Flight From Hell

Flight From Hell, a novella by Yasmine Galenorn

Berkley E-Special; Release date: August 19, 2014
Urban Fantasy
ASIN: B00INIJIMM

When Carter, half demon, comes to Menolly and her sisters, asking for their help, they think he's just had a tiff with Shimmer, his blue dragon girlfriend.

But after talking to Alex Radcliffe, the owner of the Fly By Night Magical Investigations Agency where Shimmer works, they suspect that she has been kidnapped by an old enemy of Alex's.

Now, Alex joins forces with the D'Artigo sisters in a desperate race to find Shimmer before Julian, a powerful vampire from Alex's past with a grudge to settle, can use the dragon to wreak havoc on Seattle as revenge.

Note: Flight From Hell is a crossover novella with the Otherworld Series, designed to introduce Alex and Shimmer.

Published:

Playlist

ACDC: Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
Aerosmith: Sweet Emotion
Alice Cooper: Go to Hell; Didn't We Meet; Poison
AWOLNATION: Sail

Beck: Cellphone is Dead, Elevator Music, Broken Train, Mixed Bizness
Black Angels: I Hear Colors, Don't Play With Guns, You on the Run
Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Bravery: BelieveXX
Broken Bells: Your Head is on Fire; The Ghost Inside; The Mall and the Misery

Crazy Town: Butterfly
Cul de Sac: Cul de Sade; Into the Cone of Cold

Cure, The: A Short Term Effect; Cold; The Hanging Gardens
David Bowie: I'm Afraid of Americans; Jean Genie; Fame
Donovan: Season of the Witch; Sunshine Superman
Doors: The Crystal Ship; We Could Be So Good Together; Whiskey, Mystics and Men

Eric Clapton: Cocaine

Garbage: Queer; I Think I'm Paranoid; Supervixen; Fix Me Now

Haysi Fantayzee: Shiny Shiny
Hugo: 99 Problems

Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne

Kinks: Destroyer; Superman
Kirsty MacColl: In These Shoes?
Kyuss: Space Cadet; Writhe; Thong Song

Lou Reed: Walk on the Wild Side

Madonna: Beautiful Stranger
Marilyn Manson: Arma-Goddamn-Motherfucking-Geddon; Personal Jesus; Rock is Dead
Mark Lanegan: Riot in my House; Like Little Willie John; Riding the Nightingale; Quiver Syndrome; Phantasmagoria Blues; Pentacostal
Maroon 5: If I Never See Your Face

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Right Red Hand

Ohio Players: Fire
Orgy: Blue Monday

Peaches: Boys Wanna Be Her

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Flight From Mayhem

Flight From Mayhem, a novel by Yasmine Galenorn

Berkley (Mass Market); Release date: August 2, 2016
Urban Fantasy

I'm Shimmer, a blue dragon shifter. Thanks to a mistake, I was exiled from the Dragon Reaches and sentenced to work for gorgeous, exasperating Alex Radcliffe, a vampire who owns the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency.
Every time I turn around, somebody's trying to kill us. But you know what they
say: All's fair in love and bounty hunting...

A serial killer is stalking the elderly Fae of Seattle, draining their bank accounts before brutally murdering them. When Chase Johnson asks for our help, Alex and I discover that the sociopath is also a doppelganger-able to change shape to match his victim's deepest desires. Our friend and colleague Bette volunteers to act as bait, but the plan goes dangerously awry. Now, unless we find her first, she's about to face her worst nightmare.

Published:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

The wind blew through my hair, streaming it back under the helmet as the massive engine purred between my legs, vibrating through my entire body. I gripped Alex's waist with my hands, my breasts pressing against his back as we leaned into the turn. His body was icy even through his butt-hugging jeans and snug leather jacket. He smelled like bay rum, and by now, I knew that scent all too well. I knew every curve of his body—six weeks of steady sex had ensured that.

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We were headed toward the new 520 Bridge. As we neared the floating bridge that stretched out for over a mile, crossing the lake that separated Seattle from the Greater Eastside, I could feel the call of the water—a deep, sensual recognition that washed through my core, making me ache for its depths. The water and I had a special connection, seeing that I was a blue dragon and my very nature was connected to the life-affirming liquid. But tonight we weren't headed to the beach so I could swim. No, it was party time.

I wasn't sure exactly where we were going, but apparently Bette was in charge of it, and that was all Alex would tell me. "Unless you've been to one of Bette's parties, you've never been to a party."

With that less-than-comforting thought ringing in my head, I had swung onto the back of his Suzuki Hayabusa and held on as we roared out into the April night, under a heavy cloud cover. As we wove through the silent city streets, Alex deftly maneuvered the rumbling machine through the labyrinth of roads. It occurred to me that Seattle must have been planned out by some drug-crazed cartographer who randomly decided to have one-way streets change direction at major intersections.

As we gobbled up the miles, the streets grinding beneath the bike's wheels, I glanced up at the pale shadow of the moon. She was gleaming from behind the cloud cover, two days past full. By the time we crossed the bridge, the wind was churning the water to splash up and over the edge. To our left, the specter of the old bridge was awaiting deconstruction. It had been decommissioned only a month ago, a dark silhouette that had become outdated and dangerous. There was a one-in-twenty chance the 520 would go down, floundering to the bottom, if the area had another major earthquake. And the chances of a major earthquake in Seattle were when, not if.

We passed a car that had stalled out, and then we were over Lake Washington and coming up on Bellevue. We were headed to a private residence on Lake Sammamish in Redmond. Not Bette's house—she lived in a houseboat at the Gasworks Marina—but her current beau's home. Apparently he was some genius software engineer at a startup that had put down roots in the area. High tech was king here, and this was the land of Microsoft, Starbucks, and money.

I inhaled another breath of Alex's cologne. It was comforting—familiar in a world that was still so alien to me. In my realm, I had nothing like this. In my world, I was an outcaste, pariah. Here, I mattered. At least in some small way, I—and what I could do—made a difference to people.

We leaned into the gentle curve of the exit as we swung off the 520 freeway and onto West Lake Sammamish Parkway NE. As we passed through the suburbs and then past Marymoor Park, we came to a fork in the road, where the parkway split off into Bel-Red Road. We veered left, keeping on the parkway, as we curved toward Lake Sammamish. A few minutes later we swung onto NE 38th Street and down to the end, to the neighborhood next to Idylwood Park.

To the left sat a row of houses, and we pulled into the driveway of the last one before reaching the lakeshore. A string of cars filled the drive. I gazed up at the house. It was huge—one of what were commonly called McMansions, or starter castles, around these parts—and it had its own private beach access.

As Alex idled the motor, then switched it off, I removed my helmet, shaking my hair free. I swung off the bike, hopping aside, as Alex put down the kickstand and then joined me. We hung the helmets over the handles of the bike and—as I ordered my hair to straighten itself and smooth out the frizz—we headed for the private beach.

Alex wrapped his arm around my waist. One thing I'd say for him—he made an attentive boyfriend. I wondered for the umpteenth time why Glenda had let him get away. He was a handful when it came to stubbornness, but in the six weeks we had been going out, I had never once felt neglected. In fact, in some ways, the attention was overwhelming. Togetherness was fun, but too much togetherness left me chafing.

At six one, Alex had me beat by an inch. His wheat-colored hair was tousled and shoulder length, and his eyes were pale—frosty as an autumn morning. Handsome in a scruffy, rugged way, he also happened to be a vampire. He also happened to be my boss and parole officer, so to speak.

"Where is everybody?" I glanced around, looking for the party site.

"Down at the water's edge. Bette said they had a bonfire going." His arm still encircling my waist, we headed down the sloped road leading to the shore. There was a gate—of course. Around here, it seemed like everything fun was gated away from the public, for private amusement only. But the gate was open and the sound of laughter filtered up from behind the foliage-thick hedges barring our view.

Within a couple of minutes we found ourselves on the lakeshore. Sure enough, Bette was there, manning the massive grill covered with dogs and burgers. The smells set my stomach to grumbling. Because I couldn't shift form unless I was underwater, and therefore couldn't just fly off to catch and eat a cow every now and then, I found that I had to eat every day, several times a day, just like humans. If I let more than a few hours go by, I was hungry again. That had been one of the most surprising discoveries when I came Earthside.

"I'm going to find Ralph. Go say hello to Bette for us." Alex gave me a slap on the ass and meandered off into the crowd.

I was slowly getting used to being around crowds. I'd been a loner most of my life, and in the Dragon Reaches, where the population was sparse and I could go for days without seeing anybody, being a loner meant truly being alone. I glanced around, finally steeling myself to wander through the crowd of strangers over to Bette. But the next moment, a familiar voice intruded into my thoughts.

"Hey, Shimmer!"

I turned to find Ralph standing there, his Flying Horse energy drink in his hand. The man consumed caffeine like a crazed jackrabbit. He smiled, but I could tell something was unsettling him. The longer I was around others, the more I realized that I was somewhat of an emotional barometer. It was a blue dragon thing, though I hadn't realized it extended beyond my fellow dragons. I wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that I could walk into a room and sense that Ralph was irritated at his family, or that Bette was hungering to jump her current boy toy of the month.

Ralph nodded me off to the side. He was around five eight and lanky, with brownish black hair and John Lennon glasses, tinted dark. Good-looking in a geek-chic way, Ralph was also a certified computer genius and a werewolf. Over the past few weeks, his crush on me had abated, especially since Alex and I had gotten together, and now the awkwardness had passed.

"Shimmer, I'm worried about Bette. Where's Alex?" He craned his neck. "I thought I saw you come in together."

"We did, but he took off toward... hell, I don't know where he went. Is Chai here yet?"

Chai was my best friend. A djinn, he had followed me when I got exiled from the Dragon Reaches. He said it was to see the sights, but I knew he wanted to keep an eye on me. He was a good sort, though—like all djinns—he was unpredictable, and he had settled in as my roommate. On the plus side, he did a great job of keeping the place spotless. He also significantly cut down on the heating bill by radiating enough heat when it got chilly to create an ambient temperature. On the downside... well, there wasn't a downside.

Ralph shook his head. "Not that I know of. Anyway, Bette's putting on a good show for the public, but I caught her crying earlier, and you know how often that happens. When I asked her what was wrong, she pretended she had an eyelash in her eye, but those were real tears."

The tone of his voice told me enough that he wasn't exaggerating. I glanced over at the Melusine, wondering how to approach her. Bette was friendly as all get-out, but she was closemouthed when it came to her own vulnerabilities, and she knew how to ward off anybody who got too close to touchy subjects.

Right now, she was flipping burgers onto a plate that Dent, her current boy toy, was holding. Ralph had told me in private that Dent was a poser—that he really wasn't all that good at his job but was able to fake his way through. But poser or not, he and Bette had fun, and that was all that mattered.

"I'll corner her and see if I can find out what's going on." But at that moment, my attention was violently yanked away when Alex's voice thundered over the murmuring of the crowd.

"I swear if you don't get your ass away from me, woman, I'm going to put the fang to you!"

What the hell? I glanced at Ralph, who shook his head. We jogged in the direction of the outburst and as we threaded our way through the crowd and out into the open, I froze.

"Oh crap." I face-palmed, shaking my head. "I don't want to deal with this right now."

"You and every other sane person on this planet," Ralph
muttered.

There, standing in front of Alex, one hand on her hip, shaking a finger in Alex's face, was the pleather-clad, red-haired succubus who I had hoped might have fallen off the face of the earth. Alex's ex-girlfriend, Glenda. And Glenda was no Glinda. She was a harpy-tongued bitch, rather than a saccharine-sweet witch, all right.

"You're pond scum, Alex Radcliffe. You're a bottom-feeder. Cocksucker! Motherfucker!"

Alex stared at her, his look flashing between amusement and irritation. "To think I used to kiss that mouth. Glenda, what did you expect? It was a mutual breakup, in my opinion, but it was far too long in coming. Face it, we're done. We were done years ago, but neither one of us had the courage to let go. It was time we said good-bye. You weren't happy, and neither was I."

He shifted, darting away from her shaking finger. But his casual tone seemed to just fuel her fire.

"I should have drained you—I should have sucked your chi down to the core." Her voice had risen higher than I thought possible. Now, everybody was staring at them.

I sidled away, not wanting to draw her attention, but that was a hope gone to hell in a handbasket as I accidentally bumped against one of the guests. In trying to both keep my footing and steady the man I had knocked off balance, I overcompensated in the other direction and wavered, teetering on one foot. In slow motion, like in the movies, I went careening into the pool, gasping as I sank deep beneath the chlorinated brine that masqueraded as water. As I kicked my way to the surface, sputtering, I saw that every head had turned to stare at me.

Alex had an incredulous look on his face. Then, before I could make a move to get out of the pool, he began to laugh, slapping his thigh. "Oh, Shimmer, bless you for breaking up this little farce of a tête-à-tête. I needed that laugh. Get out of there, woman, and dry yourself off."

Glenda gave him a seething look. "How dare you ignore me?" Her hand met his cheek, the slap echoing through the air.

Alex stopped laughing. His eyes turned a dangerous shade of crimson and he let out a low hiss. "Don't you ever strike me again, Glenda. Not if you value your breath. I put up with your tantrums for too long, but no more. Hit me again at risk of your life. Do you understand?"

Ten seconds flat turned the easygoing expat Aussie into a deadly predator. Everybody took a step back at his words.

Glenda's eyes widened. "This isn't over, Radcliffe," she said, but now her voice was shaking, the anger turning to fear. As she swung around, I pulled myself out of the pool and began to wring out my hair, the scent and taste of chlorine making me queasy. "And you... you'd better hope we never cross paths in a dark alley. I blame you! You encouraged him. I knew from the start that's what you were out to do."

I stared at her, my own temper flaring. A cold breeze rushed through me. "You need to rethink your words, Glenda. You may be a succubus, but let me remind you... you know what I am." I wasn't in the habit of revealing my nature in front of humans—it wasn't good common sense.

A cruel smile crossed Glenda's face. Apparently, she realized the same thing because very deliberately, she locked my gaze, then snorted. "You're just a neutered dragon."

As whispers began to race through the crowd, I took a step toward her. I had to defuse the potential damage she had just caused.

"Call me a dragon lady, will you? You're the bitch here."

She stiffened, but before I could drag her skinny-ass self over to the pool and throw her in, Chai appeared. Over seven feet of gorgeous, muscled golden body, with a jet black high ponytail and sea foam–colored eyes, the djinn cut a formidable figure. He was wearing a form-fitting V-neck tee and jeans. I envied him his ability to create wardrobe out of wishes—he could wear anything he wanted without worrying about the cost. But right now, clothes were the last thing on his mind.

He leaned over Glenda, and she actually cowered back. "If you ever threaten my little sister again, I will personally stuff you in a bottle, seal it shut, and toss you out on the Ocean of Agony. Do you understand?"

Glenda let out an audible gulp, fear washing across her face. "I was just about to leave."

"Then, may I suggest you go now?" Chai's voice was barely above a whisper, but somehow it seemed a far worse threat than if he had been yelling.

Glenda whirled on her stiletto heels, marching off. She didn't say another word—not even a mumble. Alex and Chai watched her go, both with grim expressions on their faces. I shivered as Ralph handed me a towel. Bette hurried over, Dent by her side.

"Are you okay, Shimmer? I'm sorry you took an unexpected dip." Dent seemed perfectly amiable, if a little bland. "I don't know if I have anything that will fit you, except a terry-cloth robe, but if you want to change into that, we can wash and dry your clothes while you wait."

I ran the towel over my hair, squeezing it to dry it as much as possible. "Thanks, I'd appreciate that."

Alex touched my elbow. "I'm so sorry about Glenda. She's a real... well, she's got a temper on her and it looks like she's decided to blame me for the breakup. But I wonder why she waited until now?"

"I know why. She found out we're together. She doesn't want you, but she doesn't want anybody else to have you, either." I shook my head. "She's a real winner, that's for sure."

Bette cocked her head. "Follow me. Dent, take over the burgers, would you? I'll show Shimmer to the bathroom where she can shower and dry her hair while I find her a robe. Chlorine leaves a nasty residue." She linked her arm through mine and began to steer me toward the path leading up to the house, leaving Ralph, Alex, and Chai to discuss Glenda's inopportune appearance.

"You okay, sugar?" Bette was the chain-smoking, leather-clad, curse-like-a-sailor grandmother I never had. Clad in leopard-print jeggings and a chartreuse V-neck bodysuit, she was wearing a black leather jacket over the top. She was loud and nasal, with a bouffant so high it rivaled Marge Simpson's. I was confounded by how she managed to navigate on her platform CFM pumps. But Bette had become a good friend over the months, and she had introduced me to several delightful Earthside delicacies, like See's Candies—though I didn't have much of a sweet tooth—and dripping, oozy fast-food cheeseburgers.

I nodded. "Yeah, I am. Glenda had better watch out, though, or Alex will take her down. He's a gentleman, but not when threatened. And she crossed that line tonight."

"You aren't spoiling for a catfight, are you?" She glanced around to make certain we weren't being overheard, then lowered her voice so that it was barely a whisper. "Because honey, I know you're a dragon, but Glenda's mean as a junkyard dog, and she's got a lot of tricks up her sleeve. She wouldn't hesitate to fight dirty." Bette sounded so concerned that I wanted to hug her.

"No. I'm not spoiling for a fight at all. I'd be happier if she just disappeared." I paused, then remembered what Ralph had said. "Bette, I'm going to just come out and say it. We're friends. Ralph told me he thought something was wrong, and now that we're away from that crowd out there, I can sense it, too. What's going on? Your smile is pretty much plastered on right now." Now that I was standing next to her and everybody else was out of the way, I could tell that she was upset over something. The emotion radiated off her in waves. "Are you upset at Dent?"

She blinked. "Dent? Why would I be? No, he's just a little bit of fun and flirt right now. We both know that. But... now that you mention it, I am worried, but it's not about me. I have a friend I'm thinking may be in trouble."

"Ralph? Alex?"

"No, no one you know." She led me into a large bedroom that was decked out in black and white, with potted palms as one of the few accent colors. The floors were dark hardwood. Everything felt out of a designer magazine. Bette darted into an enormous walk-in closet, then returned with a thick, plush terry-cloth robe. It was a pale shade of blue.

"My favorite color."

"There's a bathroom through that door. Take a shower and warm up, get the chlorine off you. And on the vanity, you'll find a blow dryer so you can dry your hair. If you need anything, let me know. There are clean towels on the side of the vanity. I'll wait out here."

I wanted to ask about her friend but decided that it could wait till I got the chlorine off me. I hated the stuff, and it didn't like me much either. I seemed to react to it. Sadly, my reaction was strong enough that it put the kibosh on me puttering around in swimming pools. But two weeks ago, I'd discovered a saline pool nearby and signed up for a membership at the gym just so I could go swimming. Of course, it wouldn't do to turn into a dragon in the pool—it wasn't really big enough, anyway, but it felt good just to immerse myself in the water.

I slipped out of my wet clothes, kicking them to one side. As I stepped under the warm stream of water, I let out a long breath, stretching so that it pounded on my back. The bath gel was honeysuckle scented—no doubt Bette's rather than Dent's. I lathered up, soaping away the stink of the chlorine. The chemical didn't exactly burn my skin, but a pale rash rose up when I went too long without washing after it touched any significant portion of my body.

As I scrubbed under the streaming water, I frowned. Glenda's arrival nagged at me. I wasn't seriously worried she would hurt me. Regardless of my temporary limitations, I could still beat the crap out of her, though I doubted my water magic would affect her in any significant way. But the fact that she had decided to show up at a party and pick a fight in public... that was troubling.

She obviously hadn't moved on, and considering the way she had used Alex like a whipping boy, I had the feeling that she was finding it difficult to dig up anybody else who would put up with both her temper and her inborn need to fuck every man she saw. Succubi weren't cut out for relationships. Neither were incubi. And yet some of them—against all odds—kept trying.

After I finished, I stepped out of the shower and wrapped my towel around me. It was so plush and thick that I checked the label—I wanted towels like this. Noting the brand, I wrapped another around my hair. As I padded over to the vanity, I saw that Bette had taken away my wet clothes and had laid out the blow dryer and the robe. I dried off, then slid into the robe and tied it tight.

Leaning on the counter, I stared at myself in the mirror. Six months ago, I had been sent Earthside. Exiled, for a crime that I fully admitted to. The alternative was to stay in the Dragon Reaches and let Greanfyr—the white dragon I had stolen from—hunt
me down and execute me. And if he did, nobody would raise a wing to stop him, given my persona non grata status.

As I softly ordered my hair to untangle itself, the shimmering streaks of blue and purple gleamed among the dark strands. They were natural. They indicated who—or rather, what—I was, and were as much a part of me as was my tattoo. My ink was a reminder to me that I existed. That I belonged, even though everybody else said I didn't. A blue dragon, the tattoo coiled up from my waist with the tail curling near my hip. The dragon slinked up my right side, surrounded by waves, curling up so that the neck and head coiled over my right shoulder and down my arm, with more ocean waves along the side.

I flipped on the blow dryer, the heat warming me as I instructed my hair to section out, holding itself away from my head while I aimed the blowing air at it. That was one lovely thing about being a dragon—my hair had a mind of its own and I could make it behave however I wanted with just a blink of a thought. Which was why when the Wing-Liege cut it to my midback, the pain had been overwhelming. Our hair was a part of our body, a part of our mane when we were in dragon shape, and unlike that of humans and Fae, it had nerve endings and could register pain and pleasure. Touching Alex's skin with my hair gave me a thrill, even as having someone yank on it could hurt like a son of a bitch.

As the hair fell into place, smoothing softly against my head in clean, gleaming lines, I began to shake off the evening. Earlier, I had been uneasy about coming to the party. I had thought it was just because I would have to face a bunch of strangers and pretend to be Fae—my cover was that of a water Fae. A nymph, to be exact. Humans didn't really know about dragons, and we aimed to keep it that way as much as possible. But something had set me on edge, and now I wondered if I had been anticipating Glenda showing up.

When my hair was dry and smooth, I slid my feet into the plush terry slippers Bette had left for me and headed into the bedroom to find her sitting there, checking her phone, with a worried frown on her face. She glanced up as I sat down beside her.

"All washed up and clean?"

"Yeah, the chlorine is off my skin, so I should be fine. Now tell me what's going on. Did you get some bad news?" I leaned back in the chair, thoroughly enjoying the soft sinking feeling of the cushions.

Bette looked about ready to say no, but then she paused. "I'm not sure if it's bad news or not. That's the problem. I told you I'm worried about a friend, right?"

She seemed reluctant to say anything, which meant she wasn't at all sure on what she was chewing on. I knew Bette and she was never reticent with her opinions unless she truly wasn't sure what she thought about something.

I nodded. "Right. Why don't you tell me, and we can talk it over and decide if it's bad news?" I motioned to the robe. "I really don't feel like wandering around in a group of strangers wearing nothing but a bathrobe. Plus it will give them time to change the subject to something other than Glenda, Alex, and me. I just hope that Ralph and Alex can quash the dragon rumor."

Grinning, I stuck my feet up on the ottoman and settled back, thinking that—given furniture this comfortable—I'd consider hanging out with Dent, too.

Bette lit up a cigarette and, as usual, let it dangle off her lip. I was about to ask if Dent let her smoke inside but then saw a few ashtrays scattered around, which meant he probably smoked, as well. Bette was no fool—she never got involved with nonsmokers or teetotalers who might try to curb her habits. But she was also gracious enough to refrain from lighting up in my house, or over at Ralph's, and she kept her smoke downwind.

She inhaled deeply, then blew out a ring pretty and perfect enough to make even a dragon jealous. As she gave me a little shrug and put her own feet up, she said, "All right. I hate breaking secrets. Oh, it's nothing earthshaking, but, fuck a duck, this has been eating me up. I don't know if you realized that I volunteer at the Supe Community Action Council once a week. I teach an art class there."

I stared at her. It was hard to imagine Bette doing anything of the sort. But I kept my mouth shut.

"So, a lot of my students tend to be elderly Fae—mostly Earthside. They're... think of them like the great-aunt who lives in the upstairs attic. They've lost enough strength and vitality to lack confidence, but they're still in fairly good health. Which means another few hundred years to go, but they aren't ready to die just yet."

I knew very little about how the Fae aged. My kind tended to keep to themselves for the most part. It was mostly due to arrogance but, regardless of the cause, there were few dragons who took an interest in the outside world. Or outsiders. We tended to be an insular race.

Bette puffed on her cigarette. "So, the problem is this: I have a student there, a friend really. Her name is Marlene, and she's one of the Woodland Fae. She's a lovely woman, but she's drifting, really. When the Fae get as old as she is, especially the nature Fae, they tend to get a bit..." She looked like she was trying to find a polite word for what she was thinking.

Ever helpful, I said, "Balmy?"

A nod, then: "Yeah, balmy sums it up. Marlene and I get together and play poker once every couple of weeks. We watch movies, and take walks in her garden because she's too old to go out in the wild anymore, but I keep an eye on her, you know? Make certain that she's eaten lately and isn't just sitting in the garden, dozing during the rain."

I sighed. In my realm, when dragons reached that age, they slept in their dreyeries until they never woke up again. They were treated by their families as sleeping gods, ancestors to be venerated and waited on. But among humans—and some of the Fae—the aging ones were treated with less respect and often just left on their own, discarded like used tissue.

"I understand. You make sure she's okay, and that's a good thing, Bette. But what's the problem?"

"Marlene told me a few days ago that she's dating a young man. I was surprised—she's no Melusine, after all. And she's never mentioned wanting to explore that side of her life again. In fact, I thought she was pretty much over any interest in anything but pottering around. But she told me he makes her feel young, and that he romances her." A dark look flashed through her eyes. "I don't trust him, Shimmer. Marlene's a lovely woman but she's not a cougar, and she's very, very wealthy."

I blinked at that. Vampires tended to accumulate wealth. The Fae? Some of them did, but Woodland Fae weren't that interested in material goods, especially the Earthside ones.

"So you think this guy is looking for a sugar mama?"

Bette croaked out a laugh. "Pumpkin, I think he's out to get what he can. I can't come out and tell Marlene what I think, though—it would hurt her feelings terribly. So I'm thinking I should just bite the bullet and find out what I can behind the scenes. I'll ask Ralph to use his know-how to see what we can dig up about the guy. I need his last name, though, and she hasn't given it to me. I'm supposed to meet her for lunch tomorrow. Would you join us? I know you can read emotion, even though you try to hide it."

I stared down my nose at her. "Oh, really?" Even though she was spot-on, it surprised the hell out of me to hear that she knew. I hadn't mentioned it to anybody but Alex. But then, he and Bette were thick as thieves and for all I knew, she was privy to our entire relationship.

"Shimmer, you've been working with us for almost seven months. By now, you should know that there aren't any secrets in the office." She cackled then and puffed on her cigarette again before tamping it out in one of the ashtrays. "Which is why I can tell you this: Glenda? She's not done with the pair of you. I'd expect trouble from that little bitch, because honey, you cross a succubus? You've got a mess of worms on your plate."

And with that lovely thought filling my head, I agreed to have lunch with Bette and Marlene the next day. But even as Bette brought me my clothes—now clean and dry—all I could think of was Glenda, the bad and brazen, and what revenge she might be planning.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Publishers Weekly on Publishers Weekley wrote:

From a Starred Review:

Galenorn delivers suspense, myth, and stunningly relatable characters in her second Fly by Night paranormal contemporary (after Flight from Death), which continues the saga of blue dragon shape-shifter Shimmer and her coworkers at the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency...

There are a lot of vampire, fae, and shifter identities to keep track of, but each character is someone the reader can imagine befriending. The suspense builds, layer by layer, as the central mystery is addressed and a wide variety of smaller, more personal issues are teased out, leaving readers with an almost desperate need to know what happens next. Each detail seems specifically chosen to enhance immersion into a beautiful, complicated setting.

Jill Smith on Romantic Times wrote:

"An excellent way to spend your leisure time!"


Playlist

AC/DC: Back in Black
Air: Playground Love; Moon Fever
Android Lust: Here and Now; Saint Over; Stained; Dragonfly
The Animals: Bury My Body; House of the Rising Sun; We Gotta Get Out of This Place
Arcade Fire: Abraham's Daughter
Arch Leaves: Nowhere to Go

Black Mountain: Wild Wind; Queens Will Play; Buried by the Blues
The Black Angels: You on the Run; Evil Things; Don't Play With Guns; Holland; Always Maybe; Broken Soldier
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Feel It Now
Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billy Joe
Boom! Bap! Pow!: Suit
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside

Cher: The Beat Goes On
Cobra Verde: Play With Fire
Commodores: Brick House
Crazy Town: Butterfly
Dire Straits: Money for Nothing
The Doors: People Are Strange; Hello, I Love You; Roadhouse Blues

Eastern Sun: Beautiful Being
Eels: Souljacker Part One

Fatboy Slim: Praise You
FC Kahuna: Hayling
The Feeling: Sewn
Fluke: Absurd

Garbage: Queer; #1 Crush; Push It; I Think I'm Paranoid; Bleed Like Me
Gary Numan: I Am Dust; Sleep by Windows; Here in the Black; Love Hurt Bleed; Remember I was Vapour; Petals
The Guess Who: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature; American Woman

Harry Nilsson: Coconut
The Hollies: Long Cool Woman

Jace Everett: Bad Things
Jay Price: Something Bad; Baby Where Are You?; Boneshaker; I Don't Want You Anyway; Number 13
Jeannie C. Reilly: Harper Valley P.T.A.
Jessica Bates: The Hanging Tree
Johnny Otis: Willie & the Hand Jive
Joy Division: Atmosphere
Julian Cope: Charlotte Anne

The Kills: Wait: You Don't Own The Road: Future Starts Slow: Satellite: Dead Road 7: Murdermile

Ladytron: Black Cat; Ghosts; I'm Not Scared
Little Big Town: Bones
Lorde: Yellow Flicker Beat
Low and tomandandy: Half Light

King Black Acid: Rolling Under

Mark Lanegan: Riot in My House; Phantasmagoria Blues; Wedding Dress
Matt Corby: Breathe

Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Right Red Hand

OneRepublic: Counting Stars
Orgy: Blue Monday

The Pierces: Secret
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake; The Words That Maketh Murder; In the Dark Places

R.E.M.: Drive
Rachel Diggs: Hands of Time
Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter; Little Red Rooster; 19th Nervous Breakdown; Lady Jane

Screaming Trees: Where the Twain Shall Meet; Dime Western; Gospel Plow
Stealers Wheel: Stuck in the Middle With You
Syntax: Pride

Tamarym: While You're Sleeping, I'm Dreaming; Violet's in a Pool
Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me
Tom Petty: Mary Jane's Last Dance

The Verve: Bitter Sweet Symphony
Voxhaul Broadcast: You Are The Wilderness

Wild Cherry: Play That Funky Music

Zero 7: In the Waiting Line

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Flight From Death

Flight From Death, a novel by Yasmine Galenorn

Berkley Publishing; Release date: July 7th, 2015
Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0425272152

I'm Shimmer, a blue dragon shifter. Thanks to a mistake, I was exiled from the Dragon Reaches and sentenced to work for Alex Radcliffe, a vampire who owns the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. Now, not only do I have to adapt to Earthside culture, but every time I turn around, somebody's trying to kill us. And worse, Alex is as gorgeous as he is exasperating. But you know what they say: All's fair in love and bounty hunting...

When an old friend of Alex contacts him about a haunting at the High Tide Bed & Breakfast in Port Townsend, Washington, we think we're on a simple ghost hunt. But our investigation quickly transforms into a deadly fight as we uncover an eighty-year old murder, a cursed house, and a dark force trapping the spirits within. To stop impending disaster we must break the curse and lay the angry spirits to rest.

Published:
Excerpt:

Chapter 1

"Hurry up, damn it! Get a move on, woman!" Alex shoved me toward the stairwell and jammed the door by shoving a wooden wedge beneath it, but that would only buy us a little time.

"I'm trying, but the camera's stuck!" I yanked on the strap, which had gotten caught in the door as we'd beat a hasty retreat from the apartment where we had been spying. We couldn't afford to lose the camera-we needed the pictures on it. Not to mention, if I lost it, the cost for a replacement would come out of my salary. I wasn't about to leave it behind.

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"Oh for cripes sake, Shimmer. Just cut the bloody straps! For the love of . . ." Alex grabbed the straps out of my hand and yanked out Juanita, his trusty big-assed bowie knife. The blade glittered dangerously in the dim light. He sliced through the leather bands like they were butter, and bingo, the camera came free in my hands. I managed not to play fumble-fingers and drop it as we continued to beat a hasty departure. Someone was pounding on the door behind us, but we knew who was on the other side, and we weren't about to let him in because he wanted to do really bad things to us at the moment.

"Get your ass down to the parking garage." Alex bared his fangs, looking pissed out of his mind as he shoved me toward the stairs. I didn't protest, just raced down the steps with the vampire following.

We made it to the third level of the garage and piled into Alex's sedan that he used for stakeout work. As he revved the engine and we swung out of the parking spot, the door to the garage slammed opened and Jackaboy Jones came barreling out, his eyes glowing. He wasn't alone. His pack of good ole boys followed. They were shifting into wolf form even as we managed to swerve toward the exit. With the wolves racing behind us, we hit the streets of Seattle.

Lucky for us, it was two A.M. and there was no traffic to speak of. Alex made a sharp right turn at the intersection and we left Jackaboy in the dust, his cronies now gathered behind him.

I let out a long sigh and leaned my head against the seat. "That was close."

Alex grinned at me. "Not really, love." He still had a slight Australian accent, even though he'd been over in the U.S. for almost a century. It was charming, in a boyish sort of way. "I've been in far tighter straits. We have the pictures and that's what counts. His wife will be able to press ahead in her case, we'll get paid, and we have one more divorce notched on our belts."

With a twinkle in his eye, he began to whistle. "But next time you get the urge to wear a pair of stilettos on a case, maybe rethink the idea? I'm not advocating Birkenstocks, but . . ." He laughed and held up the broken heel from my sandals. It had come off on the stairs and I'd left it, but apparently Alex had noticed.

I had known better than to wear heels, but the truth was, I had been feeling a little blah and wanted to at least look good. Blushing, I tried to hide my embarrassment. "You're a dick, you know that?" I didn't really mean it, but I had to say something.

He just laughed again. "Oh, sweet pea, I've known that for years. I'll grow on you. See if I don't." He switched on the MP3 player and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" came blaring out. As we headed back to the office, I couldn't help but think that he was already growing on me, too much for my own good.

"Holy fuck, what the hell are they doing in there?" I grimaced as another crash interrupted my conversation with Bette. We were eating lunch-well, what passed for lunch. It was midnight. But since our office hours were 8:30 P.M. to 5:30 A.M., this counted as our noon meal.

Bette sat behind the receptionist's counter of the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. A fine gray marble veined with rich gunmetal, the counter stood between the back office and the waiting room. Bette was our official meet-and-greeter, and as unconventional as she was, people liked her. She netted us a number of new clients just by the way she welcomed them when they came through the door. Something to do with pheromones, she said.

I sat beside her, counting the crashes. "That's how many? Five?" The sound of breaking glass and raised voices would have alarmed me and sent me running into Alex's office if I hadn't known who was in there with him.

Bette cackled. "Four. Something's got her knickers twisted, that's for sure. I haven't heard them go at it like this for a long time. In fact, this may be the worst fight they've had. Maybe if we're lucky, she'll leave for good."

"That's not nice." I tried to look stern but ended up giggling. "I admit, that would be a relief. Would certainly be quieter around here, for sure."

"When did I ever claim to be nice?" The older woman-well, she looked like an older woman, even though she didn't act it-grinned and winked at me. "Glenda's a real bitch when she gets worked up, and she doesn't like me. She gets worked up over little things a lot. Though lately, the fights have been nastier and more frequent."

She leaned over her plate and enthusiastically bit into the hamburger. Dripping with bacon grease and secret sauce, the sandwich smelled wonderful, and the look on the Melusine's face told me just how much she enjoyed it. We had that in common, at least. Snake shifters and dragons both were major carnivores. There, though, any resemblance ceased.

Bette was a sight, with her long gray hair curled into a bouffant and eyes the color of green leaves with sunshine sparkling on them. She routinely dressed like a biker mama. Today she had on skintight jeans, a glittering gold belt, a spandex V-neck T-shirt stretched so tightly over her ample boobs that the material looked ready to tear, and a pair of Doc Martens. All that was missing was a leather jacket, and that was hanging on the back of her chair. At least she didn't smoke while she was eating-that would have killed my appetite.

We made quite the pair. When I'm in my human form I'm short enough for my kind-only six feet tall, with long black hair streaked with blue and purple. The streaks are natural, not dye. My eyes are the same royal blue, leading to a lot of people asking, "Do you wear colored contacts?" It's easier to just say yes. Add to that I'm strong and muscled, and-like Bette-I have big boobs, and I get a lot of interesting looks and a few too many hands I have to slap.

As I finished my fish and chips, another crash split the air. This time it was followed by Alex shouting, and Glenda shouting right back at him. The argument was escalating, all right. Apparently it had reached flash point because the door to his office slammed open and the succubus came storming out, as fast as her form-fitting pleather skirt would allow her to walk. She glanced over at us, glowering.

"Don't say a fucking word, either one of you bitches. At least I don't have to pretend to be polite to you anymore." And then she barreled out the door, shattering the glass window as she slammed it shut behind her.

"Well, then. I guess she told us. I'll clean that up after we finish our lunch." Bette arched one eyebrow, then glanced over at the door to Alex's office. "Wonder if he's alive in there, or if he took a direct hit."

"You think we should go see?" I followed her gaze, staring at the silent door.

Bette shook her head. "No. Give it time."

Alex peered around the corner of the heavy steel door. "She gone?" The twinkle that usually sparkled in those frosty eyes was absent, replaced with a clouded scowl. This wasn't the first time the pair had fought up a storm, but tonight something felt different.

Bette nodded, licking her fingers. "Sure is, precious. I'll get a broom and dustpan after I finish my lunch." She paused. "You all right, Alex?"

He shrugged, leaning against the wall. "Fine. But keep an eye out. Glenda is persona non grata from here on out. I don't want her coming in and torching the joint-her temper's worse than mine and she believes in revenge."

"You two on the outs?" Bette lowered her voice, speaking cautiously. Vampires were scary dudes when they were angry. Even to a snakeshifter and-even to me.

"For good. We're done."

As he turned to disappear back into his office, I wanted to ask what had happened but took my clue from Bette and kept my mouth shut about it.

Before he could vanish behind the door, Bette cleared her throat. "Just a second there, sweet cheeks. A call came in while you and Miss Prissypants were occupied. Patrick Strand needs to talk to you."

Alex froze. He was about my height-six feet-and had wheat-colored hair that was always lightly tousled. It reached his shoulders, and a stubble of beard covered his chin. His eyes were frosty gray, and he was fit, with a fine spread of pecs and abs. I knew that from seeing him without his shirt a couple times. The fact that I wouldn't mind seeing him without his shirt again was a thought I tried to keep to myself. Alex was a vampire. And he happened to be my boss. He owned and ran the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency, and I had been assigned to him for a five-year stint, so I did my best to keep on his good side, even when he drove me up the wall. I didn't have a choice.

"Patrick Strand? You're sure it was him?" He looked puzzled. "I haven't heard that name for a long time." He gazed at Bette, his expression thoughtful.

"Twenty-some years, if I'm on my game." Bette polished off the last of her meal and wiped her hands on a paper napkin, then tossed the bag and container in the garbage. "The last time you two talked, it ended up with a major argument, if I recall correctly."

I perked up. I hadn't heard this story. I'd only been around a few months. And so far, with what I had heard of Alex's exploits, I had come to realize that I was dealing with someone as volatile and chaotic as myself, which was in itself a scary proposition. Although he could be a real charmer when he wanted to.

"What happened?" I had no shame when it came to butting in.

Alex glanced at me, a smirk on his face. "Patrick conned me out of a thousand dollars that I happened to need very badly-"

"Tell us another one, sugar. You know you lost it in a poker game. Patrick won fair and square. But you know that's not the real reason you two parted ways." Bette snorted as she tapped a cigarette out of the pack, shoving it in one side of her mouth. She smoked like a chimney stack and smelled like one, too.

"That was reason enough. Patrick cheated-"

"You choked!" Her laugh was raspy as she lit up. The NO SMOKING sign above her desk never detoured her. She ignored it, just like she ignored just about everything Alex told her. But she ran the company with an iron fist. There was no doubt who held everything together for us.

"You old bitch . . . I never choke." Alex snorted.

"Sure you don't, sugar. Sure you don't. But like I said, you know that wasn't the real reason you parted company. And I know you've regretted it ever since." She winked at him. They teased each other constantly. It was their pattern. "Why don't you run along and call him, Alex. Patrick needs your help, and you two need to settle up and put your differences behind you. It's not like it was with Julian. Trust me on this one. Isn't it time to let the past go?" She held his gaze and I had the feeling something unspoken passed between the two.

Instead of arguing, Alex let out a grunt. "Whatever you think best, then, love. Email me the number." He turned and went back into his office. And just like that, we were back to work.

So . . . I'm Shimmer, in case you're wondering. And I happen to be a dragon. A blue dragon, specifically. If you don't know what that means, here it is in a nutshell: I'm a water dragon. I'm connected to the element of water in more ways than you'd think, and I'm most at home when I'm in a lake, ocean, swimming pool. Hell, even a bath makes me feel more secure. I can sense heightened emotions, and tend to be a little volatile myself, just like Mama Ocean.

That's where my trouble came to play. I got myself in a really bad jam and-long story short-was exiled from the Dragon Reaches for five years and stripped of some of my powers.

The Wing-Liege-one of our main council members and the advisor to the Emperor-commuted what could have been a death sentence and sent me Earthside. He assigned me to work for his friend Alex Radcliffe. That the Wing-Liege even admits to knowing a vampire still boggles my mind. But friends they are, and so Lord Vine-the Wing-Liege-gave me two options. Accept the punishment, or face certain assassination at the hands of my enemies. Exile seemed the better option.

So I've been here about five Earthside months, and I'm slowly acclimating myself to human culture, but it's not easy. I don't understand a lot of the mores and customs, and I'm still not sure how I'm supposed to fit in. I don't even understand the other Supes very well. I miss the Dragon Reaches, but since I was never accepted there in the first place-another long story, best saved for another time-I decided to give Earthside my best shot. It's a chance for me to make a fresh start. One I'd never get at home.

Essentially, I'm on probation. I screw up, and I get sent packing to a fate that might well include my execution. And while working for Alex can be nerve-racking, it's not as frightening as the thought of having an assassin on my tail.

Oh . . . last thing. As to what I did? Well, let me give you one piece of advice: Never, ever steal from a white dragon. Even if you think he might have clues as to who your parents were. Even if his sons tortured and humiliated you. Being an orphan is rough, especially in the Dragon Reaches. Being dead? Even harder.

I was just finishing up on the computer, entering some info on a case we'd recently resolved when Alex called me into his office. I made sure I had my iPad and headed in to see what he wanted.

Alex's office always gave me the creeps. The ceiling was high-which I did like. At about twelve feet, it gave the room an open, airy feel. But against one wall, a line of trophies faced the door. A rhino, a hippo, a giraffe, and a crocodile all jutted out in 3D living color from their mounting. Over his desk was a giant swordfish. Occasionally I'd hunted them when I was in dragon form underwater, but I never thought to stuff one and stick it on the wall.

At one point in his two-hundred-some-odd years, Alex had taken up big-game hunting and this was the result. He had told me when I'd questioned him that it had been during a time when things like sport hunting was accepted-almost expected in some circles. And he also said that while he'd never do it again, he wasn't about to disrespect the animals he'd killed by dumping the trophies in a thrift shop or just tossing them away.

"I keep them as a reminder that I really don't want to play judge, jury, and executioner anymore," he told me.

The rest of the office was a mixture of brilliant wall colors, old wood, and chrome and glass. Glass-covered cases displayed the numerous blades Alex had collected. He even had a bow and quiver of arrows slung over a coat rack. I wasn't sure if he could use it, but chances were, he could. Alex was rough-and-tumble. He'd never pass for a cowboy, but he sure could pass for Mad Max.

I slid into a chair opposite his desk, looking around. Two of the vases that I had liked were gone, and one of the panes of glass on the display cases was also missing. No doubt the victim of Glenda's temper tantrum. But I decided it best to tiptoe around that subject and leaned forward, readying my tablet.

"Ready. What you got for me, boss?"

He laughed, folding his hands against his stomach. He had a flat stomach. Nicely flat. Way too nice. In fact, I noticed far too many nice things about him. It had been quite a while since I'd paired up back home, and I was feeling the lack.

A grin spread across his face, showing the very tips of his fangs.

"What are you laughing at?" I squirmed a little. His gaze was cool and yet, since the first time we met, there had been an underlying heat between us that made me uncomfortable. Half the time, I wanted to smack the guy. Half the time I was tempted to push him up against a wall and rip open his shirt and run my hands over that smooth, cool chest of his.

"You. You're always so to the point when you come in here." He leaned forward. "You need to learn how to loosen up."

"I just . . . you're my boss," I muttered. Truth was, I'd almost staked him a couple months back. Granted, I'd been under a charm at the time, but the end result? I'd just about dusted my boss and any chance I had at making a go of things. I still was amazed that he wasn't holding a grudge.

"Yes, I am your boss. I also hope you consider me your friend. Okay, here's the deal. Patrick Strand? He's an old friend of mine. We go way back."

"He a vampire?" Usually vamps associated with their own kind.

"Actually, he is, yes. At least now. He wasn't when I knew him. He runs a B-and-B joint up in Port Townsend geared toward Supes-especially vampires. He bought it a couple years ago but just recently got around to converting it over. That's when the problems started." Alex winked at me. "Patrick always did know how to pick 'em, whether it was women or houses or jobs."

Now, I couldn't resist. I set down my iPad and stared at him pointedly. "And you do? So what gives with Glenda? Your succubus girlfriend has anger management problems, you know. Bette won't ask you outright, because she probably knows better, but I don't have her filters." Alex had just claimed me as a friend, and I was used to being up front with the few people I had befriended over the years. I found it saved a lot of trouble and misunderstandings.

Or maybe not...As his eyes began to turn a dangerous shade of crimson, I thought maybe I had pushed too far. But a moment later, they faded back down and he slumped back in his chair.

"Truth? I couldn't take it anymore. Shimmer, that woman . . ." He paused. "I refuse to take orders from anybody regarding my business or who I associate with." He waved toward the door. "Make sure the door's shut, will you?"

I hesitated. Alex didn't usually open up to me; he usually talked to Bette when he wanted to mull things over. Something must have happened. I crossed to the door to make certain it was closed. "Okay, spill it. What did she want?"

Alex shifted in his seat, playing with a pencil. The squeak of his pants against the leather was the only sound in the room for a moment. Finally, he looked over at me. "What I say in here stays here. You understand?"

I grinned. "I didn't survive this long by opening my mouth at the wrong time, dude." The realization that I could actually smile about my past-at least to some degree-hit me. That was a lot more than I'd been able to do a few months back.

With a laugh, Alex threw the pen back on the desk. "No, I don't suppose you did. All right. Glenda ordered me to fire Bette."

I blinked. Bette was the glue that held the agency together. She made it run like a well-oiled machine. And Glenda . . . didn't have a stake in the business, so to speak. "Why the hell . . . Wait. Was it because you two were an item way back when?"

He nodded. "Glenda's insanely jealous, but she expects me to accept her nature without question. She's a succubus, for fuck's sake. I know I'm not enough for her. But if I accept her need to feed on sex from others, she's jolly well going to accept that I have women friends. I don't usually sleep around, not anymore. But I'm not about to kick out one of the best friends I've ever had just to make my overly possessive girlfriend happy."

Now I understood why he was talking to me instead of to Bette. "You don't want Bette to know about this."

He inclined his head. "Exactly. First, it would just piss her off, and a pissed-off Melusine is a dangerous enemy. Second . . . I think it would hurt her feelings, even though I told Glenda to fuck off."

"So you broke up with your girlfriend to save a friendship."

"No, I broke up with my girlfriend because I'm tired of batshit crazy. I can handle regular crazy. I can even handle temper tantrums. But I can't handle someone trying to run my life for me or dictate who I do-or do not-befriend or hire for my agency. If Bette asks, I just had enough. That's what I'm going to tell her. Just . . . one argument too many." He leaned forward, a pale smile on his lips. His voice dropped as he said, "I've been thinking for a while that it's time I moved on. Find someone more my speed, you know?"

His gaze was unwavering and I couldn't look away. Those frosty eyes were gorgeous, wide and luminous, and below them, the narrow, sculpted nose, and pale stretch of lips mesmerized me. The intensity of emotion that I felt rushing across the desk overwhelmed me-blue dragons were good at picking up on emotions-and I found myself wanting to reach out and touch those lips, to draw my fingers across them.

All too aware that I was breathing rapidly, I forced myself to lean back and clear my throat. "Yeah . . . I know."

I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm the heat that was beginning to work its way up my body. From the beginning, I had found Alex attractive, but I knew it would be a mistake to act on it. He and I were like oil and water. And he was my boss. And he had a jealous girlfriend.

Strike that last . . .

"Shimmer . . ." The corner of one side of those delicious lips began to curve upward. "Oh, Shimmer . . ."

Shaking off the images that cascaded through my mind, I very slowly picked up my iPad and forced myself to say, "Maybe you'd better tell me about the job we're going out on?"

And just like that, he paused, let out a soft laugh, and returned his attention to the papers on his desk. "Right. The job." Another pause, and the moment passed. We were back to business. "As I said, my friend Patrick owns a bed-and-breakfast up in Port Townsend and he's having problems."

"What kind of problems? And what's the name of the place?"

"The High Tide Bed-and-Breakfast. It was supposed to open last month, but a series of accidents forestalled that. There's more, though." Alex frowned, staring at his notes. "Patrick thinks he's being haunted."

Ghosts. Wonderful. I had very little experience with spirits and wasn't eager to add to my repertoire. "And what makes him think that?" I tapped in a few notes on my tablet.

"Strange noises, poltergeist activity . . . cold spots. Typical stuff. I told him we'd come up and investigate."

Annnnd . . . there we had it. A real case landing at my feet at last. Over the past few months, we'd taken on some low-key items, but nothing out of the ordinary. Mostly taking pictures for divorces or court cases. Supes were really good about knowing when they were being followed. It took another Supe with a good camera to record the necessary proof. But until now, Alex hadn't thrown me into anything major.

He had told me that business was in a lull, but I suspected he'd been turning away clients until I got my wings about me. Now, it appeared, he thought I was ready. The thought actually excited me. I was tired of hanging around the office. Hell, I wasn't even used to staying in one place for more than a few weeks. Settling down was proving to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.

"Sure thing. Anything I need to bone up on?" I'd spent my life breaking into people's-well, dragons'-houses and rifling through their stuff. I had a decent amount of experience at getting myself into tight places, if not out of them, but working on a team entailed other skills.

Alex winked at me. "No worries, girl. We'll head up tomorrow night. Find the ferry schedules, would you? We need to travel from the Coupeville ferry over to Port Townsend. We'll leave first thing after sunset, so pack a bag for a few days. You might want to read up on the town. It's an odd place. Supposed to be spook central, from what I gather. I'm telling Ralph to pull out all the stops and bring our ghost-hunting equipment."

"Equipment? But . . . you're a vampire. Ralph is a werewolf. I'm a dragon. What do we need technology for?" I knew that the agency had a store of EMF meters and EVP recorders and whatever else humans had managed to create in their quest to prove that ghosts were real, but really?

Alex let out a snort. "Listen to me, Shimmer, and learn. Always go in prepared. We probably won't need this stuff, but better to have it with us than not. I may be a vampire, but that doesn't mean I know when there are ghosts around. Same with Ralph and you. Not all Supes are psychic."

He made a good point. "Right, then. Tomorrow night, we leave right after sunset. Bette can pick me up, I suppose." I still didn't have a driver's license but was doing my best to learn, though Alex refused to let Bette teach me. He was making me take lessons at the Supe Community Action Council, which was just fine. Somehow, the thought of speeding around Seattle in a two-ton metal cage just didn't appeal on any level. Even though, in dragon form, I'd dived five thousand feet down in the ocean, driving a car intimidated me.

"What do you know about the house?" I created a new section in my notes file.

"Patrick said the place belonged to a friend of his in his pre-vampire days. Guy by the name of Nathan Striker. We're going to need to look into its history, but I figure doing so might be easier while we're up there. Meanwhile, I guess I'll go home and pack up Glenda's stuff . . ." He let out a sound; whether it was disgust or regret, I couldn't tell. My bet was on the former.

"How long were you together?" The question spilled out before I could stop myself. I clamped my mouth shut and stood up.

He gave me an odd look. "Too long? Two . . . maybe three years? I don't know. I guess . . . it was easier to just stay with her than face the problems we had. Nobody likes to admit they've failed." With a sheepish duck of the head, he told me right there all I needed to know. It had been over for a while. He just hadn't gotten up the courage to end it.

I headed for the door, but then it hit me that we'd be away for the weekend. Together. Granted, Ralph would be with us, but a lot could happen in unfamiliar territory. I glanced back. "Alex . . ."

"Yes?" He looked up, already engrossed in his Werewyx Search-the newest Supe search engine.

I paused, my hand on the doorknob, but then decided against saying anything more. Shaking my head, I gave him a gentle smile. "Nothing. Never mind." As I closed the door behind me, I realized that I was beginning to care about Alex. Maybe a little too much.

COLLAPSE

Playlist

ACDC: Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution, Back in Black, Highway to Hell, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Hell's Bells
Aerosmith: Walk This Way, Dream On
AJ Roach: Devil May Dance
Alice Cooper: I'm the Coolest, Go To Hell
Arcade Fire: Abraham's Daughter
Asteroids Galaxy Tour: The Golden Age, Heart Attack, Around the Bend, The Sun Ain't Shining No More, Sunshine Coolin'
AWOLNATION: Sail

Bad Girls: M.I.A.
Beck: Cellphone's Dead, Broken Train, Que onda Guero, Nausea, Farewell Ride, Emergency Exit, Loser
Black Angels, The: Don't Play With Guns, Evil Things, Indigo Meadow, Holland, Young Men Dead, Manipulation, Bad Vibrations,
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Fault Line, Feel It Now
Black Sabbath: Paranoid
Bret Michaels: Love Sucks
Broken Bells: The Ghost Inside

Cobra Verde: Play with Fire
Crazy Town: Butterfly

Dire Straits: Down to the Waterline, Money For Nothing

Eels: Souljacker Part 1

Fatboy Slim: Praise You
Foster the People: Pumped Up Kicks

Garbage: I Think I'm Paranoid, #1 Crush, Queer, Only Happy When It Rains
Gary Numan: Are Friends Electric, Petals, Down in the Park, Cars (Re-Mix), My Shadow In Vain
Gorillaz: Last Living Souls, Hongkongaton, Dare, Feel Good Inc., Rockit

Hugo: 99 Problems

In Strict Confidence: Silver Bullets, Snow White

Ladytron: Ghosts, I'm Not Scared, Burning Up
Little Big Town: Bones

Madonna: 4 Minutes, Beautiful Stranger
Marcy Playground: Comin' Up From Behind
Morcheeba: Even Though (Acoustic)

Pierces, The: Secret
Puddle of Mudd: Psycho

Rachel Digg: Hands of Time
Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter,

Screaming Trees: All I Know, Dime Western, Where the Twain Shall Meet
Sewn: The Feeling
Shriekback: New Man, Night Town, Over the Wire, Big Fun
Stone Temple Pilots: Sour Girl, Atlanta
Syntax: Pride

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: Mary Jane's Last Dance

Verve, The: Bitter Sweet Symphony

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