Read an Excerpt
'Honey, I'm home!'
Jonathan landed on the porch of their small town home and edged the door open with a wing claw. The porch opened up on the living room, which doubled as a dining room. He could see Elizabeth in the small kitchen.
'Crap!' She moved toward the smoking oven, furiously twisting dials. 'Crap!'
He slid the door shut behind him, closing out Eveningstar's February chill. 'Dad said you called the cabin. What's up?'
She finally noticed him, but instead of smiling she rolled her eyes. 'It figures. Great timing. I was trying to— '
The smell of burning sugar wrinkled his scaled snout. 'Why are you in the kitchen?'
'Hilarious. I was trying to...I was trying to...' She stomped her foot. 'Dammit, never mind what's in the oven; look on the counter!' She pointed at the kitchen counter with one hand and hid her face with the other.
He circled around the couch and approached the kitchen. There was only one item on the meticulously kept counter. It was white and about the size of a finger, and...
She still wasn't looking at him. 'I thought I'd bake fudge to celebrate.'
'You know I'm allergic to chocolate.'
'Well, you're not the one who's pregnant.' She reached up and flipped the fan on, drowning out the rest of her muttering.
He stared at the small, white pregnancy test. 'This was quick.' His wing claw fluttered back and forth between the two of them. 'I mean, we've only been married— '
'Long enough. I warned you this could happen.'
He felt a thrill of irritation down his tailbones. 'To be fair, I've known all about sex and babies since the third grade.'
'Don't sass me, Scales. Your constant climbing on top of me was bound to screw things up eventually. If you could have found something else to do— say, work, or eat, or breathe— for even a small portion of that time, we might not be facing this.'
Her fear softened him. 'Honey, it's okay. I know we've got lots of bills. All we— '
'I don't mean money! I mean, we wouldn't be facing what we're going to face when...when...' She gestured at her abdomen, and Jonathan was surprised at how easy it was to imagine a new life within. 'When she arrives.'
'She? How do you know— '
'I know my body. We all do. It's part of the discipline.'
'Would that be the same discipline you're showing in blaming me for your pregnancy?'
'That's it. No fudge for you.'
'Again, I'd like to remind you...' He trailed off, because she was crying. 'Honey, I'm having trouble tracking you here.'
'She's going to be a target!' Elizabeth's emerald eyes were wide with dread. 'As soon as people learn she's the child of a dragon and a beaststalker, both sides will come for her!'
'They won't want to hurt her,' Jonathan tried to convince them both at once.
'Even if they don't, they're still going to target her— use her as a symbol, demand she champion their side, destroy the part of her that isn't them.'
Unable to argue the point, he tried to think of a way to calm his wife down. 'Nobody's going to find out about us. Some people know I'm a dragon, and some people know you're a beaststalker, but nobody knows both parts of the truth. Without that— '
'Your father, and Glorianna Seabright.'
He sighed. 'You're impossible when you're like this.'
'You mean when I rip apart your crappy arguments with two examples of reality? Jonathan, what are we going to do?'
He assessed the smoking ruin in the kitchen and came up with a plan. 'We're going to go out to dinner and celebrate. Where do you want to go?'
'We can't go anywhere, not with you like that.' But she snuggled into his wings. 'When the crescent moon's over, let's go to the Seafood Shepherd.'
He immediately regretted his offer. 'The Seafood Shepherd? Aw, honey—'
'The baby wants it. I can tell.'
'Oh, give me a— '
'Tomorrow is Super Seafood Special Sunday.'
'Every Sunday is...look. You realize that's not an actual, observed holiday, right?'
'Shut up and change back, already. I want my cheap shrimp scampi.'
J Minus Six Months
'You didn't get any strawberries?'
'Sweetheart, they're months out of season. The ones at the store don't— '
'I asked you for strawberries! She wants strawberries!'
'I got oranges. They're fresh from— '
'Strawberries!' Elizabeth launched herself from the sofa, raced up to him, and shoved the grocery bags out of his hands. 'They're little! They're red! They're not orange!'
He pivoted and headed back out the door. 'I'll check the store across town.'
Suddenly, she was wrapped around him. 'Drive safe, okay? I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you.' She burst into tears. 'I really don't.'
'Huh.' Jonathan gingerly removed her trembling arms and stepped away. 'I'll— '
She grabbed the back of his neck, kissed him roughly, and glared at him with sparkling emeralds. 'And when you get back, I've got a sexy surprise for you!'
'I can hardly wait,' he assured her, backing down the entryway stairs.
J Minus Four Months
'Honey, where'd you put that ultrasound photo? I want to see it again.'
'It's already in my cedar chest,' came the reply from the loft. The soft clackety-clack of her fingernails on the keyboard didn't slow down. 'With the wedding gown and photo albums.'
He crossed the bedroom and opened the chest.
'The pregnancy test stick is in here.'
Clackety-clack. 'Of course it is!'
'It's on top of my wedding suit.'
'Well, you peed on it.'
'What, on the suit? Don't be— '
'No, the stick!'
Clackety-clack. 'For heaven's sake, Jonathan. I washed it afterward.'
'It's a meaningful keepsake!'
'Which you urinated all over.'
Clackety-clack. 'Did you find the photo or not?'
'I got it.' Jonathan picked it up, but not before delicately (and without touching) shifting the pregnancy test stick off the suit and onto the wedding dress.
'You know, we'll get another photo at today's appointment. You can't wait?'
'No.' He caressed the edges of the photo, taking in the soft blurs that suggested an infant. 'She's beautiful.'
The keyboarding finally paused. 'She's got big shoulder blades.'
Wings, she meant. Jonathan had assured his wife that weredragons were always born human. She kept worrying, anyway.
J Minus One Month
'Are you nuts?!'
'It's not as dangerous as you think. I know several of the staff at Winoka from my residency work.'
'If Glorianna Seabright has told them I'm a dragon— '
'She said she wouldn't. We can trust her.'
'There's a perfectly good hospital here in Eveningstar we know we can trust!'
'You can. I can't. Jonathan, I've made my decision. I'm having the C-section done in Winoka.'
'No way what?'
'No way am I letting you go there.'
Poison-green eyes narrowed. 'Letting me?'
'Th-that's right. I'm putting my foot down. I forbid it.'
'Liz, be reasonable,' he pleaded, resisting the urge to back away. 'You can't trust them.'
'I can. I will. Glory would never harm me.'
'She drew her sword, the last time we saw her.'
'At you. I'll repeat: Glory would never harm me.'
'If you're wrong, I'm not sure how I can protect you. Your due date is during a crescent moon— and that hospital is full of—'
'Glory would never harm me. That's it.'
'This isn't a hormonal thing, is it?' he asked, not entirely without hope. 'You might change your mind tomorrow, right?'
She smiled without humor and sat down to bend over her books again.
J Plus One Day
Even in the safety of their townhome, Jonathan did not dare turn on the lights. What had just happened at Winoka Hospital had horribly shaken both him and Elizabeth. They couldn't discuss it — not today, not soon.
I should never have let her go there.
He watched rain bead down the windows until the rivulets seemed like they would never stop dancing, and then he went back into their bedroom to check on her. Her appearance was enough to make him second-guess his decision to bring her home so soon.
Where else could you take her? She didn't want to go to the hospital in this town, and you sure as hell can't go back to Winoka Hospital...
'Jonathan?' Her voice was rough with exhaustion.
'I thought you were asleep.' He caressed her ankle through the blanket.
'She's fine. She's in the guest room— I mean, her room.' It'll take time to get used to that. Jonathan hoped their daughter would survive long enough for that to happen.
'I'd like to see her.'
'I'll go get her from her crib.' As he reached the door, he paused. 'I'm sorry the ride back was so rough. I know what they did— '
'You were great,' she assured him. 'You were our hero.'
He didn't try to argue with her, in the state she was in. But he knew differently. He knew he had let his wife down. I shouldn't have let her go there, he told himself. No matter how hard she insisted. He had let her down, and they would have to live with the consequences.
Please, he begged whoever could hear as he walked out of the room, help me never fail our daughter, like I've failed Liz. Like I've failed everyone else.