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Dragon Unbound, Page 2

Katie MacAlister

  The First Dragon turned the look on her.

  She ignored it, just as he knew she would. “But you bring up a good point, May. Immortality is going to be of prime importance. So, we have a limited pool of possibilities. I think the best way to tackle this is to get a list of the First Dragon’s likes and dislikes.”

  “Smart thinking,” Aisling said, nodding. “Who would you swipe right on?”

  “Do you have a preference on hair color?” May asked.

  “Do you like funny, or insightful? Walks on the beach in the rain, or curled up inside with a book and glass of wine?” Aisling asked.

  “Are you into more athletic women, or homebodies?” Ysolde added her questions to the collection.

  “And you’re sure everything”—May did the hand gesture again—“will work OK? I mean, if it’s been four hundred years ...”

  The First Dragon stood up. “I believe that you all have good intentions, but this is intolerable.”

  “Why?” Ysolde asked, frowning at him and tapping the pencil against her lip again.

  He was taken aback for a moment. Few beings had ever questioned him, and no dragons ... except Baltic and his Ysolde. He debated dismissing her question as not worthy of his attention, but decided that since she had a pure heart and a shining soul, he would unbend. “Even if I wished you to locate a female with whom I desired to spend time, you would fail.”

  “Oh, I do love a challenge,” May said.

  “Me, too,” Aisling said, sitting up straighter. “Why do you think we would fail? You underestimate the collective power of mates. We’re pretty good when we put our heads together.”

  “You would fail because if such a woman existed, I would have found her,” he answered.

  “You say that, but how hard have you looked?” Ysolde stood up and moved to within a foot from him. “You’re never around in the mortal world. Except for popping in and trying to convince my son to be a dragon.”

  “You don’t know what women today are like,” Aisling said.

  “Women have changed. So have the men, but mostly women have changed since the time when you were hanging out with mortals.” May lifted her chin when he cocked an eyebrow at her.

  “You’re out of touch with the modern-day dragon, that’s what it is,” Aisling decided.

  “And women of today! You have no idea what we like and want.” Ysolde made another note. “Maybe we don’t need to find a woman for you so much as you need to experience what modern life is like. Then, once you have a grounding in reality, we can take your wish list and help you find someone.”

  He considered whether he should be insulted, realized that they might have a valid point, and decided to see where the conversation led. He had forgotten just how entertaining it was to be amongst his kin.

  “Excellent idea, Ysolde,” Aisling said, giving her a thumbs-up.

  “I agree,” May said after some thought. “I think you won’t connect with a woman of today unless you know what modern life is like. Therefore, you will have to stay here for a bit.”

  “Here?” Aisling said in a near squawk, her eyes widening. “Goddess! Well, I suppose he could have the St. George room, although that means booting Gabriel and May from it—”

  “We’ll be happy to move if it means helping the First Dragon,” May said quickly.

  “That’s settled, then,” Ysolde said, making a tick mark next to something on her notes.

  “Nothing is settled,” the First Dragon felt obligated to point out. “I have not agreed to your suggestion. Nor do I have any intention of doing so.”

  Ysolde gave him a long look. “You wouldn’t be afraid of us, would you?”

  His eyes widened at the brazenness of her comment. “You forget to whom you speak, child of light.”

  “Not in the least. I didn’t mean to slight your courage, but I do think that perhaps you’re hiding from the possibilities of finding another mate because of your memory of Baltic’s mother.”

  “Which we totally understand,” May added.

  The other mates nodded and murmured platitudes.

  “Even if that was true, I am the First Dragon,” he said, allowing them to feel the weight of his words.

  “That doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings like the rest of us.” Ysolde smiled. “What was Baltic’s mother like?”

  He was mildly taken aback by the question. “She was gentle. She enjoyed embroidery. She had a great love of nature, and liked to weave in the garden quite a bit.”

  “Right. Crafty, nature girl, more crafty,” Ysolde said, making more notes. “What else?”

  He rummaged through his memories. “She was very social. She loved to have kin visit. She once said that without dragonkin, she felt lost and alone.”

  “Extrovert,” Aisling said with a nod. “So no bookish introverts for you.”

  He allowed a little smile to escape. “She definitely was not one for books.”

  “That gives us something to go on,” Ysolde said, and the other mates nodded their agreement. “We can start looking right away.”

  “I am the First Dragon,” he reminded them. “I have existed for centuries without a mate. There is no reason I need one now.”

  “Uh-huh.” Ysolde looked thoughtful for a moment. “How about if we put this in terms of a wager? We, the collected mates of your wyvern descendants, are willing to place a wager that you cannot stay in the mortal world.”

  “And live like a modern dragon,” Aisling said quickly.

  “And learn about modern women,” May added.

  “A wager!” He allowed them to see his disfavor. “I do not wager.”

  Jim the demon dog made chicken-clucking noises until Aisling swatted it on the head with a pillow.

  “We wager you that you can’t live like a modern dragon—modern wyvern—and get to know modern females of a dating age for a year,” Ysolde said, the other mates murmuring their approval.

  The First Dragon thought about his life, and unexpectedly found himself saying, “A day.”

  “Six months,” countered Aisling.

  “Two days.”

  “We will naturally settle on a month,” Ysolde said with blithe indifference to the fact that his gaze was quite pointed. “You live here, with us, for a month. No magic, no demigod stuff, just be a normal dragon who meets and interacts with females like any other dragon, and at the end of that time, we’ll know you well enough to find you a woman, or you will have found her yourself.”

  “That is not a wager,” he couldn’t help but point out.

  “Not in the strict sense, no, but it is a challenge.” Suddenly, Ysolde smiled, and he saw again why Baltic, his most fractious child, was so smitten with her. “And I don’t think you’re one to back away from a challenge any more than we are. Do we have an agreement?”

  He thought for a few moments. Perhaps such an interlude would be sufficiently amusing to keep the increasingly frequent feelings of disquietude at bay. “Very well, I agree to your terms.”

  “Excellent,” Ysolde said over the voices of the other mates as they declared their approval. “I think you’ll find this will benefit us all. We’ll get to know you better. You can see the children all you like, although to be truthful, I can’t imagine why you would want to. Brom is going through moody teen years, and Anduin is a little terror, while Aisling’s twins are—”

  “Horrendous little monsters in adorable four-year-old form,” Aisling said calmly.

  “But assuming you did wish to see the latest generation, you can. And more, you will see how dragons fit into the world today.” Ysolde’s smile grew broader. “All the while we can be finding someone perfect for you.”

  He smiled a long, slow smile, one that said without words just how unlikely that would be.

  Chapter Two

  “Are we there yet?”

  I buried my head deeper under my jacket, and counted to myself. Five. That was the fifth time in an hour that Cassius had asked if we had arrived in the small Hu
ngarian town where our next gig was. Five wouldn’t seem like a lot, but it was when you were desperately trying to get some sleep, or risk losing the ability that paid your rent. I thought of pointing that out to the boys, but didn’t want to get into another argument about why sirens needed to rest before pushing a crowd.

  Starting with my toes, I made a concerted effort to relax my muscles, moving up my legs to my thighs, stomach, arms, and on up to my neck. By the time I was mentally chanting singsong meditative phrases, I was on the verge of sleep.

  “Are we there yet?” Whomp. Someone kicked the back of my seat, instantly snapping me out of my relaxed state. I pushed off my jacket and sat up, snarling at Cassius’s face, “I was almost asleep!”

  “What?” he asked in his thick Austrian accent. A little sneer curled his lips. “You sleep too much. You are always sleeping. Every time I look, you are sleeping.”

  “No, I’m trying to sleep, something that’s impossible with you knocking the seat around. Cheese and crackers, do you not understand how sirens work?”

  “Oh god, now you get her going again,” Rina said from the front seat, turning around to purse her lips. She was Russian, had red hair, and bore an insufferable expression that always made my palm itch. “Now we hear lecture of how to pull.”

  “Push,” I said, sighing as I swung my legs off the van’s bench seat, and turned to face front. “What I do is called a push, which you’d know if you listened to me instead of playing video games all the livelong day.”

  “What is livelong?” Rina asked, glancing up from her gaming device.

  “It means you’re always staring at that stupid Game Boy,” Andrew answered, sending me a quelling look in the rearview mirror.

  “Eh.” Rina went back to her game.

  I snarled a rude thing under my breath when Cassius jammed both feet into the back of my seat. “We better get there soon. I’m hungry. How much longer? I’m tired of being back here.”

  “Everyone has to take a turn in the back row,” Andrew said, leaning one arm on the open window of the van as he drove. “Watch a movie or something. And stop fussing with Charity. You know she won’t be able to distract the crowds if she’s tired.”

  “Thank you,” I told his reflection, and was going to lie back down on the seat when Cassius kicked it again.

  “I’m tired of being back here! You stop and let me switch.”

  I knew I shouldn’t have done what I did next, I knew it well, and yet, I did it all the same. I opened my mouth, and sang ten bars of an old English country tune, directing a push toward Cassius that would leave him in a subdued state.

  Almost immediately, he topped over onto his side and lay motionless on the seat.

  I turned back to find Andrew’s gaze trying to catch mine. “Charity ... ,” he said warningly.

  “Yes, I know, it’s not polite to push bandmates. But I’m going to be dead tired tonight as is, and if you expect me to push a bunch of dragons, I simply have to get some sleep.”

  “Sirens shouldn’t need sleep. You magic people with your song, is all. Why need sleep?” Rina asked.

  “Because,” I said, lying down as best I could on the bench seat, and yawning. “Our voice is just part of the element that bewitches people. It’s the mental push that really packs a wallop, and dragons are notoriously hard to influence that way. Right, no wakies until we’re in Hungary, please.”

  I went through my relaxation routine again and, this time, managed to actually drift off into sleep, not the normal sleep of everyday mortals, but the deep, energy-gathering sleep of a siren who was about to attempt a group brainwash of great a big herd of dragons.

  “I’d like to know whose bright idea this was,” I grumbled some five hours later when I stood next to Andrew, hooking up a microphone.

  He nodded toward the massive house that sat smack-dab in an estate of what had to be at least forty acres. We were on the south side of the house, in an area that we’d been informed was once a bowling green and tennis court, but which now was serving as a stage. “How can you doubt that we’ll come out of this rich as Croesus?”

  “The dragon who owns that house might be rich, but you haven’t been paying attention to your Tolkien if you think dragons don’t guard their treasures against burglars,” I pointed out.

  He grinned at me in that cocky way he had. I toyed once again with the idea of getting to know him better, since there was something attractive about his fresh-faced Canadian self, but I knew in my heart it wouldn’t work out. He wasn’t what I was looking for in a man.

  “And I think you’re underestimating just how potent you can be.”

  “We’ve never tried this against dragons,” I warned, pulling in the microphone cord. Andrew started arranging the sound board to his satisfaction. “They are notoriously hard to magic.”

  “But not immune, and just think of the haul we’ll make here.” He inclined his head toward the house again. “Even if it was just the owner, we’d make out like kings, but with forty or so dragons just waiting to have their pockets picked ... it fair boggles the brain.”

  “Just be aware that I make no promises about how bespelled they’ll be.” I set the mic at my preferred height. “Take it easy until we know they’re not aware of what’s going on.”

  “We will, but you remember that you have to keep them under for at least ten minutes. Fifteen would be better.”

  I shook my head. “Six songs is too much. I might be able to do four in a row, but five is beyond me. It takes too much energy. You’ve got eight to ten minutes, so use them wisely.”

  Rina stomped over to us, hauling part of her drum kit, and groused in her thick Russian accent. “Is too far from van! You should have driven here.”

  “And ruin this lovely lawn?” I rubbed the tip of my sandal against the velvety green lushness. “That would be a crime against nature.”

  “This better be worth it,” Rina said darkly, giving me a look that I had no problem interpreting as a threat. “You put them under fast so we can take gold and leave.”

  “Gold?” I asked, shaking my head again. “You guys are nuts if you think we’re walking out of here with gold. Do you know how dragons guard that stuff? Not to mention the fact that it’s like an aphrodisiac to them, so they’d hardly leave it lying around. Let’s just stick to the routine—I sing, Cassius picks pockets, and you two ransack the house for easily lifted valuables. Then we get the hell out of Dodge before everyone comes out of the happy sleepies I put on them, and discovers what happened.”

  “Pfft,” Rina said dismissively, and began assembling her drum kit.

  I rubbed my arms, and asked, “What’s our name this time?”

  Andrew consulted a piece of paper. “The Unequaled Moles.”

  I made a face. “Sounds unpleasant, but I suppose it doesn’t matter since it will change after tonight’s party.”

  “Speak of the devil,” Andrew said, tsking at a long black electrical cord that had come uncoupled. “Here comes the lady running the whole thing.”

  I turned to where a woman with mousy brown hair trotted toward us, a large black dog on her heels. “Hi! I’m Aisling Grey. Are you the Uneven Moles?”

  “Unrequited Moles, yes,” I said, shaking the hand she offered.

  “Unequaled Moles,” Andrew said under his breath.

  “Sorry, little joke. It’s actually Unequaled. I’m Vicky, and this is ...” I blanked for a moment on the name that Andrew had picked for this job. Part of the problem with special gigs was the fact that we used different names each time. “Er ... Ernest,” I finally got out. “The lady on the drums is Katya.”

  “Hiya. Name’s Jim,” the dog said, stepping forward and doing a quick gender check on Andrew. We both stared at it, and for a moment, I wondered if I was hallucinating. I’d seen many sorts of beings during the time our band had traveled around various Otherworld venues, but never had I seen a talking dog. “It’s really Effrijim, but I prefer—”

  “Jim, for the love
of all that’s holy, get your nose out of his crotch. I’m so sorry,” Aisling apologized to Andrew. “It knows better than that.”

  “It?” Andrew glanced down at the dog and gave it a tentative pat on the head.

  “I’m a demon. Sixth class, yet,” the dog said proudly, turning its attention to me. “Aisling is my demon lord, but don’t worry, she’s not a bad one. Well, she’s bad at being a demon lord, but not a bad person. Hey, babe! Gotta love a drummer, and a girl version is just made of awesome.”

  “May I remind you that I’m standing right here,” Aisling said with a pointed look at the dog when it greeted Rina.

  “Love ya, too, sweet cheeks,” it said, grinning at her. I remembered that all demons were referred to using the “it” pronoun. I didn’t understand why, but who was I to question tradition.

  “Uh-huh. Don’t you have somewhere else to go?”

  “Nope. Love me some tunes, so I’m happy to hang with the band.”

  Rina climbed down to stalk over to us, her eyes narrowed on the demon dog. “You are demon?”

  “Yuppers. Name’s Jim. Hey, do you find all that drumming makes your boobs bigger? You know, like the ‘I must, I must, I must increase my bust’ exercises that girls do?”

  “I don’t know anyone who does that,” Aisling said, swatting the dog on its head. “And stop being so rude. I’m terribly sorry, Miss ... er ... Katya. Jim’s a bit deranged, what with the party and all the people here tonight.”

  “Is OK,” Rina said, running her hands along the dog’s back. Jim shivered in delight. “Demons I like. They are so very ... wicked.”

  “Oh yeah, I’m all shades of wicked,” it told her. “There’s a spot on my back where if you scratch it just right, I turn into an animal, heh heh he—”

  Aisling whomped the demon again. “And that’s enough about your itchy spot.”

  “I’m just trying to be friendly,” it said with a little pout.

  Rina stroked it a couple more times, then leaned down and whispered in its ear. Jim’s eyes bugged out a little, and it gave a low whistle when she returned to assembling her drums.