An excerpt from Hot Blooded, first in the DragonFate series:
Saturday, October 3, 2015—New York City
It was good to be back in New York, and even better that the Pyr had won the Dragon’s Tail Wars. No more Slayers. Theo could hardly believe it. He’d partied with the rest of the Dragon Legion long after the other Pyr had returned to their normal lives.
Tonight, though, tonight was the night he’d celebrate the survival of his kind in a more intimate way. He was thrumming with desire and anticipation, but seeking the perfect partner.
He found her, against all expectation, tending bar in a club called Bones, located in the former meatpacking district. It was located in a converted warehouse, all high ceilings and deep shadows. The music was loud and the crowd was thick with ghouls and Goths, bumping, grinding, drinking, and jostling. It was 80’s theme night, which the regulars evidently had prepared for, so there was a lot of big hair and bigger shoulder pads, buckets of glitter and Lycra.
As they pushed their way toward the bar, he thought of Thorolf.
When he saw the brunette bartender, he forget everything else. She was petite and dressed in black. There was something elfin about her, and Theo felt a primal urge to defend her against the crowd.
She was the one. He knew this with complete conviction.
She turned her back on him, and he sensed that she trembled.
She knew she was the one, too.
“Oh, yeah,” Arach muttered under his breath, then flashed a smile at a woman dressed as Dolly Parton. The Pyr fanned out, the six of them cutting their way through the dancers to the bar. Theo headed for the woman who would haunt his dreams.
The bar was long and black, as shiny as if were made of obsidian. Six bartenders worked its length and although they were fast, they had a hard time keeping up with demand on this night. At the far end of the bar, a burly guy with many tattoos stood with his arms folded across his chest, glaring across the crowd. He wasn’t a bouncer: they were at the door. Theo figured he was the owner, and he was watching the money.
The music segued into the B-52’s singing Rock Lobster. His bartender cocked a finger at her blond co-worker, who pointed at her in the same moment. The regulars hollered encouragement as the two women vaulted on to the bar and started to dance. They were both dressed completely in black, his choice tiny and slim, the blond bartender taller and more robust, like a Valkyrie. The crowd went wild and the music got louder.
“Wasn’t there a shooter called a B-52?” Kade demanded and Theo pointed.
The other bartenders were lining up shot glasses down the length of the bar. The two women each juggled three bottles of liqueur, then poured shots in time to the music.
“Kahlua, Bailey’s and Triple Sec, if I remember right,” he said, then narrowed his eyes to read the labels on the bottles.
“There was also a Tom Cruise movie called Cocktail,” Darcy said. “This could have come right out of it.”
It was obviously a rehearsed routine and had been carefully choreographed. Theo liked that she was such a good dancer.
“It is 80’s night,” Arach countered with a grin, and pushed through to the bar. Theo was right behind him.
He wasn’t really surprised when the small bartender seemed to suddenly sense his presence. She glanced up, and he saw that her eyes were both thickly lashed and incredibly green. Their gazes locked and held for a potent moment, her awareness of him making him smile slowly.
Their gazes held for one moment too long. She missed the bottle she’d tossed into the air, the one she should have caught behind her back. She reached for it, even though she had to know that she’d already missed it, and Theo saw a flush rise on her throat. He guessed she’d have to pay for it, because the burly guy with the tattoos was watching intently.
Then, against all expectation, right before smashing on the bar, the bottle rose to her grip. Theo blinked. He thought he might have seen a shadow, a silhouette of a man, but it was only the merest glimpse. His bartender flicked a glance at him, checking whether he’d noticed what everyone else had missed, and her blush didn’t slow its progress.
What had happened?
The completed shooters were distributed, slid down the bar to waiting hands. Theo reached the bar just as the music slid into Love Shack, another song by the same band. The women bowed, then leapt from the bar in unison. A bowl for tips was slid down the bar, both bills and coins being dropped into it. She spared him a glance that was tinged with uncertainty just as Kristofer gave a jubilant shout. He had to be thirty feet away, at the other end of the bar, but Theo could see the spark of a firestorm on his fellow Pyr’s fingertip.
Humans roared with delight around Kristofer, clearly thinking it was some kind of illusion.
“What the fuck?” Arach muttered in old-speak, a shimmer of blue lighting around his body. Theo shook his head, his reaction much the same. There hadn’t been an eclipse. There shouldn’t be a firestorm. Even more strange, he couldn’t feel the spark of the firestorm.
But then, those had been the signs of a dragon shifter meeting his destined mate before the turn of the moon’s node. Maybe with the elimination of the Slayers, all of the rules had changed.
There wasn’t any time to think about it. Kristofer dove through the crowd on the dance floor, following the heat of the firestorm to his destined mate. Alastair, Rhys and Hadrian were hot on his heels, so to speak.
“Hold it!” Theo roared in old-speak, but they didn’t hesitate. He tried it again out loud, with no difference in effect. Arach lunged after the trio with Kade quick behind them. Theo swore and made to follow them, but the tiny bartender suddenly snatched his hand. She was so much smaller that he stopped for fear of hurting her.
“It’s a trap,” she whispered, but Theo couldn’t understand what she knew about any of it.
There was a flash of blue light from the far end of the dance floor and a roar of anguish. Rhys and Hadrian hovered on the cusp of change, but Theo’s shout seemed to keep them from shifting shape in front of all these people. If they took their dragon forms here, they’d be breaking the Covenant that the Pyr had just sworn to Erik, leader of the Pyr, the pledge that they wouldn’t reveal themselves to humans—and Theo would have to answer for them. Theo hastened through the crowd, feeling that the situation was out of control.
“She disappeared!” Kristofer cried.
“No worries, man. Happens to me all the time,” commiserated a patron dressed as a vampire. There was laughter.
“Like she went into another dimension,” Kristofer muttered. By the time Theo reached his side, he was sliding his hands over the wall of the club, which was painted black. Theo could see the glow of the firestorm’s light beneath his hands, but it was strange. It both died to a glow and sparked, as if Kristofer’s destined mate was both close and far.
That made no sense. She couldn’t be both.
Unless she was in another dimension.
Theo was watching the spark as Kade dug something out of his pocket. “This will fix it,” that Pyr said. The object looked like a pen, but was clear, as if it was made of ice. He quickly drew the outline of a door on the wall of the club, and the line shimmered, as if he’d drawn it with some kind of stardust marker.
“No!” shouted a woman, and Theo glanced back to see the cute bartender closing fast.
“Will this let me follow her?” Kristofer demanded, intent only on his firestorm and mate. “Wherever she’s gone?”
“I think maybe.” Kade continued, either ignoring the bartender or oblivious to her protest. “It’s worth a try.”
“I’ll take that when you’re done with it,” said the patron dressed as a vampire. “The good ones always disappear into thin air.”
The Pyr ignored him. Kade drew a doorknob, then a keyhole. He paused as the bartender shouted from closer range, then took a deep breath and pushed the pen into the keyhole.
Which wasn’t just a circle drawn on the wall, but an actual hole.
Theo’s jaw dropped as a portal opened. It hadn’t been there before.
“Not here!” the bartender cried, body-slamming Theo to get past him. She lunged forward as he staggered to regain his balance. How could she have knocked him so easily? She snatched for the door knob, but it was too late.
Kristofer had already ducked through the portal, Kade right behind him. Rhys and Hadrian didn’t hesitate, though Theo hung back with Arach. Theo didn’t trust the door at all.
“They should be beguiled,” Arach said in old-speak, eyeing the crowd gathered behind them, watching.
“They’re too drunk to worry about,” the bartender said flatly and Theo was stunned that she’d heard the old-speak. Who was she? “And if they’re not already, Murray will make sure of it.” She spared a disgusted glance at Arach, then at Theo. “You’d think dragons would know better than to take the bait.”
Theo didn’t manage to hide his astonishment. She knew what they were?
She marched through the portal with purpose.
“Wherever that goes and whoever you are, you can’t go with us,” Theo protested.
The bartender glanced over her shoulder. “You won’t get out alive without me.”
“Why are you helping us?” he had to ask.
Her smile was both provocative and secretive, a smile that only increased his desire to know more about her. “I have a bit of a thing for dragons. Call it a weakness.” Then she was gone through the portal, leaving Arach and Theo exchanging glances of confusion.
“Nightdreams all around!” Murray shouted from back at the bar. “A little something to spice up your night!” He and the bartenders were pouring a black liquid into shot glasses, and whatever it was, it steamed in the glasses and sparkled like it was full of stars. The patrons evidently recognized it and shouted approval, surging back toward the bar in their enthusiasm.
“Hurry if you’re coming,” the bartender urged, her gamine face appearing in the portal. “This won’t last long.” Theo could see that the edges of the door were already starting to blur and guessed that it would soon become the plain wall again.
“I’ve got to help Kristofer,” he said to Arach. “Even if it’s a trap.”
“Go,” Arach said. “One of us has to stay to report to Erik.” Their gazes met in silent understanding.
“In case we don’t come back,” Theo said in old-speak.
“I wish it didn’t seem like such a distinct possibility,” Arach replied, but Theo had no time to delay. He couldn’t abandon his fellows.
“Hurry!” the bartender shouted and stretched her hand out to him. Theo couldn’t even see the perimeter of the door anymore. The opening had diminished to a fuzzy gap, with her pale hand extending from it.
“Find out what you can about this place,” he said to Arach, then lunged forward and seized her hand. Her skin was soft and her grip surprisingly strong.
Which was good because the portal closed around him with an abrupt snap, as if it would keep him out. He roared and summoned his dragon, letting the shimmer of his body’s change light the darkness, then pushed himself into a destination unknown.
The first thing he saw on his arrival was the bartender’s smile, a smile that made his heart thump. He had a heartbeat to realize how much he wanted to know everything about her.
And then everything really did go to hell.
©2015 Deborah A. Cooke.