Read Not His Dragon Online

Authors: Annie Nicholas

Not His Dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not His Dragon

 

By

 

 

Annie Nicholas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

The sudden blare of the fire alarm startled Angie enough to drop her favorite coffee mug with the words
I owe. I owe. Off to work I go
. Scalding coffee cascaded over Angie’s tits and the cup shattered at her feet. Thankfully, the earsplitting noise masked her shriek of pain. Otherwise her partially senile neighbor would have been dialing nine-one-one already. The old sweetheart must have them on speed dial.

Angie yanked off her only clean work shirt and tossed it to the kitchen floor among her almost unpacked boxes. It had only taken her a year to get this much done. She kicked one out of her way and ran over to the sink, then splashed cold water on the singed girls. They went numb but as soon as she stopped wetting them the burning sting returned. She wanted to fill the sink and let her breasts soak but she was late for work.

Smoke billowed from the toaster she’d bought from a garage sale last weekend. The timer apparently was stuck on burn-to-a-crisp. She crossed the room and manually popped the button, ejecting the charcoal that used to be bread. The spring was broken as well and she watched the flaming piece of toast land on yesterday’s newspaper. Or was that last week’s newspaper?

The
New Port Times
instantly caught fire and the headlines vanished in mere seconds. Angie cupped water in her hands, tossing it on the flames, and smashed the burnt toast with a black dishtowel. When did she get a dishtowel? She unfolded the mess in her hands. Her yoga pants. Nice.

Half-naked, boobs scorched, she coughed and opened the only window in her crappy studio apartment. Inferno averted. Building saved. Her neighbors didn’t even know how close they had come to being on the six o’clock news. She’d probably also flashed the old guy across the alley from her. She hoped his heart could take it.

She grabbed the same pair of yoga pants and waved it under the fire alarm until it stopped drilling into her eardrums. The noise faded but the sound of ringing continued in a new tone. She did a slow blink, staring at the alarm. Was this a new setting? Then she noticed the light flashing on her cell phone by the crispy paper. She answered it. “What?” All she wanted was to get to work. Her appointment book was full, her bank account was empty, and she had plenty of hides to scratch.

“Your eight o’clock is here. Tell me you’re around the corner,” her receptionist spat back.

“I’m around the corner.” And five blocks down. If she ran the whole way, she could be there in twenty minutes. Her receptionist would have to call the paramedics to revive her though. She hoped they were cute. It had been weeks since anyone had given her proper mouth to mouth.

“You’re lying, aren’t you?” Beth whispered and ground out the words at the same time. She had many hidden talents and she’d make some werewolf an awesome mate one day.

Angie grabbed a t-shirt from the “bedroom” floor, sniffed and pulled it on. Only a paper screen wall dividing her apartment made it a separate room. Even though she mended freakishly fast for a human, she didn’t have time to wait for her burning tits to heal. In a rush, she grabbed a fistful of ice from the freezer to tuck inside her bra. “Oh God, that’s so good.”

“Angie!”

“Get off my back. I had to stop my building from burning down. Keep your panties on and offer them a cup of coffee. I’m on my way as we speak.” Who was her eight o’clock appointment?

“Keep my pan—” Beth’s voice faded.

Angie tugged her apartment door closed using all her weight to fit it in the crooked frame, and locked it in place.

“Hey.” A male voice purred in her ear. “Why am I here and you’re not?”

She grimaced and dug deep for her inner professional businesswoman. “Ryota, I’ll be there soon. I set my place on fire.”

“Again?”

“The last time wasn’t my fault. The building has faulty wiring.” She took the steps two at a time.

“That’s what happens when you live in a dump.” He hung up on her.

She stuck her phone in her back pocket and hit the streets at a run. One shouldn’t keep the local werewolf pack alpha waiting, especially when one had dumped him a few months ago and didn’t want to get bitten.

She weaved her way through the sea of pedestrians suddenly flooding the sidewalks. Had aliens landed on her rooftop? Was Godzilla rampaging through the city? Where had all these people come from?

Turning the corner, she spotted the farmer’s market. Oh yeah, not a grand disaster. Just a hoard of fresh produce junkies needing their fix.

Of all the times for her to be surrounded by vegans, this was not the day. Ryota Ken’ichi didn’t wait on anyone. He was her best customer, and more importantly, he encouraged the pack to use her services to incite more shifter-based businesses. She couldn’t afford for him to storm away in a hissy fit. The pack was her bread and butter—well, more like noodles and Pop Tarts. Her money vanished back into her business quicker than she could make it.

Finally treading past the last shopper, she took off like a lone gazelle at a lion convention. Who said a woman couldn’t sprint in flip-flops? She pumped her arms, feet driving into the concrete—eat your heart out high school track team. Good thing she lived close to her small shop.

“Whoo wee, shake it, mama!” some ass in a truck heading past her shouted.

She twisted to give him the one-fingered salute without breaking stride. There weren’t many people she’d run for, since it was against her religion, but to keep Ryota happy, she’d make seed sprout in a salt mine.

 

 

 

The barista wouldn’t meet Eoin’s gaze. Not many shifters would, since dragons topped the food chain. “A large black coffee and a triple…” He glanced at the note in his hand. “Venti, half sweet, non-fat, caramel macchiato.” Was that really a drink?

She smirked but still avoided his stare.

“That last one is not for me.” He crumpled the paper and tossed it in the trash.

“No doubt.” She busied herself with his order.

The gallery manager had obnoxious taste, but Eoin couldn’t really complain. The fop had great connections and had helped Eoin break into the art world. Now his work was touring Europe while he worked on a new series at home.

Dragon art sold well and paid the bills.

Eoin sank into the closest chair and picked up the latest edition of Art World. The gallery was across the street, so it was no wonder the magazine had landed in the coffee shop. He flipped through the pages, not really reading anything but absorbing the pictures until a familiar painting caught his eye.

The small image accompanied a review of his latest exhibit in Germany. He couldn’t go on tour like other artists. If he left his territory, someone might try to take it from him. Leaving his city for an extended period of time wasn’t an option. He scanned the article. Comments like
lacks emotion
and
poor depth
jumped off the page.

The edges of the magazine crumpled under his grip. This was the third similar review in less than a month. He tore the page out and stormed across the street.

Inside the gallery, three of his paintings hung on display. Lorenzo, the gallery manager and art dealer, stared at Eoin’s latest masterpiece and adjusted the lighting to something more somber before reassessing the work.

“Read this.” Eoin pressed the review against Lorenzo’s chest.

The manager stumbled back and caught his balance. “Where’s the coffee?” He unrumpled the page.

“Fuck the coffee.” Eoin stood by a table covered in marketing material for his new show and leaned against it with his ankles crossed. Taking a deep breath, he settled his predator/prey instincts. Lorenzo wasn’t the enemy. He rolled his head to relieve the strain in his shoulders. The art critic, on the other hand…

Lorenzo suddenly stank of fear. “You can’t please everyone.”

“He says people only buy my art because they want something made by a dragon.” Even if that were true, sales had dropped in the last six months. Which had driven him to create this new series of paintings.

“This one is quite exceptional.” The dealer pointed to the abstract Eoin had titled
Storm
. With different shades of grays, he’d tried to show the world rain clouds through his eyes, but he’d failed.

“You know I can sense when you’re lying, right?” Eoin picked some dried yellow paint from under his nails, and held in his growl.

“N-no.” The dealer swung around to face him, the whites of his eyes showing. “I don’t mean to offend you. I—”

“It’s all right, Lorenzo. I haven’t eaten a human in decades. I need an honest opinion from someone I trust. Please, give me one. How else can I grow as an artist?”

Lorenzo straightened his tie and met his glare. The human’s bravery was noteworthy. He was the best dealer on the East Coast, so he should have an educated opinion. He returned his attention to the dragon’s work. “I don’t think you’re moving in the right direction by going abstract.”

“What?” Eating Lorenzo would be a tragedy.

His whispered question sent the art dealer’s hands a-flutter. “I m-mean…” He sighed. “If you want my honest opinion it would help if you stopped trying to intimidate me.”

“I wasn’t trying.” Eoin massaged the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Now the scent of his lie filled the room. “Continue.”

“Your technique is flawless…”

“But.”

“But I don’t feel anything when I look at your work. I should have a gut reaction.” Lorenzo tossed him an amused glance. “Like I just had with your question.”

Eoin snorted. “You want my paintings to terrify you?”

“Not exactly, but at least I’d feel something when I looked at them. People partake in art for entertainment. They want to feel. That’s the key to any successful artist. They evoke emotion.”

Eoin straightened and joined Lorenzo in front of his paintings. The dealer was right. Eoin stared at his art and felt nothing. That wasn’t new, though. At his age, it took something extraordinary to move him. He wanted to feel something as well. With unnatural speed, he grabbed the painting off the wall and snapped it in half.

Lorenzo made a noise of part protest, part startled fear. He probably imagined his neck in place of the painting. “Eoin, don’t do that. It’s still good work.”

Tossing the broken pieces on the floor, Eoin gave him his back. “‘Good’ isn’t my goal.” He ran his hand over the stubble growing on his head. He’d have to shave it off again soon. “I want to be known as great. I just don’t know how to achieve it.”

“What would you like them to sense when they look at your paintings?” At least the annoying human was trying to help him, but Eoin wasn’t in any mood to express his gratitude.

“I don’t know. Anything besides terror. I can do that without the help of paint.” He twisted to glare at Lorenzo. “What do you want to feel when you look at them?”

Lorenzo frowned. “Something good.”

“Like?”

“Try love. That works for everything. Everyone wants to be loved.”

“Fuck.” He kicked the closest easel and sent another of his paintings to the floor. “Might as well ask me to paint faith or God.” He stormed toward the exit.

“What about your paintings?” Lorenzo called after him.

“Burn them.” Burn them all. He pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it with his breath.



Chapter Two

 

 

 

Only one block separated Angie from her workplace. Her lungs burned. No matter how much air she sucked in, there didn’t seem to be enough oxygen.

A tall, slim man smoking a cigarette watched her from half a block away.

How did she notice him in her state of asphyxiation? Because his pale, blue gaze cut across the distance and met hers with such intense fury that it scorched her retinas.

She slowed her pace, glancing over her shoulder, but saw no one. Why was she the focus of his death glare? Maybe he was friends with the jackass in the truck who’d cat-called her and didn’t appreciate her attempt at sign language? If so, he could take a number and get in line with all the other things wanting to destroy her life today.

As Angie jogged closer, she couldn’t help but notice the brightly colored tats peeking out from under his long-sleeved dress shirt. His business attire looked out of place with his shaved head and a cigarette hanging from his lips. He’d never be the poster boy for GQ
Magazine,
but he sure fit her bad boy fantasies.

He strode into her path, blocking her way. “What are you doing here?”

She tried to brake, but flip-flops weren’t made to stop on a dime. The front ends folded under and she scraped the tips of her toes along the concrete sidewalk. “Mother fucker, son of a bitch…” She hopped on one foot to rub her bloody toes, then repeated the process on the other foot. “What’s wrong with you?” She planted her hands on his chest and shoved, propelling herself backward.

Pinwheeling her arms, she caught her balance. Great, a supernatural. She had a better chance of pushing the Hanover Tower.

He grabbed her upper arm and yanked her kissing-close. “Don’t do that again.”

Her blood smeared across his white shirt where she’d laid her dirty hands. She couldn’t help but notice a small blue symbol tattooed by his left eye. From this angle, she couldn’t see the design completely.

Try as she might, she couldn’t jerk her arms free. Her heart hammered. “Let go.” She glanced around for help, but no one seemed to want to meet her desperate stare. They crossed the street, gazes glued to the ground. The pedestrian population thinned out quickly as many of them found stores they just had to enter. The scent of fear filled the air and only some of it was hers.

“What are you doing in my city?” His whispered question sent chills down her spine.

“Your city? No one owns New Port.” Oh God, she couldn’t stop her mouth. All she had to do was apologize profusely for whatever imagined transgressions and he’d most likely let her go. Angie stared at the shaved dark stubble on his head, since she couldn’t take his penetrating glare. He kept his hair cropped real close. Almost like velvet. She caught her hand before she reached to touch him. Her senses said he was some sort of shifter, but she couldn’t tell what. She suspected she had a little supernatural blood in her lineage, so her skills were limited. Definitely not werewolf. Her ties to the pack were close enough that she knew them at least by sight.

Unfortunately, humans didn’t hold the monopoly on criminals. Supernaturals had them too and Ryota had shown her how to best defend herself. She slid her free hand into her front pocket. “I said,
let me go
.” She gave her arm another jerk.

He gave her a condescending smile that would have frozen the Eastern Ocean. “Or what?”

She withdrew her hand, aimed at his face, and pulled the trigger on her pepper spray, remembering at the last moment to close her own eyes and mouth.

He let go and roared an inhuman sound. The noise rattled the windows. She thanked God that she’d emptied her bladder before setting the kitchen on fire.

Shit, shit, shit.

She geared her ass to holy-shit-it's-going-to-eat-me speed and didn’t think the soles of her flip-flops hit the ground until she reached the door to her own little business. Like a hurricane, she swept into the waiting area and crashed onto the first loveseat. “Water.”

Beth hovered over her and touched her cheek. Her fingertips came away covered in soot. “You weren’t kidding about the fire.”

“What the—?” She rose onto her noodle-like legs and took a gander at her reflection in the gilded mirror on the wall. Ew, she had grey soot on her cheeks and forehead. The t-shirt she’d pulled on was the one she’d dripped ketchup on yesterday, and now fresh sweat marked her armpits. Great, she’d forgotten to put on deodorant, when one hundred percent of her clientele were shifters with ultra-sensitive noses.

“The light in room three isn’t working again. I changed the light bulb and checked the circuit breaker.” Beth handed her a paper cup of water.

Fantastic. She had a rent-to-own deal with the landlord that didn’t include repairs. The building was turning into a money pit. Every extra cent she made went right back into the business. “Call the electrician.”

“Already done, boss. He’ll be here in the morning.”

Angie rubbed at the soot on her cheek. “Can I die and start my life over now?”

Ryota’s face joined hers in the mirror. “Wait until we’ve done our business first. Then you can throw yourself off the roof if you’d like.”

She hung her head. “Go to room two and shift, alpha. I’ll be there in a minute.” Her day couldn’t get worse, right?

 

 

 

The inferno in Eoin’s eyes continued even after he tried to dispel it with a healing spell. It was made neither of magic or fire, so he didn’t have much resistance. He needed to rinse the poison from his eyes before he could heal them. Cracking his eyelids open, he saw the direction in which she escaped. The she-dragon could run, but now that he had her scent, she couldn’t hide.

He wiped his eyes with his sleeve but the burning only got worse. Sniffing his fingers, he identified what she had used. Pepper spray, of all things. A laugh rumbled from his chest, rusty and unexpected. Eoin, harbinger of smoke and darkness, taken down by table spice. He could already hear the bard’s songs of mockery.

The door to the art gallery crashed open. “What was that noise? Eoin?” Lorenzo laid his hands on him. “Let me help you.”

“Water.” Wait until he got his hands on that female. She wouldn’t be able to sit for a month once he was done with her. A plastic container was placed in his hands.

“It’s my water bottle.” The sound of Lorenzo’s retreating footsteps followed his fear-filled words. Pepper spray was mixed with an oily substance. Water by itself wouldn’t wash it away but it would ease the pain long enough for him to find her. He could take the pain until he washed it off later.

Eoin tilted his head back and squirted the cool liquid in his eyes, flushing the chemical burn away. The sharp discomfort faded and a dull ache settled under his eyelids. This would take at least an hour for his spell to heal completely. He drained the bottle, taking what relief he could. The water soaked his shirt until it clung to his shoulders and chest like a second skin.

Pushing from the wall, he blinked to clear his vision. His bellow had emptied the streets. Let that remind them who truly ruled the city. Hopefully the she-dragon’s mate had heard it. He should come face Eoin instead of sending his female to do his dirty work.

Eoin never would have thought one of his kind would stoop so low as to use pepper spray. No matter how effective it may be, where was her dignity? He inhaled deeply and caught her scent.

Yes, there she was. How long had it been since he’d seen a female of his kind? Not since he’d moved to New Port over a hundred years ago. It shouldn’t matter. Her mate wouldn’t be far. Females of his kind didn’t stay single for long. They were too rare. He’d have to drive them from his territory before their clan arrived to support their claim to a home. He didn’t like his kind and had chosen to live alone for a reason. How had they crossed into the city without him knowing? He’d better reset his spells.

He jogged, following her trail. Cars lined the street, parked and waiting for their owners to finish work. The sidewalks were bare of pedestrians, which helped him ease into a faster pace. It would be awhile before the humans found the courage to resurface.

Two blocks from the site of their encounter, her scent ended at a storefront. He squinted at the sign to be sure he’d read it properly.

Scratch Your Itch
.

Scratching for shifters? Ingenious idea. Once he escorted the she-dragon from the city, he’d have to come back and see if they did scale care. He walked into the full waiting room.

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