Caught by the dragon mai.., p.12
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       Caught By the Dragon, p.12

           Mac Flynn
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I was also in the city dump. The heaps of trash and tall piles of rusted cars glared down at me like giant shadows of ancient creatures. I'd had enough of those for a lifetime.

  I scrambled to my feet and fled as fast as my shaky legs could manage. My feet pounded against the hard-packed dirt as my mind whirled with frantic thoughts of what I should do. I couldn't go back to my apartment. The pig-men knew where I lived. Blake also knew where I worked.

  That meant there was only one place to hide. That is, if Blake hadn't found out her address, too.

  I managed to stumble my way down twelve blocks to an old apartment building in the artistic part of town. Whether wanted or not, murals adorned the sides of the buildings and the streetlight posts. Trees were randomly planted in holes that littered the sidewalks. Signs outside the bottom floors of apartment buildings advertised everything from palm reading to palm trees.

  I stopped in front of an old four-story brick apartment building. Each floor was let out to a single person. I was glad to see the lights were on on the third floor. I hurried up the stoop to the front door. To the left were four buzzers, and beside each button was a nameplate.

  I pressed the buzzer for the third floor. A sniffling voice answered. "Hello?"

  My heart nearly burst from hearing that familiar voice. "Heth! You gotta let me in!"

  "Miriam! Is that really you?"

  A noise behind me caught my attention. I glanced over my shoulder. The street was deserted. "It won't be only me for long if you don't open the door."

  "Sure! Just wait a sec!"

  I heard her fumble for something and curse. A buzzer rang to my right. That signaled the door was unlocked. I opened the door and sidled inside. The door clicked shut behind me. All was quiet in the small entrance hall for two seconds. Then the pounding of footsteps rang down the stairs in front of me.

  Heather flew around the last landing on the stairs and swooped down upon me. She flung her arms around me and took the brunt of the blow as I crashed into the wall near the door.

  "You're safe! Oh my god, you're safe!" she cried.

  I pried her off me and smiled into her tear-soaked face. "Yeah, but remind me never to look for a man again."

  She sniffled. Her lower lip quivered. "It's because of me, isn't it? I told you to get a guy and when you tried on your own a guy got you, didn't he?"

  I snorted. "Let's just say I was dragged into the wrong crowd, but I'll tell you everything in your apartment."

  She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the stairs. "Yeah. We'll make it a girl's night out."

  Heather dragged me up to her apartment and plopped me in one of the chairs at her dining table. The floor apartments were fully furnished with antique furniture and my friend's own strange taste for lava lamps. The place was alive with the floating blobs of colorful goop.

  I leaned back and sighed. The old smell of the industrial, human world was wonderful to behold.

  Heather sat opposite me. She looked me over. "You don't look like you've been kidnapped for a few days."

  A small smile slipped onto my lips. "I'm not sure you're going to believe what I'm going to tell you."

  "Try me."

  So I tried her. When I was done with my tale Heather lay her arms on the table and leaned toward me. She studied me with a hard eye. "Are you trying to pull my tail?"

  I shook my head. "I've had enough of tails, thanks. Besides, what everything I told you was true."

  "If it's true show me the mark. The one on the shoulder," she challenged me.

  I grabbed my shirt and tugged it down my arm. There, in all its green glory, was the mark of Xander's house.

  And it suddenly hurt like hell.

  I cried out and grabbed my shoulder. The pain was like a hot poker against my skin. A faint green glow was visible between my fingers. I clenched my teeth and doubled over.

  Heather jumped to her feet and raced to my side. "What is it? What's wrong?"

  "Burning," I ground out.

  "L-lemme get an ice pack!" she suggested.

  She raced to the kitchen. I shut my eyes and tried to block out some of the pain. A startling image of Xander in a bed came to my mind's eye. He was covered in sweat. A crowd stood around him with Darda and Cayden among them. Their faces looked grave. I gasped and my eyes flew open. The vision vanished.

  Heather returned with a bunch of ice stuffed into a plastic sandwich bag. She yanked my hand away and slapped it on my burning skin. I yelped at the opposing sensations as they clashed on my flesh.

  My friend cringed. "Sorry!"

  I clutched the bag to myself and shook my head. "Just shut up for a sec."

  For once Heather listened to me. She stood there in silence as the pain ebbed and flowed, driving me to clench and unclench my teeth. After a long five minutes the pain faded. My body relaxed. I let my shoulders slump as I removed the thawed ice pack from my arm.

  Heather took it in her hands and bit her lip as she studied me. Her body shivered. I sighed and nodded. "You can speak again."

  Out spilled all the words she'd kept inside her those long minutes. "Areyouokay? Whatthehellwasthat? Istheresomethingwrongwiththedragon? Canyousensehisfeelings? Howbaddidithurt?"

  I held up one hand and massaged my temple with the other. "I'm all right, and yeah, it hurt like hell, but I don't know why."

  She furrowed her brow and rubbed her chin between her pointer finger and thumb. "Maybe it has something to do with your dragon husband."

  I whipped my head up and frowned at her. "He's not my husband."

  She dropped her hand and shrugged. "It kind of sounds like you were married to him, and you two did-well, everything. Even the honeymoon night."

  "He kidnapped me and seduced me. That's it," I insisted. I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. "I could really go for a drink. . ."

  Heather grinned. "Hard or knock-you-off-your-feet?"

  My eyes flickered up to her. "Got any wipe-the-hard-drive-clean?"

  She nodded. "Yep, but I warn you it tastes like socks and cough syrup."

  "Then I'll take it."

  She walked over to the connected kitchen and wrangled about for some glasses and a bottle of what appeared to be tar. "I still think it's got something to do with-well, you-know-who."

  I slumped in my chair. "Maybe, but I-well, it doesn't concern me."

  Heather paused and glanced over her shoulder. A sly smile slipped onto her lips. "You sure?"

  I frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

  She looked back at the glasses and shrugged. "Oh, I was just thinking you might-you know, kind of

  I rolled my eyes. "Are you seriously trying to set me up with a dragon?"

  "He's probably got great teeth," she pointed out.

  I snorted. "Yeah, he flosses the whole lamb out of them every day."

  She whipped her head over her shoulder to look at me. "Really?"

  "I was joking." Another sharp pain hit me in the shoulder. The agony only lasted a few seconds and felt more distant than before, like the connection was weaker. I lay my hand over my mark and recalled the last memory I had of that world. That red dragon was aiming those silver talons at Xander.

  "Do you know if silver hurts dragons?" I asked my friend.

  Heather raised her eyes and furrowed her brow. "I never heard that it could, but I never heard of dragons turning into cute guys, either." She glanced over her shoulder at me. "Why?"

  I stared at the floor and shook my head. "It's nothing."

  Heather walked over to the column that made up one end of the bar that separated the kitchen from the dining area. She leaned her shoulder on the column and crossed her arms over her chest. "What is it?"

  I raised my eyes and glared at her. "I said it was nothing."

  She held up her hands and retreated into the kitchen. "All right, all right. Sheesh."

  I rubbed my aching shoulder and bit my low
er lip. That last memory wouldn't leave me. An knot gathered in my stomach.

  "What the hell happened?" I whispered.

  "Why should you care?" Heather called from the kitchen. She picked up our glasses and carried them to the table. "I mean, it's not like you love the guy, right?"

  I blushed and averted her eyes as she plopped one of the mugs down in front of me.. "I didn't say anything."

  She sat down in the chair beside me and snorted. "Yeah, and I'm a nun who's taken a vow of silence. Now come on, what's really bothering you?"

  "I said it's nothing."

  She leaned close to me and studied my face. "Are you blushing?"

  I cringed and turned my face away. "I'm not blushing."

  A gleeful smile spread across her lips. "You do like him, don't you? You've fallen for your knight in green scales!"

  I whipped my head back and glared at her. "How could I even like him? He had me kidnapped so he could keep up some kind of-" Heather let out a squeal as she plopped herself in the chair beside me.

  "You wouldn't be complaining about him if you didn't like him so much!" she insisted.

  I blinked at her. "Are you nuts? I could never-" Another white-hot pain hit me in the shoulder. I winced and clapped my hand over the tattoo.

  Heather sighed and shook her head. "You gotta get past the Denial stage and take a shortcut to the Acceptance one."

  "I'm not grieving!" I snapped.

  She nodded at my shoulder. "But you're going to be if you don't find out what's wrong over there. I bet that tattoo has something to do with your connection with him, and if it's hurting that might mean he's hurting, too."

  "Are you even listening to me?"

  "You said there was a big battle when you got pushed into the portal? Maybe he's seriously injured, or maybe he's dying."

  Her words made me freeze. My blood ran cold as my heart skipped a couple of beats. The last image of that attacking dragon, the pain in my arm, the vision I just experienced. None of them pointed to a happy and healthy Dragon Lord.

  Heather's soft, low voice broke through my reverie. "Well?"

  I lifted my eyes and blinked at her. "Well what?"

  She rolled her eyes. "Are you going to get back there or do I have to carry you?"

  I started back. "Are you nuts? I'm not going back there!"

  She jumped to her feet and grabbed my hand. "Come on. Let's get you going back to your scaly soul-mate before he dies or eats someone or something."

  Heather dragged me out of my chair and toward the door. "Wait! Wait a minute!" I yanked my hand free from her grasp and stumbled back to my place at the table. I glared at my 'friend.' "Are you trying to get me killed? That dragon wasn't trying to hug me before I dropped through that portal that also tried to kill me!"

  She put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot on the floor. "Miriam, you've got the best chance in your life to save a strong, handsome man who loves you, and here you are standing there like you don't love him yourself."

  "How can I?" I argued.

  Heather smiled and stepped forward. She dropped a hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. "Stockholm Syndrome." My face fell. She laughed and patted my shoulder. "Because sometimes love starts under strange circumstances. Besides, could you really live with yourself if he died?"

  I pursed my lips. She had me there. Heather slipped around me and pressed her palms against my back so she could steer me toward the door. "Come on. Let's go save your scaly boyfriend."


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