashes at him. “And you think you’re up to the challenge?”
He leaned close, reeking of alcohol. “I’m up for any challenge involving you.”
I wanted to let my forearm scales emerge into a blade, pierce him the gut, feel his warm delicious blood in my hands. I forced myself to put my hand on his groin, felt his semi-hard cock go instantly flaccid at my touch.
Serial killers who targeted women didn’t like it when women took control. And their dislike turned anger at my insolence was the perfect way of making sure that I would be their next target.
“Let’s get out of here.”
He grabbed my wrist and I followed him out of club.
His cold hands were clammy and I resisted the urge to break his grip on my and wipe my palm off on my dress or spray it with hand-sanitizer.
“Do you like fast cars?”
I pulled away, unable to bear his touch any longer. “I don’t know,” I said in a deliberately teasing tone. “I’m particular about my ride.”
The valet-lady pulled up in a Maserati.
I remembered I was supposed to be feeling seductive. “That will do,” I said, feigning impressment.
We got in, and the engine thrummed to life, as he said. “I’ve got a place out on Long Island.”
What was it with Long Island and serial killers? This was like the fourth serial killer on Long Island I had found.
I brushed an imaginary speck off his shoulder, even as I imagined slicing a red line along his throat. “As long as you give me a ride back to the city.”
We stopped at a red light. He slid his hand along my thigh. I shuddered in disgust.
He smiled at my reaction, clearly, taking my shudder for desire.
And then I felt a sharp pain my outer thigh.
I looked down and saw a syringe with a clear liquid sticking out of my thigh.
“What the hell is this?”
The first genuine smile appeared in his face, complete with eye crinkles at the side. “You’ll see. Nighty-night.”
I rolled my eyes in the back of my head and slumped into the seat, hoping that that was what he expected.
“You must be tired,” he said with a lightness in his voice that would have frightened me, if I hadn’t known what I was doing. “None of the others fell asleep so quickly.”
The armor’s eagerness flashed bright inside me. Food was coming.
He buckled me in, almost lovingly now. “I can’t wait to bring you home.”
The car hugged a winding path, one that literally felt like it took forever. The pace quickened, lights brightened and sounds hollowed as we went through a tunnel. From where we had been, it might have been the Hudson, though who knows maybe he made good time and got to the Midtown.
Hard to tell because he kept playing this stupid elevator saxophone music on repeat.
Of all the things for a serial killer to listen to, Kenny G was his choice of music?
The saxophone set played itself at least twice before the car turned and slowed. Gradually the noise of highway traffic died/faded.
The sounds of gravel skittered underneath the car. As he opened his door, I got a whiff of salt. We were near the ocean. I remained deadweight as he hefted me over his shoulder, ignoring the shoes falling off my feet. He kicked the car door closed.
I peeked one eye open, and saw tall pine trees, and a walkway of solar lamps. An old weather worn garden gnome with a chipped nose stood on the front lawn.
Whistling the same goddamn Kenny G song that had just been playing in the car, he opened the front door.
And my blood ran hot at the scent.
It was the scent of fresh blood, fresh meat, the odor of a butcher shop.
It was also the scent of the Devourer, the very monster that had mind-controlled Lucas and I to fight to the death.
The hunger inside me mingled with fear as he rolled me on to a couch and then his footsteps moved away. I was torn between a desperate desire to run far away, and to stay and finish the hunt.
But this wasn’t about running, or hunting, I reminded myself.
It was about finding Val.
At first, I cracked my eyes opened the smallest amount. A giant cube of a TV sat in a massive piece of oak furniture. Around it on glass shelves were wine glasses filled with translucent plastic like bits in which obviously plastic flowers were anchored. An old embroidered banner hung off one of the shelves, which read “Bless this House,” but it was oddly burnt on one edge.
A door opened, and his laugh echoed through the house.
So what if the Devourer was here? Most likely, it was a piece of it, and well, I could handle it.
And if I didn’t well, I had known the risk I was taking, right?
Right. I had to focus on that. Hunger.
And then the door closed behind him.
I sprang to my feet. In the attached dining room with a plastic covering over a lace tablecloth, a series of computer screens hummed, their blue lights illuminating the place. I would have ignored them if my enhanced vision hadn’t recognized an email address I had seen before.
I went over, scrolled through the email chain.
And then I saw it. Val’s picture. But she looked beaten and drugged.
I followed the email chain. More pictures of captured, beaten and drugged women.
She had been here. But they had sent her to another facility.
Where was the other facility?
This was a far bigger operation than just a single serial killer.
I logged onto one of the many cloud drives and I had set it up to download.
Chains clinked. Someone whimpered.
There was a scream cut short.
Oh gods. What had he said? Sisters? The nausea burned through my throat like acid.
There were others he had captured in this house.
Scales emerged from my skin, sheathing my body underneath my clothes, giving me a strength that was beyond mortal.
I followed the scented trail of the man to a door by the kitchen. I kicked it open, and had to hold my hands over my eyes from the sudden blinding brightness of the basement.
At the end of the steps, I could only see his sneakers, and a pool of blood.
“You’re awake,” he said like his favorite puppy had arrived. “Just in time.”
Senses enhanced abruptly, telling me that we were the only two living things in the house. My stomach felt hollow as I realized that there had been others I could have saved.
And I hadn’t.
“Shut up!” I screamed.
He rounded the stairs. I backed away, as the scales that shielded my hands turned them into black taloned claws.
My flesh trembled, but not from fear. It was the armor’s excitement, the shuddering anticipation of a hunger on the verge of a feast.
I had no idea what awaited in the basement so I backed up a few steps, still playing the victim. And the knowledge that confronting an enemy in a known space was far better than confronting them in an unknown space.
He came at me fast, in a rush that telegraphed his training: strength and a moderate amount of skill. And had I not been what I was, I would have been screwed.
But I was different now.
I held my ground, the scales absorbing the kinetic energy of his charge, and reflecting it back at him.
The impact sent him flying and he crashed into the armoire behind him. Glass shattered.
I picked my way around the shards towards him, even though the scales that covered my feet in a black boot that was more than enough protection.
His trembling, his fear, his panic: it was all too delicious not to savor it for as long as I could. The armor read what the tiny little translucent bits in the vase had been. Human nail cuttings.
From his victims? Disgust roiled my stomach.
“You’re done,” I said. “You will hunt no more.”
Blood streamed down his face, he scrambled, and ran out the door.
I laughed in anticipation, in joy. Oh this was going to be so much fun.
I exited the house and he tripped, falling. The thrill of a hunt and feeding coursed through me.
He staggered to his feet, tried to run.
A long glowing whip lashed out of my hand, wrapping around his ankle. I yanked and he fell. I tugged/hauled him toward me, my wriggling fish, his 200 pound plus weight no match for my strength fueled armor.
And soon he was at my feet, my foot pressed on his throat.
“How many have you taken?”
“Twelve,” he rasped.
I made needles emerge from my feet, piercing his skin, tasting his blood. So delicious. “Where are the bodies?”
He screamed, his voice a high pitched crying whine. “In the basement.”
His blood was almost intoxicating. I felt the urge to slice him in half and fall into his chest cavity. “So original,” I said.
“Please,” he said.
I smiled, and leaned down into his stinking face. “No.”
Talons extended from my scaled fingers and I drove them into his chest, ripping out his heart.
The horror on his face as his heart beat in my hand, was one I would remember forever, as the life fled from his eyes and he was left nothing more than a hunk of meat.
Slowly, the heart dwindled as the armor drank in the blood. It wanted more, need more, so I shoved my taloned hands deep into his chest so I could satiate the monster inside me. The armor drank, sucking the body dry.
And when I finally felt full and satisfied, I stood up. For now, the ever-present hunger of the armor was quiet.
I had done it. I had killed another serial killer, and with the files I had copied tonight, I was one step closer to finding Val.
A twig cracked behind me. I spun, blades shooting from my fore arms, ready for any incoming.
“Lucas,” I said in surprise.
Lucas Randall, still in his Einstein t-shirt, watched me from behind the sights of a weapon that looked like a hyper alien evolved version of a rifle.
The weapon was pointed at me, humming in an ominous whine.
“Devourer.” Lucas’s voice was rumbling thunder. “I know what you are. And I will end you tonight.”
He fired the weapon.
EDITED ON AUGUST 27, 2018 –
Please note that this serial is now complete. The first two chapters have been left up as an excerpt, but the rest of the story has been taken down as as per Amazon publishing rules, since the final version has been published on Amazon and is now available here.
*NOTE ADDED JUNE 17, 2018* Please note that this serial is no longer available to new mailing list subscribers. BETROTHED TO THE DRAGON has been released here and according to the Terms of Service with Amazon Kindle Unlimited, I cannot make it available anywhere else.
However, I do have some alternatives for you in appreciation for stopping by; just click on the image below:
ORIGINAL POST BELOW:
Do you like free fiction?
I’ve been serializing the author’s cut of my upcoming release to my newsletter subscribers in weekly installments. That’s right, if you’re on my newsletter, you get the
the whole story
If you’re curious, I’ve included Part I which was sent out a few weeks ago. There’s still time to sign up and you’ll get links to all the subsequent pieces of the story.
It is the COMPLETE story, however:
-It is the UNEDITED, UNPROOFED draft that I just sent to my editor. You get it as raw as I wrote it.
-To comply with laws in various countries aimed at restricting access to mature content from minors, NO sexy time scenes will be included in this newsletter serial. (you’ll have to buy the book for those).
-Since this is the UNEDITED version, obviously it will not have any additional scenes that my editor tells me that I need to include.
Again, because this is a serial, you will receive an email from me every week until it is complete. You can choose to unsubscribe afterward or remain on my 2-3x a month mailing list.
Note: Please don’t post or upload this anywhere. If you have friends who you think would like this story, just ask them to sign up for my newsletter at this special link and they can get it for free too.
Here’s PART I.
Hope you enjoy!
BETROTHED TO THE DRAGON – PART I
“What do you mean I’m betrothed in an arranged marriage?”
I glanced at my phone, and saw all the connection bars filled, indicating full service. Still I must have heard her wrong, because it was the kind of statement I would have expected from a movie about some third world country where women weren’t allowed to drive or own property. Not from my Chanel-suited, pearl-necklaced, bitcoin gambling grandmother.
“Let me call you back,” I said. I teetered on the stupid heels I had bought for today, dancing around a pile of dusty books resting on the floor, and carefully navigated around the cubicle maze. The museum, built in the early twentieth century was gorgeous in its details from the hand carved woodwork windows, Italian marble floors, but sadly, lacking in space particularly in the room where us doctoral students shared desks. Grandma was known for playing games, but still, I didn’t fancy Josh from Etruscan pottery listening in on my conversation.
I hurried out of the museum, my heels clicking on the floors, nodded to Mohammed, the guard manning the metal detector and made my way through the crowds to the stone steps in the front of the museum. I could have gone to one of the side entrances for privacy, but I had learned that sometimes, the best kept secrets were those told in crowds.
Fat gray pigeons glared at me, barely dodging my footsteps as I made my way down the great expanse of stone steps. Grandma loved playing games. Once she had played politics with the fate of empires and now she channeled that love into stocks and virtual currency. I hit redial on my phone and she picked up almost immediately. “You lost a bet right? You know, I’m pretty sure it’s not legal to put up your grand daughter’s hand in marriage as stakes.”
Next to me, Chinese tourists were having a heated discussion about the best pizza places in SoMa. Grandma exhaled. “No Sophie. I made the deal so that we would be allowed to come to this country. It was a different time.”
I had tried to assimilate and adapt to human life in America, with blue jeans, chicken nuggets and a PhD in Museum Conservation. All of it was because it was easier than remembering what I truly was: the reason why my entire family had died.
I paced back and forth trying to release the nervous energy of an all too familiar tense frustration. “I wasn’t even a year old. There’s no way that will hold up in court.”
Grandma’s voice had that particular kind of calm she always had when she was trying to explain something she knew I didn’t like, but needed me to understand, like when I was six, and released my pet parakeet to give it fresh air, and expected it to come back. “Not legal by human standards, no. But by that of our people, yes.”
As much as we pretended to be human, ultimately we were not.
Shit. My new shoes rubbed and pinched my feet. Grandma’s timing for this news was of course, impeccable. “That’s barbaric. We just elected a woman president. Six of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are women. I’m not going to agree to marry someone I don’t even know on the basis of —“
Grandma made that harrumphing barking cough she always made when she was done listening to me whine. “Sophie, I’ve tried to let you live a life of freedom and to make your own choices as much as you could. But my ability to protect you is fading. I need to know you are safe. And marriage into his family will protect you.”
Grandma didn’t say anymore. She didn’t need to. I had to be protected. I couldn’t do it myself. Unlike my grandmother, my mother and my father before me, I had no magic.
I stopped pacing, and squeezed my eyes shut.
“You are the last of our line.” Her voice hardened. “Even if your power hasn’t manifested, the potential of your blood is still there. This is the only way to keep you safe.”
I was a black belt in Krav Maga. I had had extensive firearms training from a grizzled old ex-Army Ranger sniper who said I had potential.
None of it mattered.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me this before?” I clenched the phone in my hand tighter.
“I had been hoping that some of the plans I made, the champions I sent against the monster would succeed before it would come to this.” There was a note of sadness in her voice. “But each time it fights, it learns. And every day it grows more and more powerful.”
My phone’s alarm vibrated, startling me into dropping my phone. I tried to catch it as it fell from my hand, but it was too late. When I picked it up, there was a hairline crack on the screen. Wonderful.
I picked up the phone turned on the speaker, hardened my voice. “Grandma, I have to get ready for my talk.”
“Good luck on your talk, Sophie.” She hung up, because she knew I was in no mood to say goodbye. The picture of Grandma and me appeared on my phone.
We looked so different, her and I. Grandma with her white skin, straight hair, and me with my dark skin and wavy hair. The only thing we shared was our eye-shape that humans called Asian. In school, I always I had checked off whatever box felt more convenient at the time. African, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, I had convincingly claimed them all. Grandma scoffed at the idea of labeling ourselves according to human ideas of ethnicity. “Our family spans the earth,” she had said. “A shen does not identify themselves by the tribal groupings of humans anymore then a lion distinguishes itself by the particulars of ant kingdoms.”
As much as I spent my life pretending I wasn’t, I was shen. We were the first intelligent life forms on this planet and connected to the deep magical nodes of the earth. Humans had many names for us: fae, yokai, rakshasas, gods, demons and monsters, but ultimately, we were shen. But years and years of intermingling with humans had dissipated most of the legendary shen magic.
And for the remaining shen with magic? None of it was enough to fight the Devourer when it entered this world, seeking new victims.
Including my parents.
They had died to save me, not knowing how they had thrown their lives away, because as a shen I was unforgivably flawed.
I had no magic.
My phone buzzed again, the alarm I had set to prepare for the one event I had been dreading and anticipating for the last six months.
My post-dissertation fellowship talk on religious motifs in East and Near Eastern art at the museum.
For some reason, giving the public lecture as required by my fellowship, put worms in my stomach so more than actually defending the actual dissertation itself in front of a panel of peers and experts. I had to simplify things, touch upon other areas that weren’t necessarily my specialty and make the topic more appealing to the general public because even I could admit that a discussion over the proper application of persimmon juice in scrollwork conservation could get pretty dry, so to speak.
I swiped at the tablet in my arm, changing the slide display. A collage of a Tlingit wooden carving of a woman with closed eyes, surrounded by mouths and dripping with blood was juxtaposed with that of a Heian Japanese scroll painting.
“And as you can see, in particular, the image of the Devourer is one that is found across several cultures from ancient Rome to Heian Japan to the totemic carvings of the Tlingit peoples of the First Nations of Canada.”
I clicked through the slides, kept moving, kept talking, even as I tried to ignore the striking gaze of the man in the back of the room. He had entered about five minutes into my talk and I couldn’t figure out why I was so aware of him.
It was foolish of me to include the Devourer. But I had felt a strange streak of defiance that Grandma had said was the lot of the young and reckless.
And yet she had, oddly enough given her blessing for me to speak of the monster.
Little fox, as difficult as things are, I want you to bloom as you can, not in fear.”.
He couldn’t be working for the Devourer could he?
Once upon a time, there was good reason for people to say that one should not call the names of gods or monsters in vain. In a sense, I was doing that here.
I walked across the stage, my heels clicking loudly across the floor.
“Of course, it is not only the only common motif across cultures. Dragons are another common motif…”
Of course, the fear all came to naught, because for all my painful anticipation and worry, it ended rather quickly. At end of the talk, I was congratulated by my future boss, the assistant curator of highly regarded Manhattan museum. She spoke at length on things I honestly should have been paying more close attention to.
But through it all, I was strikingly aware of the tall broad shouldered man in the crowd. He looked a bit out of place in his well-tailored business suit, but the open collar, loose tie spoke of a man who had decided to take a lunch break at the museum, which wasn’t all that uncommon.
When the crowd dissipated, I felt my heart speed up as he approached me.
“Hi.” My voice came out higher pitched than I intended and looked up at him. “Did you have any questions about the talk?”
He looked at me with golden light brown eyes. I had the strangest feeling that his gaze was stripping me, not just of my clothes, but to some hidden inner invisible core. My muscles felt unreasonably tense, ready to fight or flee, maybe both at the same time.
His smooth bass voice rolled across my skin like a caress. “I have many questions. But none of which I have time to ask.”
“Well, umm, there’s going to be another talk in, umm,” I glanced at her watch, even though she knew precisely when the next talk would be. “About an hour?” Dammit, why did I make that sound like a question?
The corner of those full lips quirked up into a smile. “Will you be leading it?”
“A shame.” He turned, stopped and nodded his head at me. “I enjoyed listening to you.”
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