I just wanted to let everyone know I’m working hard to finish edits on Christmas with Dragons and expect to have it out by the end of the weekend (the 18th). In the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and post the first chapter for you all to get started.
Hope you enjoy and that everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!
I inched my way out of the bed, trying not to disturb the sleeping dragon lying next to me. Even in his human form, he took up a lot of space with his legs sprawled across the mattress. It made it that much more difficult to get around him, though I had to admit the sight of his toned, muscular body tempted me to stay. Who knew a fire-breathing dragon could turn into a sexy man with olive skin, spiky black hair, and high cheekbones that gave his features a chiseled edge? I might be genetically programmed to kill both shifter and pure dragons, but Aidan had somehow found a way around that problem and into my heart.
I touched my toes to the cool wood floor and expelled a light breath. Almost there.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Aidan snaked his arm around my waist, dragging me back across the bed.
“Nooo,” I protested. “I’ve got things to do. It’s bad enough you made me sleep past noon!”
He’d gotten me to the point where I kept dragon hours, which meant I didn’t go to bed until almost dawn. It was putting a cramp in my slaying activities since I liked to catch the beasts while they slept in their dens. Aidan should have appreciated my strategy, considering I was killing his clan’s enemies, but our relationship was still new and he didn’t like letting me out of his sight very often. At least, not since we started living together a couple of weeks ago.
“More important than me?” He nuzzled my neck.
The spicy scent wafting from his hot skin was familiar and comforting, weakening my resolve. I turned my head to find him staring at me with intense, yellow eyes. “I’ve got to meet Trish in a little over an hour to go Christmas shopping.”
“Christmas shopping?” He lifted a brow.
“Well, yeah.” I paused to search for the right words, considering we’d actually be looting stuff out of stores that hadn’t been open since the dragon apocalypse seven months ago. Food, medicine, and products people used on a daily basis were mostly gone, but plenty of other stuff was still out there. Norman—a suburb of Oklahoma City—was down to maybe forty percent of the population it once had, and among those left, people generally only took what they needed. Traveling to get stuff and transporting it all home was too dangerous to grab many luxury items, especially since we didn’t have trash service anymore to get rid of the old stuff. “It’s more like searching for gifts.”
He nodded. “I have heard of this holiday called Christmas. The humans at the fortress celebrate it each year after Dragomas, and our merchants enjoy great profits from both occasions.”
“What is Dragomas exactly?” I asked. I’d heard him mention it to his sister recently when she came by our house—or lair as Aidan referred to it—but I hadn’t had a chance to ask more since I was on my way out at the time.
“The tradition began a few centuries before we were banished to Kederrawien.” His brows knitted at the mention of the dragon dimension where he and all his kind had been banished for a thousand years before returning. “It could have been influenced by your human holiday, now that I think on it, but our purpose is unrelated to religion. Dragomas is celebrated two days after the winter solstice as a final chance for us to spend time with our family and friends before full winter sets in. We hold a big feast, exchange gifts, and play games.”
In some ways, it didn’t sound too different from our holiday. “Do you decorate?”
Aidan gave me a knowing grin. “We do not haul trees into our homes and place trinkets on them if that is what you mean.”
He was referring to the pine tree I chopped down last week and put in the living room. While he was out doing work for his pendragon, I’d decorated it using stuff I’d found in a stash of boxes labeled for Christmas from the storage shed behind our house. A family had lived in the place before, but they’d disappeared sometime around the apocalypse and never returned, leaving everything they owned behind. I tried not to think about what became of them.
“Well, you better get used to that human tradition,” I said, patting Aidan’s cheek. “Because this is going to be a yearly thing for us—and my father is going to be visiting, which should be fun.” That last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but it never got old seeing his reaction.
Aidan groaned and swung an arm over his eyes. “Do not remind me…again.”
“I’m not exactly sure when he’s coming, but I guess it will be right around Christmas.” I tapped my chin. “Trish is going to help me find a gift for him.”
Which was partly why I needed to go shopping today. Until a few months ago, I had never met my father. Wayne had disappeared while my mother was still pregnant with me, and she’d never heard from him after that. It turned out he’d accidentally stumbled into the dragon dimension, unable to return until it collided with Earth earlier this year. The first time I met my father was a few months ago when he saved me from certain death after I got into a nasty battle with a couple of dragons protecting their nest and eggs.
Like me, he was a slayer, but he had a couple of decades more experience. The last time we ran into each other, Wayne almost killed Aidan and two other shifters with me. I’d managed to stop my father before any serious damage had been done, but it was a close thing. He didn’t like dragons of any kind. After I’d calmed him down, he’d promised to visit me for Christmas. How things would go once the infamous slayer who struck fear in dragon hearts all over found out his daughter was living with a shifter…well, I had no idea. I wanted to get to know my father, but I was also terrified of him coming. Would he try to kill the man I loved?
“Perhaps I should stay away while he is here,” Aidan suggested, sitting up.
I knitted my brows. “Where would you go?”
He’d moved all of his things out of the dragon fortress and didn’t have a room there anymore. I didn’t want him having to set up someplace else just because of my father.
“I could stay at the mating festival. They’ve built a permanent village there so dragons from the Taugud and Faegud might get to know one another,” he said, then gave me a solemn look. “The Shadow might be a slayer, but he is also your father, and I do not wish to ruin your chance to get to know him.”
Aidan referred to Wayne as “The Shadow” like all dragons did because he seemed to strike from nowhere, never seen or heard until it was too late.
I took a deep breath and tried to phrase my next words carefully. “Is that all this is about?”
“If you’re asking if I’m afraid of him, not more than I should be, considering I’m meeting my mate’s father without acquiring his permission to be with her.” He gave me a wry smile. “He is not going to be pleased.”
“Does Nanoq know he’s coming?” I asked.
Aidan nodded. “He is not happy about it, but I’ve guaranteed your father will not cause any trouble for us. We must ensure we keep our word on that.”
“Then you have to stay here and help because I don’t think I can meet Wayne alone.” Plus I couldn’t stand the idea of Aidan being alone with a bunch of female dragons that were searching for potential mates. As far as I was concerned, the only time Aidan could be at the festival was while I was with him. For one full day, we’d be there as requested by the pendragons of the Taugud and Faegud clans, but after that we’d be out of there. I’d just have to protect Aidan from my father, and hope to God that Christmas didn’t end in a bloodbath.
“For you—anything.” Aidan reached up and pulled my head toward him, pressing a soft kiss to my lips. For a moment, I forgot the world around me, but then he pulled away. Worry entered his eyes, and I recognized the look. “Be careful when you go out today.”
“There’s been no sign of Verena,” I said, referring to the sorceress I’d pissed off recently.
She’d wanted me to give her a powerful orb that could control dragons and slayers, calling in a favor I’d owed her as a way to force my hand. Though it was supposed to be bad to break a promise now that the laws of magic were back in the world, I’d refused. She’d vowed that I’d pay for that, but so far we hadn’t seen or heard from her.
“She will wait until we least expect it.” Aidan’s lips thinned. “It could be a while yet before she strikes…but perhaps not. We must remain vigilant.”
“I’ll be careful while I’m out,” I promised.
“Perhaps we could shirk our duties and stay home for the day.” He looked me up and down. I was just as naked as him with only my straight, black hair to cover me. Aidan didn’t want me trimming it, so I’d been letting it grow out, and it almost reached halfway down my chest now. Usually, I kept my hair in a braid or ponytail to keep it out of my face while fighting, but Aidan always pulled it free once we were back in his lair.
I shook my head. “I’m already going to be late.”
It was tempting to stay in bed with him for a while, but I didn’t want to keep Trish waiting too long. She would never let me hear the end of it. Aidan and I had already had a long night together, so we couldn’t say we hadn’t had any quality time. Plus, I really had to find that gift for my father. Maybe if he liked it well enough he would be too distracted to think about killing Aidan. I could hope, anyway.
“Ready for some coffee?” I asked.
Aidan grimaced. “You may have that all for yourself.”
I sighed. No relationship was perfect, and all attempts to convert him into a coffee drinker had failed. At least it meant there was more for me.
“You have no idea what you’re missing,” I said, pulling away.
Aidan reached up and cupped my cheek. “I know precisely what I’m missing.”
Sometimes I wondered how we resisted being with each other for so many months.
“I love you,” I said, staring into his gaze.
He was quiet for a moment, searching my face. “No matter what happens with your father, Verena, or my own people, remember we are in this together now. It isn’t you or me, it is us, and we must make decisions based on what is best for us in the long-term. Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” I swallowed. Since finding out I was a slayer last summer, I’d felt alone even with my friends around, but Aidan made a point of reminding me every day since I accepted our relationship that I wasn’t on my own anymore. “I understand.”
Reluctantly, he let me go, but the heat of his gaze followed me as I slipped into a pair of yoga pants and a blue tank top. Until it was time to leave the house, I liked wearing something more comfortable. I’d put on my black camrium uniform later—which was what shifters wore since camrium didn’t burn like regular clothes. Dragons, in beast or human form, had super high body temperatures that could burn almost anything given enough time. It only took a few minutes for materials like cotton to start singeing from their touch. The bed and all the furniture in the house had been refitted or replaced so we didn’t have to risk Aidan starting a fire. Camrium was also useful while fighting dragons. It got a little uncomfortable when my regular clothes got burned off, and I had to fight naked.
I headed downstairs and put a pot of water on the stove to heat. While I was at it, I fixed myself a bowl of oatmeal. I tried to limit how often I used the propane burners, knowing my supply was limited to a single tank outside that would eventually run out. It was one of those things I didn’t like to think about too often, though Aidan had promised he’d build us a wood burning stove for cooking as soon as he found time. For now, he spent whatever free hours he had when not doing work for his clan fortifying our house for the winter. We only had the fireplace in the living room for heat, but he was building a stove with an exhaust pipe for the bedroom and sealing off any rooms we didn’t use. He also spent a lot of time cutting firewood, which I tried to not miss supervising since he usually worked with his shirt off.
I carried my breakfast and coffee over to the dining room adjacent to the kitchen, setting everything on the table just as Aidan came downstairs. He’d put on a pair of tight camrium pants, and nothing else. He found the pitcher of fresh water I’d put out for him and poured himself a cup, grabbing some fruit from the bowl on the table as well. We had special utensils and dishes that he’d brought over from the shifter fortress. They were made from zaphiriam—the same black metal with red veins that Aidan used to forge our weapons. It was another material that was capable of being made fire-proof, so it wouldn’t melt if a shifter held it too long. The only reason I could be close to dragons was because slayers were immune to their flames and heat. Humans had to be careful, though.
Aidan pulled back a chair and started to sit down next to me when he froze, his gaze darting to the window. “Someone is out there.”
His hearing was a little better than mine, so I took his word for it. I searched for my sword, finding it in the corner of the dining room where I’d set it after coming downstairs. Maybe it was just a friend stopping by, but maybe it wasn’t. People looking to loot houses were common these days, and my truck being parked outside wouldn’t stop them. I hurried over and grabbed my sword.
“Stay here,” Aidan whispered, heading for the front door.
As if I was going to stand there and do nothing. I moved next to the window, pushing the curtain aside to peek out. The bright sun burned my eyes. I squinted and searched the front lawn, covered in dried, yellow grass and edged by bare trees. About fifty feet away, a dark form stood wrapped in flames. The dragon had landed too close to my home, and he was leaving scorch marks all around him as he shifted into his human body. Dammit, we had a huge field out back where he could have done that. If one more shifter burned my lawn, I was going to set up landmines to teach them a lesson.
As he completed his transition, I made out his face and cursed. No wonder he hadn’t cared about destroying my grass, unlike some other members of Aidan’s family who were more courteous. And of all the visitors who might stop by at this time of day—when dragons were only beginning to rise from their slumber—the large man with a shaved head standing out there wasn’t one I expected. I pulled my sword from its sheath. Sure, I’d vowed not to kill any shifters, but only if they didn’t attack me first. It didn’t hurt to be prepared with this guy.
Aidan walked across the lawn toward his evil brother. “Ruari…what are you doing here?”
He spoke in English instead of the dragon language, which was likely for my benefit since he had to know I was listening. They were just far enough away, though, that I had to lean close to the window and strain to hear them.
“Is that any way to greet your loving brother?” Ruari asked.
“You are not welcome in my lair.”
Ruari had caused a great deal of trouble for Aidan, including preventing him from competing for pendragon a few months ago. His brother had used me as blackmail to do it, threatening to tell everyone that Aidan was working with a slayer. We were lucky the shifter who did become the clan’s leader decided to tolerate our relationship—though it hadn’t been easy to manage that feat.
“The pendragon sent me,” Ruari said, brushing past Aidan. “You cannot deny me entrance as Nanoq’s messenger.”
“Whatever you have to say, you can say out here,” Aidan growled, grabbing his brother’s arm and jerking him to a halt.
Ruari’s yellow eyes blazed, but to my surprise he transformed his features into a calm mask in a matter of seconds. “This is something your mate needs to hear as well.”
That was my cue. Still gripping my sword, I stepped out of the house and met the men in the yard. Aidan gave me a disgruntled look, which I chose to ignore.
“What’s going on, Ruari?” I asked.
He looked me up and down, noting my casual clothing. “Don’t you look soft and helpless without your camrium uniform. I didn’t think you could appear any tinier, but I stand corrected.”
The smug asshole.
“I assure you,” I said, lifting my sword and pointing it at him, “that my size won’t stop me from splitting your gut wide open.” It got old that people underestimated me because I was only five foot four and had a small bone structure. Both of the shifters might stand over a half-foot taller than me and Ruari was easily twice my size, with Aidan a little less than that, but I had a kill rate against dragons no one could deny. The smaller the target, the harder to hit.
Ruari clucked his tongue. “Without that sword, you’d be nothing.”
He hadn’t seen me back when I still had zero control over myself at the sight of dragons. Aidan had tried chaining me to trees, and I’d still managed to break loose to attack using whatever I could grab off the ground. A slayer full of bloodlust could make almost anything into a weapon, including her fingernails. Mine had grown extremely strong since completing my rite of passage and could puncture like daggers if I used them just right.
“Don’t you have a mating festival you need to be at?” I asked, hoping to needle him a bit. “Or are you putting off going because you know there isn’t a female who’d ever come within ten feet of you?”
Ruari’s face twisted. “Are you questioning my prowess?”
Aidan moved between us. “We can save this conversation for another time.” He glanced at his brother. “What is so important Nanoq sent you here?”
Ruari straightened his shoulders, affecting importance. “Two Thamaran dragons attacked on our side of the border late last night.”
I lowered my sword. “What?”
Except for in the early days after dragons first arrived and territories were still being worked out, the Thamaran had not crossed the Interstate 35 dividing line. I might hate them because some of their members killed and ate humans, but they’d always respected the treaty with the shifters and stuck to their land. It had made my life easier because at least I knew the humans in central and east Norman were safe. I only had to patrol the west side of town.
“When did this happen?” Aidan asked, moving to stand next to me.
“They attacked one of our patrols sometime between three and four in the morning, injuring both males severely, and went on to terrorize a neighborhood not far from the border. No humans were killed, but a few were wounded while fleeing,” Ruari answered.
My stomach twisted. “I should have gone on patrol last night.”
“You can’t be out there every minute,” Aidan said sternly. “If you do not take some time to relax, you will lose yourself to slaying, and there will be nothing left of the woman I care for inside.”
“Maybe.” I gripped my sword. “But apparently I’m not out there enough if the Thamaran think they can just cross the border anytime they want now.”
Ruari flicked his gaze between us, settling on Aidan. “There were two of them. Can she even fight two at the same time without assistance?”
I gave him a menacing look and stepped forward. “Would you like a demonstration?”
Aidan gripped my shoulder. “She can handle herself perfectly well.”
“If you say so.” Ruari didn’t appear convinced.
It doesn’t matter what he thinks, I told myself. The more important thing was to find out more about the attack. “How do you know it was two Thamaran dragons?”
“Their scent, and one of the guards was conscious long enough to tell us.”
Aidan took several deep breaths before speaking, “What does the pendragon plan to do about it?”
“He requested that you be at the fortress in two hours. You are to go with him to meet the Thamaran pendragon and discuss the issue.” Ruari turned to me. “For now, he wants you to stay on our side of the border.”
“What? Why?” I asked incredulously. Just because I swore an oath and allied myself with the shifter clan didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to carry out my natural-born duties. If dragons were attacking humans, I had an obligation to strike back.
Aidan gave me a patient look. “As you know, the Thamaran are not ones to break treaties. Before we declare war on them and risk our brethren’s lives, we must first be certain this was a sanctioned attack. We also need to know if it has anything to do with you.”
My jaw dropped. “Why would it have anything to do with me?”
“They may have noticed you are working with us now,” Aidan said, lips thinning. “If that is the case, the attack might be punishment for that.”
“By sending a couple of dragons to hurt people, but not kill anyone?” That didn’t make sense.
“Nanoq has considered that as well. It is possible these were simply two youths acting on a dare,” Ruari said, glancing between Aidan and me. “This is why our leaders must speak with each other before we decide on a course of action.”
“I’m at least going to patrol the border. That much is my right.”
Ruari pointed a finger at me. “By the pendragon’s orders, you will not fight today.”
“I’m a slayer and independent of your clan.” I crossed my arms. “Nothing in our alliance or the vows I’ve made says I can’t protect humans if they need it.”
“And if you happen to see dragons attacking on the Thamaran side?” Aidan asked.
I glanced down at my sword, knowing exactly what I’d do. “I’ll kill them.”
“Not today,” he said, shaking his head.
I gave him a mutinous look. “This is ridiculous! The attack can’t be about me, or they’d have made that point a lot clearer.”
Ruari inhaled deeply. “Even if it isn’t about you, it could become so because you have a shifter’s scent all over you. They will smell it, and this isn’t the time to be aggravating the issue.”
I shrugged. “Then I won’t let any of them live to tell about it.”
Aidan turned me to face him, gripping my shoulders. “Go meet with Trish, and do your shopping as planned—on this side of the border. I’ll make certain Nanoq puts out extra patrols so you’ll be safe, and we’ll find out what really happened. After that, we can act accordingly.”
He knew damned well if I had Trish with me I’d only fight dragons if they attacked us. Otherwise, I would do everything possible to get my pregnant friend to safety. I doubted they’d show up during daylight hours and especially with the extra patrols, though. Their first attack was at a time when shifters were known to already be settling in for the night and only a few roving guards would have been around to catch them. I’d need to head into Thamaran territory if I wanted to find them now, which I’d never do with Trish in tow.
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to stand by and do nothing while those dragons are still out there?” I asked, giving him a pained expression.
Aidan nodded. “I do, but you must promise me you’ll spend the day with Trish. This is about more than you and your need for vengeance—it is about what is best for us. Defying the pendragon will only make our lives more difficult.”
I sighed. Aidan was already using our earlier conversation against me. “Fine. I promise.”
“Good,” Aidan said, straightening. “I will meet you at Earl’s neighborhood later tonight and let you know what I’ve found out.”
“Just let me know when I can kill something.” I headed for the house to change and grab more weapons.