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No Ordinary Night – Free Serial – Chapter 5

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial - Chapter 5

Miss the previous chapters? Click here to catch up!
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter ​3
Chapter 4
***

Chapter Five

Andi’s clothes were not dry by dawn. She was tired and wet and cranky, and the phone Mr. No-Name had given her said it was six a.m. Someone should be coming to relieve her soon, right?

Then she heard it—the sound of a door slamming from afar.

Was it real? After her experiences earlier tonight, she doubted it. Then she heard another door, somewhere deeper in the house.

If whatever lived in this house wanted to torment her, pretending to be distantly slamming doors was an odd way to do it, which made her think that the sounds were real and that someone had gotten home a little early.

Good, then that person could take her the fuck away from here—after paying her handsomely, of course. Nothing about her patient had changed overnight. She’d done a good job, in spite of everything else.

She put her wet clothes in the bag the dressing supplies had come in so they wouldn’t drip and then decided to hunt down the person who’d slammed the doors.

Andi walked back to the entryway—the path seemed about two rooms shorter, but she wasn’t going to question that right now—and found herself in front of the main door, with the staircases behind her. She turned, and the spiral one up to the ceiling that’d caught her eye earlier was gone now.

Of course, it was.

She swallowed and fought the urge to rub her eyes again.

“Hello? I need to go home now.”

No one answered, not even to laugh. She stood equidistant between the two stairs—they both led to opposite wings of the house. She could waste hours looking for someone here. A splash of emerald green caught her eye—on the stairs to her right. It wasn’t pondwater from her escapade earlier. She’d never made it up to the front of the house; she was sure of it. No, it looked like someone had spilled…cough syrup. And there was a trail of it—heading up.

She was only seventy percent sure she hadn’t seen the trail coming in, but it was enough. She held the fur coat tighter around her waist and followed it up the stairs.

The green stains led her down endless halls, doors that were bolted from the outside, and past judgmental looking statues until they reached a door. Perhaps the second one she’d heard shut earlier? She leaned against the outside of it, and would’ve sworn she heard someone stirring inside. She rapped on it gently. “Hello?”

No one answered. But it, unlike the other doors she’d passed by, wasn’t locked. She twisted the handle and opened it up.

The room inside was huge—palatial even; it could’ve bunked an army. One wall was lined with books—the older, the better, it seemed—with chairs and a bar, and then another wall was just mirrors, which was a little creepy. They were all different shapes, with separate ornate frames, and all their glass was fogged. Who the hell collected this many mirrors, and why? Rich people—with bad taste.

And then, in the middle of the room, near the windows which were letting in light from the oncoming dawn was Mr. No-Name, lying shirtless in the middle of a very large bed. The green stains clearly led up the carpeting directly to him.

No, no, no…enough weirdness for the night. This was not something she would be investigating. Helllllll, no!

But Mr. No-Name’s features were softer now that he was asleep. And he looked…just like the pictures of Damian Blackwood that she’d googled up—the old, grainy ones that were scanned in from old newspapers with no originals. And…also a lot like the younger one with the same name she’d read about too—the asshole cousin with the fancy car and a different girl on his arm every weekend.

None of that explained why he was bleeding green, though.

There are dragons in this world, my dear. Real dragons.

She crept up to the bed’s edge. If only she knew how to drive, then she could just rifle through his clothes for car keys.

“Hello?” she asked again at the foot of the bed, tempted to knee the mattress. “Hey…I want to go home now.”

When he didn’t stir, she leaned in and caught a whiff of something that was the worst stink she’d ever smelled—no small feat considering she was an ICU nurse. Her nose wrinkled, her body recoiled, and then…bliss. Like a good night with girlfriends after drinking a whole bottle of wine, or like the haze you got before an Ambien made you go to sleep. Soft and gentle bliss. She was safe, and she knew she wouldn’t have to worry about anything ever again. Things…everything—her job, this job, her missing brother—finally felt easy.

And Mr. Blackwood—who’d already been the hottest man she’d ever seen in person—was now utterly irresistible.

Sure, he was bleeding electric green fluids from a gash between his ribs, and she should definitely be concerned about that—said a small and shrinking part of her mind—but why not just take a moment to appreciate the perfection of the rest of him, first? Andi put a knee on the mattress and slowly crawled up on the side opposite the bleeding to get a better look. She hadn’t seen him with his shirt off yet, after all. She hadn’t known the way his strong hands became muscular arms, the kind that could pick a girl up and carry her off without even trying. The way his shoulders framed his torso, and the way the muscles made his chest worth licking, down to a ripple of abs and a fine trail of hair leading down…

She was practically hovering over him now and while—this is out of character for you! Stop it!—howled inside from somewhere far away, the rest of her wanted to know everything about him. How he smelled, how he tasted, how it would feel when she touched him, and how it would feel when he touched her…preferably deep inside.

Would he mind?

She brought her hand up to brush the angular slope of his cheek.

“Hey,” she whispered.

His golden eyes fluttered open, taking her in, and they had an oddly inhuman sheen. “Hmmm?”

“Wake up,” she urged him. “Wake up enough to say yes.”

He blinked. “Yes to—”

She leaned forward and planted her lips on his, swallowing whatever he was going to say next. In an instant, his head tilted to make his mouth fit hers perfectly, letting her tongue push in, and his hands were rising up the inside of the fur coat she’d stolen downstairs. Then he was fiercely kissing her back, his lips urgent against hers, his tongue pressing into her mouth, and although she was the one hovering above him, it felt like she was falling in—into what, she didn’t know—but she never wanted to land. This was what she’d always been looking for, and she hadn’t even known it.

One of his arms circled her waist, pulling her closer to him, and his other hand slid up her ribs to hold her breast and swipe a thumb against her nipple as she melted into him. If need could be made manifest, she felt it pulse from him, and everything in her wanted to answer its call. She shivered and let go, her body asking him for more, ready for anything, when he rose up and pushed her back, roughly.

“What?” Andi wasn’t sure precisely what she’d done wrong when all she wanted to do was make him happy.

“Goddammit,” he said, his voice hoarse, looking at her, clutching his hand to his bleeding side. “Grim, please exchange all the air in this room now and don’t stop till I say so.”

“But I can explain!” she went on, even though she couldn’t, as a sudden breeze sprang up from nowhere.

“No…just…be quiet.” He put a hand out to stop her from talking, and she bit her lips to obey. He was so handsome and magical and smart! How had she ever thought she could ever leave his side?

“Listen, this isn’t you.” He rocked himself over to the side of the bed to stand, and Andi noticed the pool of green he left behind him had gotten larger in the meantime. “Just go outside, find Austin, and tell him to pay you and take you home. I need to go bathe.”

Andi was torn between staying quiet like she’d been told and mentioning the blood, like the nurse-voice inside of her demanded. Her fear of him being hurt quickly won out over her fear of disobedience. “But, are you okay?”

“No,” he growled without looking back at her. “You don’t actually want me, and I have a completely inappropriate hard-on. I am not okay.”

“Because of the green blood?” she guessed, trying harder to help him.

“What’re you…” he said, turning back, seeing the trail of green he’d left behind, looking down at his own hand covered in the stuff. “Shit. Sometimes the scales make it hard to feel things.” She didn’t know what to make of that, or what he said next. “Why aren’t I healing?” He reached for the wound and then gasped, before crumpling to the ground.

Andi watched in horror—was he dying? She’d only just found him!—and ran over to his side.

His blood was definitely green and seeping out of a large gash between his ribs. Fresh air was buffeting against her face now and kneeling on the ground beside him she could feel all her uncertainty return, closely followed by a steamroller of anxiety and a semi-truck of self-doubt.

What-what the hell had just happened? She’d almost jumped him—what the fuck? She knew she needed to get laid, but come on, have some self-respect, girl!

But nurse-mode came and saved her from a spiral of embarrassment and shame. Even if his blood was green—presumably, it needed a heart to pump. She felt for a pulse and watched for chest rise. He was alive, but something was hurting him—she could tell by the excruciated look on his face. She tugged his arm away from his chest to see better, positioning him until she could see the wound—where there was a thorn jutting out.

Or more like a stinger. Of a giant dead bee. And it was still pumping something bad into him.

What the ever-loving fuck? She desperately glanced around. There was a bar set on the bar with tongs for ice. She raced for them and returned.

“I’m pretty sure this is going to hurt,” she warned him, then grabbed the stinger and yanked it out. Poison still dripped from its tip, and suddenly the bar tongs were a lot shorter than she wanted. She threw the thing across the room—tongs and all—and looked back at him.

“Mr. Blackwood?” She shook him gently. He was still breathing evenly. She didn’t think he’d popped a lung—only the tear in his side kept leaking green blood. “Damian?” she prodded, taking a guess that seemed more possibly correct all the time.

He suddenly shook his head, and when he opened his eyes, they were as human as ever. He blinked at her, pushing himself up on his arms. “What’re you still doing here? I thought you were a dream. And…what happened to your own clothes?” His hand reached for his side while staring at her. “Is that…one of my grandmother’s furs?”

Andi clutched the coat defensively, suddenly aware she was wearing something that probably cost more than her monthly rent and not much else. “No. I mean…it may be…but I got lost, and I stumbled and fell into your pool.”

He looked adorably confused. “My…pool?”

“No.” She held up her hand and frowned at him. “You’re leaking green; you don’t get to ask questions. What the hell happened to you…Damian?”

He frowned at the use of his name, clearly surprised that she had figured it out. Score one for me, she thought.

“Did you get attacked by…whatever it was that attacked your friend?”

“Not today.” He glowered at her. “You’ve completed your duties by staying the night. Now go away.” He rolled up and onto his knees, to stand and walk away from her.

“You’re kidding me, right?” she asked, following him. “You dripped a trail of blood all the way to your room.” She pointed down at the ground, only the green stains were gone. They couldn’t have been all in her head. She’d seen them. “Don’t you want a report on your friend, whoever he is?”

“Is he alive?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s fine. I’m fine.”

“Like I haven’t heard that before.” She put her hands on her hips where they wouldn’t be tempted to touch him. “Look, even though somehow you turn me into a walking sexual harassment case, I’m not going to leave you when you’re bleeding. Even if it is green.”

“I’ll heal—”

“It was a huge gash! You’re lucky I didn’t call nine-one-one!”

Damian, now that she was sure it was him, took in a breath and released it, then held his arms up so she could inspect him. She walked a quick circle around him—he had abs like fucking whoa—andcouldn’t see the wound anymore.

She bit her lips and scanned the room. He was healed somehow, and there was no longer a pool of green blood on his bed, and she couldn’t see where she’d thrown the stinger or the bar tongs, despite the fact that there was no one else in the room to move them.

“Satisfied?” he asked her.

“Not even vaguely,” she said. She watched her phrase spark a challenge in his eyes, one he just as quickly quenched—his face losing all the softness it’d held when he’d been asleep or injured—returning to its cold and slightly disapproving baseline.

“Go find Austin. He’ll pay you and take you home. Forget all the rest,” he said. She didn’t move a muscle, and he sighed. “Please, for the first time in your life—I’m sure—just do as you’re told.”

Her resolve to get to the bottom of things wavered. She’d already known this place was impossibly strange, but somehow, he was the strangest thing of all. Even without the insta-lust and green blood. There was just something…improbable…about him.

“Fine,” she said with a sigh. She’d spent enough nights trying to convince doctors that things were going bad before lab values proved her right to know that no one wanted to listen to the unbelievable until they had to.

“Thank you,” he said with a slight nod of his head. He turned and started walking toward what was presumably a bathroom. “Grab clothes from my closet and leave the fur behind. It has sentimental value.”

Before she could respond, the door closed behind him.
***
Check back tomorrow for the next chapter of the story!

***
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No Ordinary Night – Free Serial – Chapter 4

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial - Chapter 4

Miss the previous chapter? Click here to catch up!

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter ​3
***

Chapter Four

Damian felt like he had been shot, electrocuted, and stabbed.

What had actually happened was worse.

They’d killed the succubus, but before that, she’d wounded him. And for some reason, he wasn’t healing as fast as she had. That, plus her residual effects, had the dragon inside him howling to be released, furious at the cage once more. He felt his muscles enlarging, hardening in response. With gritted teeth, he mentally forced the beast back.

“Did anyone else get hit?” he asked, looking around. Everyone present shook their heads, and he knew Max was safe in his sniper’s roost.

“Good. I need to go,” he said, and turned, heading blindly away.

“Don’t think you can shirk cleanup crew next time!” Austin yelled. Damian ignored him.

It was harder to find cars to hotwire in these days of Uber, but he found one, practically pulling the door off its hinges to get inside. He’d have Mills figure out who owned it and recompense them later. All he knew was right now was he really fucking needed to get home where he could make the walls around his dragon real.

The car started, and he did a bootleg turn to race for the Briars—thinking fast—trying to keep his human side active and his dragon half down.

All of them had been touched by succubi before. It seemed like they were always waiting just outside of gates, waiting to lure the unwary. Their perceived beauty, their attention, and that pheromone kept their victims in line, while the succubi fed on them, night and day until their followers became mindless fanatics who would do anything the succubi asked—from killing their own families to disemboweling themselves for a smile.

Typically, after an adrenaline-filled hunt and exposure to the pheromones, anyone who had come in contact with the creature would have the urge to fuck everything that moved for the next few days.

It hadn’t turned out like that for him.

No.

Instead, it had wakened the doubts inside of him and given them a voice.

He had taken the lead because, in the past, he’d proven immune to a succubi’s touch. But tonight’s had been different. More powerful than other ones they had previously faced.

Come fly with me.

It was like the succubus had spoken directly to him. No, not to him, but to the dragon inside—the dragon who never got to fly when he wanted to, the dragon he kept with him on the ground.

Come fly with me.

He parked the car and stumbled out, ignoring the voice inside his head, pressing his hand to the keypad. The door unlocked, and he limped into the white marbled foyer.

Why the fuck had he decided to place his bedroom up all those goddamned stairs?

You could just fly.

Step by step, he dragged himself up the stairs, down the carpeted halls, and into his room, where he studiously avoided looking at himself in any of the many mirrors he used to communicate with other Realms. Right now, he was afraid of what he’d see. He didn’t want to watch the dragon surging underneath his skin.

He opened the bottle of whiskey on his bar and chugged it until it was empty. It slid down his throat—a comforting warmth compared to the violence of the dragon fire within him. No one could get hurt, and all it did was make him sleepy. Grimalkin ran in and sniffed the air, likely catching a huge whiff of succubus pheromone. His hackles raised in an instant, his tail poofed, and he hopped back three feet with a wrinkled nose.

“I haven’t smelled anything that bad since you brought me a stinking bishop.” The cat shuddered and wiped its paw at its nose furiously. “Are you okay? And did you bring me any cheese?”

“Nice to see you, too, Grim.” Damian flopped onto his bed, holding the empty decanter. Grimalkin jumped up onto the bed with him and leaned over, almost touching him nose to nose, slightly crossed blue-eyes full of concern.

“There’s green blood on the ground. Is it yours?”

Damian shrugged. “I got hit a few times. Nothing I can’t heal.”

Grimalkin’s tail lashed several times before he asked, “Did you return with as many as you left with?”

“Yes.” Damian knew Grimalkin wasn’t fond of everyone in his crew, but the cat was aware of how losing more men would hurt Damian.

“Good.” Grim’s nose was still crinkled, and his tongue was out, and Damian had the bizarre urge to tap it. Before he could do so, Grimalkin’s eyes widened, pupils as dark as the night sky, as he segued into beg mode. “You know,” Grimalkin said, voice low, like he was dying, “if you’re gonna stink that bad, the least you could do is bring me cheese.”

Damian tried not to laugh and failed. “Can’t you just magic some up?” he asked for the millionth time.

“It’s not the same.” Grimalkin rubbed his head against Damian’s jaw, muttering, “Just a little Port-Salut. That’s all I’m asking.”

“Oh my God, Grim,” Damian said, pushing him away. “Okay, okay; I’ll order some.”

The cat perked up again, life returned. “No magic? Real cheese? Delivery drivers? To the front door?”

“Yes, I swear. But…tomorrow. It’s late.”

“So?” Grimalkin protested, teleporting Damian’s phone onto the bed with them and into his hand. “Use the metal thing!”

“I’m not making someone deliver cheese here, Grim. It’s almost dawn.”

“But it’s cheeeeeeeese,” Grimalkin whined, looking forlornly at the phone in Damian’s hand.

“I know,” Damian said, dropping the phone to knuckle the cat’s head. “But I’m not an asshole, okay? And if you’d rationed yourself better—”

“Rations? What’s next, American slices?” Grimalkin said, and the house around them trembled, cat and domicile both quaking at the thought. “Do I look like I can survive on Jamison’s Velveeta?” he asked Damian in all seriousness.

“No, of course not,” Damian reassured the beast. “I’ll do it tomorrow, I swear. Just…for tonight…I’m gonna need more of this. Please.” He held up the decanter.

Grimalkin waved his tail petulantly, but then blinked his eyes slowly and obliged him, filling it with whiskey again. There were benefits to having a magical guardian assigned to you at birth—once you got past its odd dairy addiction.

Damian sat up, took another swig, and then dropped back down. “How’s the girl?” Austin would have to take her home. He was in no condition—between the magical wounds he’d taken luring the succubus out, and the residual pheromones that Grim was scenting on him.

“Wet…and cheeseless,” Grimalkin said, before staring at the spot where the wall met the ceiling and rubbing a paw behind one ear. Damian had no idea what Grim meant by that, but he’d learned that sometimes it was better not to ask.

“Okay, then. Alone time. Now.” He swept his arm sideways, making the cat jump neatly over his hand.

Grimalkin pounced on his fingers and bit them gently, mumbling around them. “But tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow. I swear.”

The cat sprang off the bed and walked for the door. “Don’t forget!”

“Like you’d let me,” Damian said and ignored the pointed tail flick Grimalkin made in his direction. Despite how irritating his obsession could be at times, Grimalkin was the one thing from home he’d gotten to take with him from the Realms, and Damian was glad to have him.

Finally alone, Damian sat up. He was sore—sitting up made his head spin. He walked across his room to put the decanter back on the bar and took off his shirt.

You could’ve flown tonight. His own dragon now, emerging as he headed back to his bed, tormenting him with the succubi’s words.

If it wasn’t one beast bothering him, it was another. But where Grimalkin was concerned for him—at least, even if his own well-being came a close second to cheese for the cat—his dragon hadn’t cared. At all. His dragon had watched the succubus torturing people on the dance floor and been totally unmoved. It didn’t judge the succubus for doing what she needed to to survive, didn’t find her violence disgusting or cruel.

What did it say about him that something so monstrous was a part of him?

It says I shouldn’t have put the whiskey down so far away. Damian didn’t get up to get it, though, instead choosing to close his eyes and will himself to sleep.

***
Check back tomorrow for the next installment!

This is the third piece of a Instagram Collage Puzzle about the story. Come follow Kara on Instagram for more and see how the picture develops!

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No Ordinary Night – Free Serial – Chapter 3

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial - Chapter 3

Miss previous chapters? Click here to catch up!
Chapter 1
Chapter ​2
***

Chapter Three

It was very easy to creep yourself out at the hospital at night.

Everything in a hospital was industrialized. There was a veneer of warmth in patient spaces—warm lights, nice murals, wood paneling—but underneath that, in the guts of the hospital, things were usually poorly lit and dusty. Hallways full of empty beds with restraints still attached to them. Baby incubators with broken lamps. Pipes that knocked and wheels that creaked.

And that was before you got to any of the people dying.

Because she didn’t know how many people had died in this house—it was so old, she was absolutely positive that multiple people had—Andi did what she always did to make herself feel better. She threw all the lights on.

They sputtered to life like the wiring was old, but they brightened the room a little—enough to keep her spirits up, for now.

And after that, it was time for nursing. A full assessment. Just like she was at work, that’s all she had to pretend.

She walked over to the patient’s bed. Normally she’d have started off by trying to wake him. Even though he was unconscious, he looked strong. That, and the uncompromising way with which Austin’d restrained him—barely any slack on either wrist—made her second-guess herself. Instead, she just lifted up his eyelids to make sure his pupils moved.

After that, airway—he was breathing on his own, albeit with an oxygen mask—and circulation—all of his IVs were good, plus his rate on the monitor was normal. Last but not least, a quick head to toe. She lifted up the sheets. It wouldn’t do to wait eight hours to find out he had a pool of blood growing underneath him, hidden by the linens.

She was surprised to find him naked underneath. He was ridiculously well-muscled. Half of his torso was covered by a large bandage, and what wasn’t was covered in even more tattoos, just like his arms. They were old…formal…and strange. Like words written in a language she not only couldn’t understand, but had never seen before, and she considered herself pretty damn worldly. Or at least she’d watched a lot of National Geographic.

They were almost like…hieroglyphs? But not quite.

Andi ignored the tattoos and went back to frowning at the dressing, mad at herself for not assessing her patient before Austin’d left. It went from his hip to his shoulder, and it was too big to be from surgery. How would they have performed surgery here? Surely, they weren’t that old/rich/crazy. It had pink drainage on it. She put on gloves to touch it and found it saturated.

Which meant it wasn’t doing him any good and needed to be changed.

Andi looked around the room. This wasn’t civil war times; surely, she wasn’t going to use a half-stuffed pillow. Austin had brought the crash cart in from somewhere. Maybe there was a medical supply room down the hall?

“Be good,” she commanded her patient and trotted down the way she thought Austin had gone.

What Mr. No-Name hadn’t mentioned about the house was that it was very nearly a labyrinth.

Though, now that she thought about it, Mr. No-Name-With-a-Fancy-Watch was probably a Blackwood himself. Maybe a distant cousin or something. She had once read a book about a rich family who hired lesser relatives to keep their secrets. Maybe that’s how the Blackwoods rolled.

She went through rooms that didn’t make sense—one filled with wrapping paper. Did Mr. Blackwood really send so many gifts?—a bedroom, a mudroom—even though it didn’t connect outdoors—a kitchenette, a game room, a tiki bar, a closet with enough furs in it to lead to Narnia. She counted rights on her right hand and lefts on her left hand and was able to make it back, but she hadn’t found anything useful. Not even a bathroom. Or a coffeepot.

When she returned, there was a sterile chest vest in its package, sitting on the patient.

The first thing Andi did was to check the patient’s restraints. Because if this was his idea of a “fun game,” then she would strangle him until he really needed that oxygen mask. But he was just like she’d left him; he hadn’t moved. Who the hell had brought her that?

“Hello?” she asked, not sure what would be worse—if no one answered her or if someone did. “Is anyone else here?”

She thought she heard an echo of her own voice but wasn’t sure.

“Okay,” she announced, stepping closer to him. “If someone is taping this to punk me later, let me just say preemptively that you’re an asshole.”

She yanked back the sheet dramatically, hoping to trigger something. When nothing happened—same hot patient, same slow bleed—she pulled on fresh gloves.

The patient’s chest was hairless, which was good because she was ripping an awful lot of tape off of him. Apparently, Austin had never heard of abdominal binders—or maybe this dude appreciated the free wax. She snorted to herself as the last of the tape came free, and the soggy dressing slid off, revealing the wound underneath.

There was no way a “fall” had done that to him—not unless the stairs here grew claws and teeth. The end of the chest tube was expertly taped to his rib cage, like a sleeping snake, but underneath it was jagged rakes of red. It looked like he’d been clawed, but she couldn’t begin to guess what’d done it. She held out her own hand for comparison and couldn’t have done that to him even if she were Wolverine and her fingers fully spread. And then there was a…bite mark? Coming down over one shoulder? No wonder his lung had popped.

She glanced back up at his face. Had his head gotten hit, too, in his fight with whatever the hell this had been? Or had he just freaked the fuck out and gone catatonic? Because if something big enough to do this decided to pretend she was a cat toy, that’s what she would do.

She frowned at his wound for a thoughtful moment, then expertly wrapped him up, making sure to pull the sheet up to his neck, exactly how she’d found him.

“I don’t know what you got into, but I hope it doesn’t get into me.”

Then she walked away from the bed and sat on one of the library’s leather couches.

The downside of not having her own phone meant not having her ebook app for reading. She scrounged a few of the old books left on the library’s shelves. Management at the hospital never got that you had to do something to pass the time at night—that some nights you weren’t getting paid to work, so much as getting paid to just stay up and be there in case there was work to be done. She opened up The Count of Monte Cristo and started reading.

Hours passed. At work, she’d nap on break, but there were no real “breaks” here to speak of, plus she sure as hell wasn’t sleeping. She checked on the patient regularly, tried to pretend medical supplies hadn’t just appeared when she needed them, and that there was a way falling down stairs could do that to a man.

Halfway through her book, she had a thought.

What if…the patient here really was Mr. Blackwood and they were torturing him so they’d get his fortune?

She looked from her book to her patient. No, she was just getting ideas from her book. It was almost five a.m. That was when everybody started feeling loopy. Humans just weren’t meant to be up this late.

But what if… Whatever other crazy idea she was going to have evaporated when she heard a child’s voice.

“Help me,” it pleaded.

Andi jumped up and whirled, feeling her heart race in the silence.

Had she heard that? She had to have. She’d been up late plenty, and she’d never hallucinated before. And yet, just as she was about to talk herself out of it, she heard the voice again.

“Please, help me,” it begged her from farther away.

Mr. No-Name hadn’t mentioned anyone else in the house.

But for a house this big, it would be normal to have more staff, right? The staff was beneath attention and mention. But maybe Blackwood senior or junior or third cousin once removed was into Bad Things, and this was the only chance whoever needed help would have to escape to safety?

“Oh my God, can you hear me?” the voice sobbed in a desperate panic. “Please be real. Please…and come find me!” the voice cried.

Andi took one look behind herself at the patient—safely sleeping just the way he had all night long—and then went racing after the voice.

She tore through the strange house, following the voice as sometimes it sounded far away—sometimes closer—always pleading. If whoever was calling her felt safe enough to ask for help, they must really be alone.

“I’m coming!” she shouted. She finally felt like she was on the trail. The voice became louder, the calls more frequent, summoning her to a bedroom outfitted like a dungeon. The walls were lined in green velvet wallpaper with ornate patterns burned out against it, and black leather furniture-like objects were arranged tastefully—almost like art—if Andi hadn’t known what they were for.

She ran through it at top speed into the next room and found herself in a room almost exactly like the basement of her first home when she was growing up. Orange shag carpet, tan wood paneled walls, with a green felt regulation pool table sitting in the center of it. Same dingy light overhead, the same scent of cigarette smoke lingering in the air.

“Are you kidding me?” she whispered as she stopped in her tracks. The balls were racked and ready to play. All she was missing was Danny, her partner in crime. Pool was their father’s favorite hobby. They played it with him incessantly any time he visited, hoping that someday they’d be good enough to make him stay. Whenever he left, she and Danny would play against each other for hours, practicing for the next time. They’d win his love someday, they knew it….

“Help me!” begged the voice. It sounded like it was just one room away now. She ran for the door like her chalk-dusted memories were chasing her—so quickly she couldn’t stop herself and wound up falling.

Into a pond.

Andi bobbed up for air, gasping, surrounded by lily pads as wide as dinner plates and peals of laughter.

“Stop that!” she shouted, looking up to see who was laughing and finding only another high ceiling with a star-like chandelier. The laughter didn’t stop.

Someone was having a very elaborate joke at her expense.

She felt herself turning beet red and swatted at the hip high water, then felt her ankles sink. Somehow, the bottom of this koi pond—inside the house—was mud. She panicked and kicked her shoes off, losing them to the murky depths in her rush to swim to the pond’s side and clamber back out the way she’d come. She was totally sodden, and now she didn’t have any shoes. “Fuck you,” she told her unknown assailant. “And fuck this.”

The laughter stopped. There was a rustling behind her, and a chill went up her spine—the cat appeared. Grimalkin walked over and meowed at her with cross-eyed disapproval, before sitting on his haunches to lick a paw judgmentally.

“Do you believe this?” she asked him, gesturing to herself and her surroundings. Grimalkin started purring loudly in response, which sounded a bit like laughing.

“Get it together, Andi.” She pressed the heels of both hands to her eyes until she saw flashes and composed herself.

This night was cancelled. The second she got her money she was leaving this crazy place.

She stomped back the way she’d come, racing through the green-walled dungeon and found herself back in the room with the patient three doors later. Andi stood in the doorway and blinked at the impossibility of it all.

“No way!” But he was still alive, at least. She glanced over the numbers on his monitor—all within healthy ranges—then realized she could hear herself dripping on the hardwood floor. She scurried over to where the bed was, but she wasn’t sure dripping on a rug was any better. She remembered one of the rooms she’d been in earlier and dared to find the coat closet again.

Hiding inside of it, she took all her wet clothes off and pulled on a fur—huge, black, and fluffy.

She didn’t even care if she got the fur dirty. At this point, Mr. Blackwater, or whoever the hell was laughing, deserved it. She just wanted to go home.

***
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No Ordinary Night – Free Serial – Chapter 2

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial - Chapter 2

Miss previous chapters? Click here to catch up!
Chapter 1
***

Chapter Two

“What’d Grim say?” Austin asked Damian on their way to the garage.

“That she’s too small to be of any use.” In reality, Grimalkin had asked if Andi had brought him any cheese, the bluer, the better—because the house was out. Luckily, Damian was the only one who could understand the hugely powerful multidimensional guardian he’d been assigned at birth, so no one else knew how easily a gift of cheese would distract him.

“For once, the cat and I agree. If my brother wakes up –”

“I know,” Damian said, shutting down further conversation. If Zach woke up while they were gone—a big if—then hopefully he and the nurse could have an intelligent conversation, after which she’d take off his restraints. He’d be confused about what had happened, but he’d be smart enough to realize she was an outsider.

He got into the armored SUV, waiting with some of the rest of his crew. It was just him and the guys tonight. Max was driving, Jamison had his eyes on his electronics, and he sat close to Austin who was busy wiping down the barrel of something black and shiny.

He sank back into his seat, thinking about the nurse.

She smelled good, his dragon commented.

Shush, he told his dragon—but it was right.

Oil, plastics, but more overwhelmingly, the aroma of iron, surrounded him. Humans had so much iron in their blood; it was a wonder to him that they weren’t magnetic. Living in human society, he had gotten used to the metallic scent, but for some reason, tonight it seemed more pungent than usual.

It was all because of her.

When she had gotten into the car, the gaseous stink of the bus she had been on and the medicinal chemical scents that were a hallmark of her occupation clung to her coat. Those were expected.

But underlying all that was her own subtle scent, undetectable to most humans, and yet abruptly mouthwatering all the same.

Apples and caramel, yes, that’s what it reminded him of—and saltwater.

How strange.

He swiped through his emails, opening the unread files Mills had sent over. Top of her class in community college and then nursing school. But she’d suffered student loans, a staggeringly high amount of debt owed to a hospital which looked like medical bills for a relative before it got wiped—presumably by that relative’s death—and a brother who apparently couldn’t resist taking rides in cop cars. Which made her perfect for his purposes: hungry enough to be looking for cash, smart enough to keep Zach alive, and hopefully, smart enough to not ask many more questions.There was always the Forgetting Fire if she got too curious. He reached the end of her background check and found she lived in a gentrifying part of town in an apartment above a Greek bakery. That explained her scent. Her apartment probably smelled entirely of baked goods.

Mystery solved, Damian put the phone back into his pocket. But his mind went right back to her. Andi. What an odd name for a girl. He had the strangest urge to say it out loud, irrationally, to see if the sound tasted as good as she smelled. And that interesting streak of blue that he’d glimpsed a flash of before she’d wound her dark hair up—something about the act of her hiding it made him want to unwind and expose it again, to possibly feel the wrap of it around his hand.

“Why’d you warn her about the house?” Austin asked Damian, distracting him from his thoughts.

“Because Grimalkin doesn’t like strangers.”

“He doesn’t like anyone,” Austin countered.

“He’s keeping an eye on Zach, isn’t he?” Max said from the driver’s seat, defending Damian’s guardian’s integrity. Damian knew his cat and his old weapons master got along—they had to; they were the only two things that’d come from the Realms with him, albeit at different times. The battle armor Max had on made the whiteness of his skin around it even more shocking, and Damian knew if he had his hat off, all his hair would be ghostly pale. He’d had an albino’s pale eyes, too, before he’d lost them in a fight with another bear-shifter. Mills had replaced them with something magical hidden by goggles, turning him into the perfect bearer of Damian’s Forgetting Fire, since its powers no longer seemed to work on him. And whatever kind of eyes he had now, he could snipe an Unearthly creature down at eight hundred yards.

“Grimalkin’s probably hoping that he’ll die,” Austin said darkly.

Max broke into a toothy grin. “Nah, if Grimalkin wanted either of you dead, you’d be dead already, puppy.”

Austin snorted at him. “Better to be a wolf who’s a fighter than a bear who’s a chimney sweep,” Austin muttered, before addressing Damian again. “Was she sensitive enough for the perimeter to bother her?”

“Definitely.”

Austin grunted. “How’d she do?”

“Admirably, considering she didn’t know she was being magically attacked.” There were several concentric security rings around his mansion, some magical, some not. He’d both seen and tasted her panic as they’d driven over one of them—the one Austin had been supposed to turn off. He’d seen other men throw themselves out of moving cars in fear and not know why to crawl crying back downhill. While she’d been scared, Andi hadn’t run. Another interesting point.

“Do you think she bought it?” Austin asked, pretending to put a driver’s hat on.

Damian knew he meant the subterfuge of him pretending to be a driver in his own employ. He’d wanted to meet the person taking care of Zach, to get a feel for her—he hadn’t expected for him to wind up being so intrigued.

“Doesn’t matter,” he answered. “Either she doesn’t figure it out, fine; or she does, and the fire will make her forget.”

“Why bother? No one would believe her. She’d just be another internet crackpot,” Jamison said while staring intently at the computer on his lap, as immersed in it as Austin was his weapons. He was very dark-skinned and lean in opposition to Max’s bright whiteness and Austin’s bulk, and between the hardware on his lap and the hardware of his arm that they’d replaced with tech, the man was practically half-computer.

“You mean, like you?” Austin said, goading the younger man.

“Don’t make me change your Netflix password,” Jamison snarked, then waved his hand for silence. “We’re approaching the source of the signal. Slow down, Max.”

Max grunted an acknowledgement. He was driving what Damian called “the tour bus.” It was a heavily armored SUV, fortified with metal shielding, bulletproof glass, blast-resistant undercarriage, and, more importantly, personally warded by the most powerful witch on this side of the Pacific. Damian knew where they were by scent—the saltwater, gas, and oil fumes could only be from the familiar miasma of the docks—and they were here because somewhere nearby there was an Unearthly creature they needed to kill.

A few days ago, a gate had opened in Damian’s domain. Gates were random rifts or tears between this world and other Realms, occurring when and where Earth and other Realms overlapped, allowing Unearthly things through for as long as the passage remained open. They could be as small as an atom, leaking a slow trickle of matter through that didn’t belong—making exposed non-magical humans think they saw Bigfoot, UFOs, or ghosts—or they could burst open like lanced boils, letting creatures that Ought Not Be through, flying, crawling, or oozing out to wreak havoc on whomever was unlucky enough to encounter them. Damian and his crew’s job was to kill the monsters, seal the gates, and wipe the minds of any human left alive.

They’d easily closed the most recent gate fifty miles outside of town, but not before three sizable creatures had made it through. The one they’d decided was the most dangerous, that needed to be put down instantly, had been an insectoid creature the size of a bus with bulletproof chitin and webbing that had been tougher to cut than steel cables. It’d been impervious to fire, too—at least human fire. Which was why Damian had had to let himself go.

They’d corralled the monster in a low canyon, but it’d slithered up a wall and over the defensive line Damian had created for the men, cutting him off from them. Zach abandoned his post, ran to help, and gotten grabbed. He’d screamed—and Damian could still hear those screams, agonized and terrified, now—and Damian had changed in an instant. From the human that he pretended to be, to the dragon that he was.

Massive. Mindless. Monstrous.

Angry.

His dragon ended the creature in moments, reveling in the freedom and destruction, flipping the thing over to claw through its underbelly. Afterward, Damian had struggled to regain control. It hadn’t been easy.

“How much farther?” asked Max through gritted teeth.

Damian could feel the preparatory intensity of his crew as they waited quietly for Jamison’s next instruction. Between Zach’s injury and losing Michael last year.… Just because they were good at what they did didn’t mean it was safe.

“Almost there. We’ve gotta pass it to triangulate it. Just keep going,” Jamison said, oblivious to everything but the data he was harvesting on his screen.

Damian had told Jamison and Mills to prioritize creating technology to predict when gates were opening, so they could preemptively seal them before the Unearthly came through. They were gaining ground, but until they managed to perfect it, members of his team would always be in danger—and so would Damian. Because every time he shifted, his dragon came closer to claiming—and keeping—control.

“Stop,” Jamison said, closing his metal hand into a fist.

The vehicle downshifted, and the men hurried to finish arming themselves as Damian thought of everything he’d given up to get this far, everything he’d put his men through—all the Unearthly they’d faced, losing Michael, and now, nearly losing Zach.

“Whoa,” said Austin, looking at him askance, and Damian realized he was exhaling smoke. “Let’s keep it together this time, ‘kay?”

Damian narrowed his eyes at him. “Zach almost died.”

“I know,” said Austin with a dispassionate look on his face. “He’s my brother. But that doesn’t change things.”

Damian held his gaze, fighting the urge to let his eyes flare with magic.

The very same thing that gave him purpose, which made him a member of this team, was also the very thing that put them all at risk.

His own Unearthly heritage.

Of all of them, Austin was the one who never forgot what Damian was. And when he finally turned, becoming draconic without hope of turning back, Damian knew without a doubt that Austin would be the one to put him down.

“Which one’s here tonight?” Max twisted around to look back now that they were parked. “The lady or the tiger?” They’d all seen the other two creatures they’d passed over in favor of killing the bus-bug thing.

“Hang on.” Jamison’s magical equipment wasn’t anywhere near as sensitive as Damian was at this range. He closed his eyes and reached out with his senses. The all too familiar red magic bloomed in his mind, shaping itself into a vision of the source. He felt the fiery warmth that all creatures from the Unearthly side had—and more—longing, desire, and urges that made his heart beat faster and his heat sink low.

“The lady,” said Damian

Everyone groaned. It wasn’t that they couldn’t take down a succubus. They were pretty frequent Unearthly escapees—it was just the aftereffects that made things difficult.

“It had to be a fucking succubus,” said Max with a groan. “They’re creepy as hell, once you get down to the real monster underneath.”

“Agreed,” Austin said, then turned to Damian. “What’s this one look like?”

He concentrated on the spark again.

“In the other Realm, it has white wings, along with the tentacles,” he said finally. “Here, it’s got big breasts and blonde hair—a cross between a Christmas angel and a porn star.”

Austin cursed, but reached for the net gun before stepping out.

They were indeed, as Damian had predicted, on the docks. Which was a strange place for a succubus to be working, unless there was some sort of pleasure cruise—an emphasis on pleasure—nearby. But Max had his goggles on, scanning nearby buildings. “Over there,” he said and pointed. Once he had, Damian could feel it too, without any technological or magical enhancements.

Somewhere, in one of these buildings, was a bass-heavy beat.

An illegal warehouse party at the docks attracting a succubus? Sounded about right. “Spheres, Jamison?”

“Catch.” The other man reached into a belt holster and retrieved marble-sized magical objects to toss to each of them. Damian caught his and felt a layer of magic envelope him as they walked down the alley. It wasn’t there to protect him, so much as to protect other people from him—and the crew. No one wanted to see their group of overly muscled and beweaponed men walking down the street, so the sphere showed them whatever they wanted to see instead—men without guns, puppies, lost balloons. Damian didn’t question the sphere’s judgment, he just knew that they worked.

“The only thing is…” Austin began, as they got closer to the sound.

“We’ll still need a victim to lure it away,” Damian said, finishing his statement. He unholstered his gun to hand it over to Jamison.

“How come only you get to talk to the pretty ladies?” Jamison teased.

“Because I’m immune to their charms. And if this one is as bad as it feels, it has very nasty knives.” He handed his sphere over, too, leaving the safety of its magic behind. The others were all in tactical gear, but he’d kept on the suit he’d worn to pick up Andi. He didn’t need gear when there was a sixty-foot, fire-breathing reptile inside him longing to get out and fuck shit up.

Max cracked the knuckles on one hand. “Where do you want us?”

Damian scanned the building. Two huge men were bouncing in front of a door that was practically vibrating with the bass from the building behind it. The building itself only had small windows up at the top, strobing red and gold with the lights from inside, which meant external visibility was shit, but he had a feeling he’d be able to lure the thing out.

“Southeast exit’s best,” Jamison said, looking at schematics on a tablet. “The other buildings there form a natural cage.”

“Done,” Max said, jogging to the warehouse’s far side. Jamison saluted Damian with his metallic arm and ran off in the other direction—which left him and Austin alone.

“Try not to have too much fun before the hurty bits,” Austin said with a smirk, then went to head around back. Damian counted to twenty to give them all time, then headed toward the door with his most wicked smile.

Getting in was the easy part—a hundred-dollar bill did that—but he stood out once inside, very different from all the riotous dancers. He was GQ, and they were all sweaty, high, and half-dressed—a wild throng of humanity.

More like prey, grumbled the creature inside him.

He ignored it and made sure the southeast exit was feasible. It was at the end of a hallway and not blocked by pallets or locked with chains.

“Southeast is a go. Going silent now,” he replied, taking out his earpiece before walking toward a makeshift bar created out of pallets and storage boxes. He didn’t blame the succubus for coming here; he would’ve liked to’ve done so himself, as a human. To just be able to let everything go—and to know that everything would still be safe and okay.

He didn’t have that liberty.

Damian closed his eyes, pulsing the powers inside him out to search for her like radar. Once, twice, three times and the beast would feel him, but it didn’t matter, he had her—in the middle of the dance floor. A group of men and women circled her, thinking they were enjoying themselves. He knew if he let his gaze go draconic, he’d see her true form—wings tucked back as her waist-high tendrils spun out to spike everyone nearby. Everyone she speared would think they were in love—with her, with here, with life, it wouldn’t matter—and if she wasn’t stopped, she’d drain them of energy until they became her mindless slaves.

He ordered a shot of whiskey and downed it at the bar before heading to the dance floor. This wasn’t the place to sip. If he was going to get her to follow him outside, he needed to seem fully human, and every human here was drinking. The group of people around her had grown from five to ten; he needed to act quickly, but he hesitated intentionally, like he was unsure, and made sure to catch her eye on a spin.

She had hair like the sun, and it swirled around her like her tendrils would have if he’d allowed himself to see them. He stood at the edge of the dance floor, looking rich and cruel and disapproving—not taking his eyes off of her—daring her to come to him.

She was like a cobra dancing with a snake charmer, doing everything in her power to lure him closer into tendril range. But that wouldn’t do. He needed her alone, so he watched her studiously, letting her know he was interested, but not content to be amongst the commoners.

One by one, dancers seemed to come out of their reverie and stumble to the edges of the dance floor as she released them, not knowing how close they’d come to losing their lives. He had to fight not to smile. This wasn’t his first time with a succubus; they were all alike—completely certain in their abilities to torment humans and completely unable to ignore a challenge.

She was close now, still dancing, but just for him. She was wearing next to nothing, the thigh-high slits of her skirt showing off her legs as she moved, as she kept moving hypnotically, coming closer. He could smell the addictively sexy pheromone she emitted and almost wished it worked on him because it was hard to stay still knowing that once she came a few steps closer she would strike.

She smiled winningly and the first tendril hit—straight through his heart. The dragon half of him bellowed and rose and fought, and he had to wall it off as quickly as he could. Calm down. Now!

He did his best impersonation of a struck human for her. “You,” he whispered, his voice low.

“You-you’re different.” Her voice was a purr with an inhuman thrum underneath.

She struck another tendril through him, and instead of screaming, he had to pretend to be enamored. “I want you.” In real life, he would never be that abrupt, but bewitched humans had no common sense.

“That’s good,” she purred. “I want you too.” She reached her hand up and touched his face. “I’ll tell you a secret. I want everyone here.”

He smiled at her, pretending to be innocent, trying to ignore the way he could feel the spears of her magic slide in and out of him, sucking at his essence. Her hand trailed down his chest and seemed certain to go lower.

“Me first?” he offered.

Kill her! the dragon in him growled.

SHUT UP! he commanded.

“Oh, yes. You first,” she agreed, letting her hand sink to his waistband. He reached for her and dragged her close, kissing her hard, before she could feel that he wasn’t—that he was the only thing not turned on by her within thirty feet.

“I need you,” he said, coming up for air like a desperate man. The things she was doing to his brain and inside of him—a migraine blossomed, and it was hard to stay clearheaded—and his dragon howled. “Outside?”

She smiled at him, and with his dragon this close, it looked like all her teeth were fangs. “Yes,” she agreed, and together they stumbled toward the southeast exit.

Damian wasn’t sure what shape his crew’s attack would take, as he made out with the creature down the hallway toward the southeast door. He ignored the pain, trying to concentrate on the feel of its breasts against him and not letting it lock him in against a wall.

Then they reached the door, and he shoved her outside, blocking the door with his own body. He didn’t want the succubus running back into the crowd as they shot her with warded guns. No one would get hurt, but the chaos they’d cause could create a stampede.

Every single thing they fought with was warded—right down to the bullets. Which meant they wouldn’t hurt normal humans—just Unearthly things.

Like him.

Which also meant he was in harm’s way.

“Move!” Austin shouted at him. The succubus took in her surroundings—the blinding phosphorescent lamps his crew had set up, the guns that were trained on her.

“Whaaat?” Her voice rose with an unholy pitch. “No—I did not escape the depths of—”

A sniped shot—Max, from a nearby building, Damian knew—came through her neck, blowing out her throat. He could almost hear the bear-shifter saying, “Don’t care,” as he silenced her. Damian threw her forward with all his might, felt the tendrils releasing for a second as they moved with her, and then they grabbed on harder. He sank to his knees as she drained his strength, and with wide eyes, he watched her heal.

Unearthly things were stronger than Earthly ones, yes, but they didn’t heal like that. Maybe Max had only grazed her? But then why was his shirt streaked with so much blood?

His thoughts took only half a second, and then he heard Jamison call his name. “Damian! Catch!”

Jamison was throwing his weapon to him, and the succubus batted it down with a now-visible wing. It didn’t matter, though. Austin was advancing—pumping rounds into her—and Max was still sniping her from afar, and slowly, the human shell of what she appeared to be was blasted away until only the monster of what she was shone underneath the phosphorescent lights. Their weapons pushed her back out of striking range and then Damian was free. She sank to her knees, her tendrils writhing desperately around her, searching for fresh victims.

“No,” she whispered as she realized she was dying. An iridescent purple eye swung in an overlarge socket to spot him. “You and I…we are the same. I felt it in you. Why do you align yourself with them when you could have flown with me?”

Damian didn’t have an answer for her; he just stood and picked up his gun. This needed to be over. He squeezed off a round into her head as the tendrils that had pierced him snaked weakly by his ankles.

“I will crawl into you and eat your soul,” she threatened, from a mouth that spontaneously appeared on her neck as Jamison brought a lamp closer.

“Pity for you, I don’t have one,” Damian said and fired the shot that finally ended her.

***
This is the first piece of a Instagram Collage Puzzle about the story. Come follow Kara on Instagram for more and see how the picture develops!

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No Ordinary Night – Free Serial – Chapter 1

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial Chapter 1
No Ordinary Night Read The Original Story Behind DRAGON CALLED Free

Finding a good co-writer who gets you, gets your style and understands the way you work is a tough thing. It's sort of like dating in a way. Sometimes you come across people who you should jive with, but then it turns out that things don't work out because you don't have chemistry.

Cassie Alexander and I have known each other for awhile, and so we didn't want to screw up a friendship. So before we decided to make this a series, Cassie and I originally decided to test the waters of co-writing by writing a short story together, that eventually became DRAGON CALLED.

We had so much fun writing it together that we decided to write an entire series and release them quickly together (because yes, the endings are cliffhangery, and personally, I hate waiting a long time for the next book). And so yes, in addition to DRAGON CALLED being released in May, we will also have DRAGON DESTINED and DRAGON FATED also released in May!

If you're interested in reading the short story that inspired the novel, I'm going to be serializing it here on the blog. The beginning is mostly the same as a novel, but at some point it detours into something a little different with a Happy-For-Now ending.

If you like it, I HIGHLY recommend checking out DRAGON CALLED 🙂

No Ordinary Night - Free Serial Chapter 1

Chapter One

While waiting for the bus, Andrea Ngo—Andi—had plenty of time to consider that answering an Overnight Help Wanted ad online may not have been the world’s best idea. But it wasn’t like her student loans were going to pay themselves; she was already working nights at the county hospital—and then there was the whole thing with her idiot brother’s bail. Danny had gotten into stupid situations before, but she never thought he’d run out on her, miss his court date, and leave her stuck with a ten-thousand-dollar bail bond.

So, what was another shift or two? Who needed sleep anyhow? Sleep was definitely overrated. She took a pair of thick black plastic framed glasses out of her coat pocket and put them on. She had perfect vision, but she knew from experience glasses on Asian girls made people think she was either super smart or super sheltered—both of which had worked in her favor before. 

The bus came, picked her up, and deposited her as far as it would go across town, at the bus stop outside the Briars Country Club. Its ominously-thorned, wrought iron gate made her glad she knew when her last tetanus shot was. She pulled out her phone to text the mysterious number that said she’d gotten the job in the first place.

I’m here, she texted. Five minutes early, no less. She took off her glasses, which turned out to be quite dirty from underuse and fogged them with her breath to wipe them down. She’d never been this close to the BCC before—there was never any point when she was most definitely not, nor would ever be, a member. 

But working at her glasses stopped her from staring at her phone. The person who’d given her the number when she’d gotten the job had claimed to be Damian Blackwood’s secretary. Andi found that hard to believe. What on earth would Damian Blackwood need a private nurse for one night for? Or—perhaps the better questions—for whom? 

She’d talked to an ambulance transport nurse once who’d gotten paid for an entire day to follow around a Saudi prince in his rig. So she might be getting paid just to watch someone breathe, barring an assassination attempt, which sounded lucrative and exciting.

But she’d never get to tell anyone about it—not even her roommate Sammy—because they’d made her sign a nondisclosure agreement. And then the text that had told her when to be here had made it clear that this assignment was “no questions asked.”

Which would be hard because questions were like, her thing. Had to be. Because secrets could kill you—asking questions saved lives.  

Andi ran an aggressive thumbnail over the left glasses lens, trying to scrape off a streak, and found a scratch too deep to ignore. She should’ve tried these on at home and brought one of her other half-dozen pairs. She sighed and pocketed them, returning to her phone to check the time. 

And now they—whoever they were—were late.

Maybe this was all just an elaborate hoax. She crossed her arms in the dark, turning her back on the gates and the mansions behind them. She hated thinking like that because she knew the slightly paranoid anxiety that made her an excellent nurse was a double-edged sword when it came to life-coping skills.

But it’d stopped her from getting into the Subaru STI that Danny’d “borrowed” from a friend the last time she’d seen him—which stopped her from getting her prints in his freshly stolen car. 

Andi checked the time again then jumped as the heavy gates behind her began to fold in on themselves, thorns disappearing like at the end of Sleeping Beauty. An all-black car—in a make she didn’t recognize—pulled up. But she realized it was for her as it parked and a driver in a suit emerged.

He was…breathtaking. A Caucasian man with black hair, strong nose and chin, full lips, and piercing light brown eyes that appeared almost golden. The crisp black suit made him look sharp, but he didn’t need it—which led to thinking about what he might look like without it, which was not appropriate right now, but Andi couldn’t help herself. He was injuriously handsome—the kind of hot you’d do a double take for and wind up getting hit by an oncoming bus you hadn’t noticed—and hot enough that there was no way he didn’t know it. She more than knew his type, and she steeled herself to give him no response. 

“Miss Ngo?” he asked as he opened the passenger door for her.

“Just Andi,” she corrected him, getting into the back seat and scooting over. He took a moment to stare at her, and she felt a low-hipped thump of desire, which she concealed with a tight smile.

“Of course,” he agreed, giving her a slight nod and a much warmer smile as he closed her door. He took the driver’s seat again and looped the black car around to pull back behind the gates of the Briars like a tide.

She had no idea what kind of car she was in, but she had a feeling that Danny would lust for it. The interior leather felt buttery, and the drive was certainly a lot smoother than the city bus.   

Too bad the whole “having a driver” thing made her uncomfortable. Admittedly, she couldn’t drive, so she really did need one, but her last boyfriend hadn’t even opened her door for her on their first date. And Josh had definitely not looked like that.

Andi-girl, you need to have fun and get out more. She could hear Eumie gently chastising her in her head, and right after that, her roommate Sammy, adding, And you need to get laid.

She was willing to admit that both those things might be true—but nothing like that would happen tonight.

“So, we’re going to Blackwood’s estate?” she asked the driver, trying to make innocent conversation as the car rose in the hills. She glanced up at the rearview—waiting for him to respond—and realized the defiant blue streak in her black hair was showing. Shit, shit, shit – she hadn’t gotten into nurse mode yet, but it was time. Her hands reached up and wound her hair into a practiced bun that hid the color.

“We are indeed,” said the driver, not taking his eyes off the road. 

“Do you know who I’ll be taking care of?”

This made him look back at her in the rear view, brow lifted in bemusement. “Someone who needs your help—clearly.”

Andi groaned on the inside. “That’s a little vague.”

“Would you prefer to hear that I’m not at liberty to say?” His tone was clearly teasing.

“No, not really.” Andi rolled her eyes. Once again, hot did not equal charming. “So, what’s he like?”

“Who?” the driver asked, overly oblivious. 

“You know who; come on,” she said, leaning forward in the car to talk to him between the front seats. “Damian.”

She’d googled him, obviously, but that hadn’t told her much. The Blackwoods were old money, rode over on the Mayflower-style: stocks, yachts, islands. But it seemed like no one had taken a picture of the man since he turned thirty—twenty years ago.

“And what makes you think he’d be involved with the hiring of temporary staff?” the driver asked, twisting to smirk back at her.

So much for blue-collar solidarity. Andi sank back into her seat and loosened her scarf. “Right. So, is there anything you can tell me about this gig? Or do you just do as he says, ‘no questions asked’?” she said in a tone of voice that mocked the text she’d gotten.

“Hmmmm. Asking too many questions of the Blackwoods is generally a bad policy,” he said in a cautionary tone. “Or of anyone, really.”

“Too bad that’s like half my job,” Andi muttered beneath her breath, then more loudly said, “No questions, huh? Sounds like a great person to work for.”

The car took a swooping right turn. “Just do what you’re told, and you’ll be fine.”

“Yes, of course,” she clipped. Good help didn’t gossip—and that was all she’d be. She wasn’t getting paid to be curious. The driver swung left without turning on his turn signal, and she swayed with the car.

The road rose as it curved, zigging and zagging up the side of a hill. She twisted to look behind her and caught a view of the city below, all lit up like a rippled sheet of gold. It was so unexpectedly beautiful she gasped—and then it felt like she’d been stabbed. In her chest. Right below her heart. She pressed a hand beneath her breast, trying to figure out what was wrong with her and if she should confide it to this strange man, but then the pain was combined with the strange impression that she should run back down to the city lights below where she knew that she’d be safe—from what, though?—as prickling terror rushed over her entire body like ice cold water.

“Are you all right?” the driver asked, glancing back at her in the rearview, his voice serious for the first time since she’d met him.

“Yes,” she said defiantly, even though she still felt like she was being stabbed—by fear itself. Her heart was hammering so fast, like the time she’d been chased by the cops because of her dumb brother or the time she’d been mugged—but she’d never felt such an intense urge to run-run-run

Why?

She double-blinked and forced herself to breathe, looking out the window at the city’s golden streetlight tapestry. It swept out like wings to encompass the hills on both sides, and from somewhere in the depths of her childhood memories, her Auntie Kim’s voice burbled up: There are dragons in this world.

“Miss Ngo?” There was a note of concern in the driver’s voice that hadn’t been there earlier.

Why on earth did she think about Grand Auntie Kim? It had been years since she’d seen the old woman who had taken care of her as a child during the summer, who’d told her and Danny stories of dragons after their dad had walked out on them and their mother had had to work. Andi inhaled deeply and shook her head. Whatever this is, you are bigger than it. You have handled worse. You’re going to be fine.

Or, said a darker part of her mind, you’re having a heart attack at a freakishly young age, and in about three seconds, you should ask Mr. Handsome here to call 911.   

“Andi?” the driver pressed.

“Do you know CPR?” Andi asked, half-joking, half-not—then the sense of terror lifted just as fast as it’d come on. “Oh my God,” she whispered to herself, sinking back into the car’s luxury leather interior. “Okay. Never mind. I’m fine. Honest.”

His eyes narrowed at her in the rearview. A flash of anger? That was on him, not her.

“Don’t worry,” he growled, suddenly a much darker man. “You’re allowed to be here.”

What an odd turn of phrase.

She would’ve asked him why he’d said it quite like that, but she was too happy to not feel like she was dying anymore. The car swung around again, and the pavement turned to cobblestones as they pulled through a final gate.

The driver slowed and parked in the roundabout, right in front of the mansion’s huge church-like doors, and she quickly got out to breathe fresh air before he could come around and release her. She leaned against the car and looked up.

Compared to any place Andi’d ever lived—or ever seen—the house was utterly ridiculous. It wasn’t a house so much as a castle, and it had the kind of turrets that you expected to see archers peeking out from—although, in this day and age, and with Blackwood-level money, machine guns seemed more apt. Stained glass windows dotted the upper floors, some glowing with light, while ivy grew aggressively up the lower ones, crawling out of a garden that could best be described as feral. A huge circular fountain behind her had a dragon head on top of it shooting out water instead of smoke. 

The driver walked around her and opened up the front door, and light beamed from somewhere inside as he gestured for her. “Ready?”

Andi forced a lightness she didn’t feel into her voice and expression, plastering on a smile so sweet it was giving her cavities. “As I’ll ever be!”

Swallowing for strength, she walked behind him indoors. They were together in a vast entryway that had three sets of stairs, wide ones arching toward the right and left wings of the house, and an odd spiral staircase that shot straight up. Her eyes followed it to a circular door in the ceiling, two floors up. A belfry? Some kind of service hatch? Her guesses were interrupted by the driver reaching for her, and she stepped back quickly without thinking. “I-I didn’t catch your name?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said.

She stared at his open hand and then looked to him. The corners of his lips were turned upward, teasing her, and it felt like her heart stopped beating for a moment. Dammit. Was he taunting or flirting with her? Was he so hot he just assumed he’d get his way? Or was he so used to hanging out with rich people he thought he was one, just like when clerks were rude to you for no reason in fancy stores?

He cleared his throat and lifted his hand slightly. “Would you like me to take your coat, or do you prefer to wear it while nursing?”

She had a sudden urge to meet him late at night in a pool hall and see how much she could take him for, but she took off her coat and handed it over. “You’re assuming I’ll get the job.”

He shrugged. “I’m assuming you’re competent. But I’ve been wrong before.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. It-Doesn’t-Matter,” she said. Why wouldn’t he give her his name? Her roommate Sammy was convinced that answering an ‘Overnight Help Wanted’ ad online was Andi’s beginning of a true-life crime show on Investigation Discovery—and maybe she was right. Maybe Mr. No-Name was a felon or something? Something he’d have in common with Danny if she couldn’t talk her Uncle Lee into getting her brother an expensive lawyer. She squinted at the driver. His reluctance to tell her his name only made her want to know more.

He resisted her dig. “And your phone?” he asked. She handed it over, much more reluctantly. “You did sign an NDA,” he reminded her, as he put it in his pocket.

“But what if there’s an emergency?”

“We’ll give you a spare.”

A spare phone wasn’t the same thing as her phone, but she tried to shake it off.

He glanced at his watch, and his expression became serious. “If you’ll follow me,” he said, and then started walking without looking back to make sure she did so. She almost had to trot after him. He was so much taller than she was—at least six-three to her five-nothing—and he was apparently in a hurry. Then again, maybe she was relieving someone else—another hired hand—who needed to leave quickly.

At least chasing after him let her see his ass. His suit was particularly well cut around him, not leaving much to the imagination—not when your imagination was as good as hers. He surprised her by stopping and turning back around, as though he’d known she was looking. She stopped, too, like they were playing a game of red-light green-light.

“Coming?” he asked, waving her up.

“I’m trying to, sheesh,” she said, striding forward, almost out of breath.

“Come a little faster, then,” he encouraged her. His eyes narrowed briefly, and she knew he knew exactly what he’d said to her as he turned back around. She wasn’t sure if she should be irritated or ever-so-slightly pleased—her brain said the first, while her body said the latter.   

Shut up, body. Andi always ended up falling for the broken, temperamental types. There was something alluring about trying to fix things—and people. But she knew better now, after several exes, and tried to get all of that out at work, where people actually did need fixing.

They practically raced through a living room, appointed with a mix of plush couches in old and modern styles, statuary of all kinds, two fireplaces on either end big enough to roast a bear in, and vases filled with flowers almost halfway to the cavernous ceiling. Past that was a dining room with a table elaborately set, too many chandeliers to count, and a long hall with many locked doors. She could tell they were locked because they were bolted from the outside—some with more than one bolt and the locks were exaggerated, even comical—like they were meant for the outside of pirate chests. She couldn’t help herself; she stopped in front of the last locked door and inhaled, a question on her lips.

“Mmm, mmm,” he said with a closed mouth, mockingly as if she were a naughty child, then he had the nerve to turn and wink at her. “No questions, remember?”

Andi’s jaw clenched. She was so going to find out his name. But he started walking again without waiting for her—until they reached a final door.

“You’re late,” said a voice from inside the room. Damian himself? She straightened her shoulders and walked in.

No. The man who’d spoken was far too young to be Damian. While Mr. No-Name was so attractive as to almost be otherworldly, this new man was the pride of the Midwest, a golden boy through and through. Hair the color of rust, lightly tanned skin, and a build that said he could pick a girl—or several—up.

“Sorry. Someone didn’t open the gates.” Mr. No-Name’s voice was almost acidic, and Andi realized that this is who he’d been mad at in the car, not her. But why? All the gates she’d seen had opened.

It didn’t really matter though, because just past the homecoming king, Andi could finally see why she’d been brought here. 

She could tell the room had once been a library, even though the shelves were mostly clear, and the only thing remaining to hint at its prior function were leather couches pushed to the side and the scent of old books. Now though, the place where the couches had surely been was occupied by a man in a hospital bed, surrounded by the accoutrements of the sick and infirm—oxygen tanks, monitors, IV pumps on IV poles, a chest tube, a feeding pump spinning like a spindle, and, impossibly out of place for her nursing experience thus far, a small Siamese cat lay curled at the end of the bed.

“I was a little busy,” the other man defended himself, gesturing at the bedridden man. Apparently, no one was concerned about the cat.

Mr. No-Name opened his mouth to say something, and Andi cut him off. “Well, I’m here now.” She walked up to the bed, blinking in the dim light. She thought she recognized him, from grainy newspaper photos. “Is this…Mr. Blackwood?” It looked like him. A little.

Mr. No-Name came to stand beside her. “It doesn’t matter who he is. Can you keep him alive for eight hours?”

She tilted her head to look up at him. “Maybe—if you tell me what’s wrong with him, first.” What she could see of him was covered in splotchy bruises. There was an oxygen mask on his face, and Andi belatedly realized his tightly-restrained arms were both insanely muscled and covered in tattoos.

Definitely not Mr. Blackwood then—unless Mr. Blackwood was even more interesting than she’d assumed.  

“He fell down the stairs,” said Mr. Midwest entirely unconvincingly. Andi looked over at him to ask for more information and caught him looking over her at Mr. No-Name, his face full of concern. “He’s starting to wake up. I don’t want the first face he sees to be a stranger.”

“Grimalkin’s here,” Mr. No-Name said, with a pointed look at the cat, and then he jerked his head toward the door. “I need you out with me tonight. You know why.” He held up a wrist and tapped on a watch that probably cost as much as the car he’d driven her in.

Drivers definitely didn’t make that kind of money.

Mr. No-Name-Driver-With-a-Fancy-Watch.

Andi stopped herself from making a discomforted sound. She already knew from painful personal experience that rich people played weird games, and if it was more likely she’d get this job by pretending to be dumb, fine. It was only for one night, after all. The sooner she started working, the sooner she could make Danny’s bail, and then maybe all this would make sense—an emphasis on the maybe. “Look—can somebody here just give me a report?”

The man she was replacing dragged his gaze away from Mr. No-Name and started talking to her. At her, really.

She pulled out a pen and paper and wrote everything down, asking appropriate questions at appropriate times, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being partially shouted at and definitely judged. When he was through, she held up a hand. “Three things.”

“Go,” he allowed her.

“The cat?” She couldn’t help but ask.

The driver answered her. “He’s practically a family member. Presence nonnegotiable. Next?”

“Okay, then.” Weird-ass rich people. Andi shrugged and looked back at the patient. “So, why is he here? Why not a hospital?”

“In the city?” Mr. Midwest was incredulous.

“Yeah. Why not? There’re good hospitals there.”

“Hospitals aren’t safe,” Mr. Midwest stated—like that was a known fact.

Andi bit her lips, hard, to not say anything about his bizarre opinions. “All right, then,” she went on. “Third is, who are you? Medically, I mean.”

“His name’s Austin; he used to be a paramedic,” Mr. No-Name said for the man.

“And in the Marines,” Austin added.

She stuck her hand out, so Austin would have to shake it. “I’m Andi.”

“Ah. An Andi, not Andy,” Austin said, with slightly different emphasis, giving Mr. No-Name a glare.

“It’s not my fault your assumptions were sexist,” Mr. No-Name said, a slight grin flickering at the corner of his mouth. He looked meaningfully at his watch again, and Austin disappeared down a hall. “So. Eight hours?” Mr. No-Name asked her.

From Austin’s report, this patient mostly sounded like a wait-and-see. He was injured and unconscious, but there was no real reason he hadn’t woken up yet—other than possible brain damage. Which, yeah, made this whole level of secrecy, perhaps understandable? If you were the head of a household worth a fortune and someone got injured on your watch, you might need to keep their issues under wraps. She glanced at the patient’s vitals on the monitor, the level of urine in the foley, and the slowly draining chest tube. She could keep almost anyone alive for eight hours—at the hospital. But what would happen here if things went poorly? This situation was bizarre, and even though they were paying her a ton, she still had her license to think of. She glanced up and found Mr. No-Name watching her shamelessly—so shamelessly, she flushed.  

Austin reappeared, pushing a crash cart before she could stutter out any words. “You know what to do with this?”

“Of course.” The presence of a crash cart allayed only some of her fears. “But…I’m not a doctor.”

“If he needs a doctor, just call me, and I’ll get one. My number’s preprogrammed.” Mr. No-Name handed her a phone as Austin went on.

“And who should I ask for?” she asked, trying not to sound curious in the least.

Mr. No-Name let out a snort as if to say, nice try. “I’ll know it’s you.”

Austin interrupted. “There’s more oxygen tanks against the wall. Just keep him comfortable until we get back.”

Andi looked between them. None of this made sense—not the cat, not this job, not this house, and definitely not these two extremely handsome, yet extremely odd men. “Where are you going anyhow?”

Mr. No-Name shook his head at her question. “Out. But we’ll return by dawn, and I promise you’ll be on the first bus back to the city. Okay?”

Mr. No-Name’s gaze pressed her, as Austin loomed.

She inhaled—to tell them how insane all this was and back out—but then she reminded herself that the only thing that needed to make sense was the fact that one night here would equal a month of her normal paycheck. She glanced at the patient and did her best to ping out with her inherent nurse-radar, honed by months of taking too many shifts, taking in his color, and the numbers on the screen. He was the most normal thing here, hands down. “Yeah, okay,” she said, deciding. She pulled out the phone she’d been given and waved it at Mr. No-Name. “I’ll call if anything happens; otherwise, I’ll see you in eight.”

“Good,” Mr. No-Name said and smiled at her—fully—for the first time all night. The sensation of his pleased attention on her was almost as bad as whatever had happened to her on the road here. She wanted to run away, but she found she couldn’t. She was struck—pierced—like she was a deer in headlights. He was just too much.

Then the cat leapt off the bed and wound around Mr. No-Name’s legs. He glanced down, and the moment was over. The spotlight had moved on. She sagged, caught herself, and hoped he hadn’t seen it. It didn’t seem like he had as he knelt down to knuckle the cat’s head softly.

The cat meowed at him, repeatedly, as if it had strong opinions, and Mr. No-Name gave it a dour look. “No, she didn’t bring anything for you,” he told the cat, and then looked back to her. “If you hear any sounds in the house, just ignore them. It’s an old house; it creaks a lot.” Austin coughed from the door, and Mr. No-Name headed toward him. Her audience was over. The men left, and the cat followed them.

Andi relaxed, then became embarrassed by how she’d felt. What was she, some kind of schoolgirl? You know better! Whoever she’d been in the moment he’d looked at her—stupidly happy, foolishly hopeful, and just a teensy bit terrified—it wasn’t the real her.

The real Andi was a nurse who knew what to do—every time, all of the time.       

She went to the bed, unlooped her stethoscope from her neck, and started to assess her patient. 

***
Did you enjoy reading Chapter 1? 
Click here to read the next part: Chapter 2

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DRAGON CALLED IS THE FIRST IN A HOT NEW SERIES!

Introducing Dragon Called – a sexy slow burn dragon shifter paranormal romance by Kara Lockharte and Cassie Alexander

I’m so excited that I can finally tell you all about this amazing project I’ve been working on for months with a cowriter!

Cassie Alexander is an AMAZING writer who received kudos for her writing from the likes of Charlaine Harris and Sherrilyn Kenyon. I want to also mention that her dayjob is as an ICU nurse so she is a TRUE hero of these times. (If you want to follow her exploits in the ICU and get insight on what’s going on in the hospital during these times, you can follow her on twitter, though warning, she does get political at points, but if I was told I might have to go to work in a bandanna and had to have a separate phone just so dying people could say good-bye to their loved ones, I would be pretty angry too).

We’ve been working on this fabulous slow-burn billionaire dragon shifter paranormal romance series that honestly, I think is some of our best work EVER. And I have to say, I think the cover is pretty hot too!

DRAGON CALLED – a new sexy slow burn paranormal romance from Kara Lockharte and Cassie Alexander!

It’s always a bad idea to fall for a hot mysterious billionaire with a spooky castle.
Especially when you find out he’s a dragon.

Night nurse Andi Ngo was desperate for money to bail her idiot brother out of jail. A one time nursing gig seemed like the perfect deal: lots of cash, no questions asked. Even when her employer turns out to be the notorious billionaire Damian Blackwood, Andi is determined to keep quiet and finish the job.

But when Damian saves her life from a monster, there’s no forgetting what she saw — not his insanely superhero physique, not the hungry way he looks at her, like she’s some priceless treasure to be possessed, and definitely not the fact that he’s got another hidden self; he’s an honest-to-god dragon.

Andi knows the dragon shifter’s secret and he’s definitely far from pleased.

After a night of monsters and mayhem, he takes her home in his fancy sports car and….asks her for a date.

The expensive well-tailored suit can’t disguise the fire in his eyes and wildness in his savage smile.

She should say no.

What if she says yes?

Note: This is the first of a slow burn paranormal romance series featuring a hot dragonshifter hero: heck yes, explicit scenes are in here but you’ll have to be patient for the HEA to come.

Keep scrolling for a look at Chapter 1!
Or click here to get it on Amazon (releases May 4, 2020 into Kindle Unlimited!)
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