Dragon Prince excerpt
Please, please, please let the plasma center still be open when I get there.
I swirled the dregs out of a French press and washed the glass container with care. I was in a hurry to get to the center, but I also needed this job, so cutting corners wasn’t an option.
With its meditation music playing on a loop and prayer flags hanging from the ceiling, The Mystic Bean gave the impression of an über relaxed workplace, a place where the employees might light up a joint on their break. It was all a façade, the manager didn’t take any guff. I only hoped that the shop would remain empty until Alan got back from break. Having to help customers would slow me down.
“Why do you look so glum, Violet? Isn’t it your weekend? From both gigs, right?”
Llewellyn, my eclectic Wiccan co-worker, whose real name was Rachel, wrapped her arm around my shoulder. “You must have some hot plans!”
Her positioning made washing dishes more difficult, but I didn’t complain. Llewellyn was a friend and the reason I’d landed this job.
“Nope, nothing happening.”
Except for donating as much plasma as they’d suck from me, and racing to St. Francis’ Assisted Living Home to pay a bill. But after those errands, I really didn’t have anything lined up for my days off. Making plans often meant spending money, and even with two jobs, I couldn’t afford to do anything.
“Except for going to the library,” I invented an activity on the spot to make her happy.
She thought I didn’t get out enough, which was true. But money problems aside, I’d rather stay in anyhow. Not because I was an antisocial hermit—I enjoyed people’s company most of the time—but drowning out their inner voices in my head often exhausted me. Especially when the voices always seemed to belong to the biggest weirdos. People who, given my family history, I didn’t want to associate with.
“Oh good, the library. For a second, I worried that you’d waste your most formative, experimental years doing something boring like smoking pot and overindulging in tacos or backpacking through Europe with five bucks in your pocket.”
My friend rolled her eyes and brushed her long, silver hair, which had been artfully highlighted with copper, over her shoulder.
“I like your new dye job. It’s unique,” I said.
For a brief two-day period, she’d gone back to her natural brown color, which had been odd. I preferred the brighter look.
“Thanks. It’s more me.” She wagged her finger at me. “But don’t think you can change the subject like that and get away with it.”
I grinned sheepishly. It had been worth a try.
“You know you can join our coven circle, right? You might find it interesting.” She narrowed her eyes as if she was peering into my soul. “I sense some witchy vibes from you.”
Llewellyn had invited me to the circle at least a dozen times. I’d always declined precisely for the reason that she stated. I knew that I was different, but unlike Llewellyn, I didn’t want anyone else knowing.
Because being too different got people locked in a padded room.
She sighed. “Whatever. Enjoy the library. But if you want to have some real fun, hit me up. This weekend, we’re going to try to contact a different world. Ganon says that the stars are aligned, and another realm is close, so we might be able to peek beyond the veil.”
I stifled a groan. Ganon, Llewellyn’s boyfriend, was such a tool. His presence was yet another reason not to go.
Llewellyn didn’t notice my disdain and kept chattering about other realms. I mostly tuned it out, intent on finishing my closing duties and getting out of there. But when she paused in her speech, I met her eyes to see if she expected me to answer. She tilted her head as if she’d had a deep thought.
“I hope they can understand us if we break through the veil. If they can’t, I guess we can always fall back on body language. I should call Ganon and see if he’s considered that.” She whipped around and strode to the back office to get witchy business done.
I released an exhale. Sometimes when Llewellyn started talking, she didn’t stop for hours. I’d gotten off easy.
Finishing the dishes, I grabbed a rag to wipe down the counters. Alan should be back any minute, and then I could leave work.
I’d conquered half the barista counter space when the bell on the front door rang. A funny sensation came over me, and I glanced up. My breath hitched, and the rag fell from my hand as a guy swaggered into the shop.
With his defined, square jaw, thick black hair, perfect aquiline nose, and gorgeous brown eyes that seemed to blaze with a hint of cabernet red, he immediately intimidated me. By the way he walked and radiated power, you’d think he owned the place. And that wasn’t even taking into account all the muscles. His freaking muscles had muscles. Putting aside the distracting, massive, crimson purse he wore, he was easily the hottest guy I’d ever seen. Which was why every other time he’d come in, I’d dashed into the backroom.
This time, however, I was the only one in the shop to help him. And unfortunately, he’d already caught me staring. My insides twisted, and I averted my eyes. The espresso machine officially became the most interesting thing I’d ever seen, but I could still feel his gaze burning through me. Demanding my attention.
All the nerves running through me made me drop the mental barriers that I kept up around my mind. The moment they fell, a voice emerged in my head.
Is the human just going to stand there? Or come and take my order?
My spine stiffened.What the hell? The human?!
I scanned the room for any aliens or animals that I might have suddenly developed the ability to hear.
Nope. Only the hot guy stood in front of me. Another man who resembled a weasel was coming in the door, but I couldn’t have heard him from that far away.
Maybe the human doesn’t see me?
Hot Guy waved his arm, and my mouth dropped open.
Holy crap. I’d heard Hot Guy. And he thought he was something other than human.
My eyes darted to the murse. I should have seen it coming. After all, I only heard weirdos.
“Hello?!” Hot Guy asked, as if I hadn’t seen him wave like he was trying to guide an airplane onto the tarmac.
I hurriedly reassembled my mental barriers.
“Um, hi. Sorry. I had a brain fart.”
Hot Guy’s perfect features twisted into an expression that made me wonder if I had accidentally said that I ate my poo.
“Errr, anyway.” I shuffled up to the register. “What can I get you?”
Hot Guy glanced at the menu, which was comical given his history. For the past week, he’d ordered the same thing every day. My co-workers commented on it each time because the order was so precise and bizarre.
A moment later, his eyes met mine, and I suppressed a shiver.
“A sandwich with ten pieces of roast beef, ten pieces of cheese, and hot sauce coating both sides of the bread. NO vegetables. And a mocha with a teaspoon of cinnamon.”
“Coming right up,” I said as if it wasn’t weird that he wanted a disgusting amount of meat and cheese. And so much cinnamon! What was he trying to do, anyway? Blast his taste buds off with spice?
“That’ll be nine bucks.”
Hot Guy nodded and twisted so that I could barely see his bag. He shuffled items around and cast a furtive glance in my direction. After a few moments of searching, he extracted a bill and handed it over.
That’s when I noticed his tattoos. His right arm bore a line of them. Done in bright blue ink, they reminded me of Nordic runes that I’d seen in a book Llewellyn had shown me. My gaze shifted to his left arm. Tattoos were there too but done in a totally different style. A blue dragon had been drawn closest to his wrist, and a human, centaur, gryphon, and giant spider appeared as my gaze traveled toward his elbow. Each creature morphed into the next seamlessly, like on a totem pole.
They were the most unique tattoos I’d ever seen, which said a lot, considering my place of employment.
“This is enough, right?” Hot Guy grunted.
I blinked. He was still holding out the bill and waiting for me to take it. It was a fifty. Obviously more than enough for his sandwich and mocha.
He must be foreign.
“Yeah, plenty,” I said, taking the bill and handing him back the change, which he stuffed into his bag.
“Interesting murse,” I said. “Most dudes I see go for a neutral shade, but the bold color suits you.”
Even though I thought the murse was funny, it was true. Red suited him. Then again, I doubted that any hue would look bad on Hot Guy.
He grabbed the bag as if I’d threatened to steal it, and the items inside clinked.
I tilted my head.
“Whatcha hiding in that thing? Barbells?”
“Murse?” Hot Guy retorted as he held onto the bag for dear life.
“Yeah, man-purse. Murse. They’re all the rage among hipsters nowadays.”
“This is not a purse. It’s a satchel.”
I bit my lip. “Which is another word for a big purse.”
His frown deepened.
“Errr . . . I’ll have your coffee right out. The sandwich will be a few more minutes.”
Hot Guy scowled and marched off without tipping.
My cheeks warmed.Note to self, don’t make fun of a dude’s murse.
I fulfilled the next guy’s order—a black cup of joe—and set to work making the sandwich and mocha. When the order was ready, I called it out and scurried away. I didn’t want to risk actually having to talk to Hot Guy again.
He took his food to a table, where he proceeded to eat slowly. The other dude seemed content to stare out the window, so I resumed cleaning the café. Every so often, Hot Guy looked up and scowled at me, obviously still salty about my comment.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Finally, after what felt like a year, Alan returned from his break. I filled him in on what I’d done and had just removed my apron when Hot Guy stood, patted down his precious murse, and headed for the door.
I breathed a sigh of relief and released my barriers. When Alan and I worked together, I didn’t need them. He wasn’t among the odd sorts that I could hear. Heck, I probably didn’t need them with Llewellyn either, but I kept them up as a precaution because she was a Wiccan. Who knew when she’d cast a spell that might make her aware of my ability? If that happened, I’d have a crapload of explaining to do, and I preferred to keep my secret.
I waited behind the counter to give Hot Guy a few minutes so he wouldn’t think I was following him.
The dude who had come in right after him shot up out of his seat and rushed out the door, too.
Can’t lose him like that idiot Sven did.
I jumped. Well, crap. Was Hot Guy still outside? The voice had sounded a little more high-pitched. But maybe he was just frustrated? I walked to the door and glanced out the window to check.
Hot Guy was striding north down the sidewalk, out of my range. Weasel Face headed in the same direction and looked to be in a rush. I shook my head, unsure what was happening with my ability. I was about to write the whole afternoon off as one strange mess when I noticed Hot Guy cross to the other side of the street. Weasel Face did, too. Not five seconds later, Hot Guy crossed the street again, back to the original side. Apparently, he was lost.
The other guy followed. When Hot Guy stopped, Weasel Face stopped. And then he hid behind a trash can.
My eyebrows knitted together, and I instinctively glanced at the table that Weasel Face had occupied. His cup of coffee stared up at me, untouched.
I sucked in a breath as I realized that the second voice had been Weasel Face, the man who’d entered the shop right after Hot Guy.
And judging by how strangely he was acting right now, I was pretty sure of one thing. Weasel Face was following Hot Guy.