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.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I welcome you to my new Fly by Night Series. While it is a spinoff of Otherworld, this series can be read on its own. I had so much fun exploring the world of Alex and Shimmer in this book, and I am eager to see how this series develops and grows. I hope you have as much fun reading this book as I did writing it, and that you take the characters to heart as much as some of you have taken my other series to heart. Flight from Mayhem, the second book, will be out in July 2016.
The inspiration for the plot came when I was visiting Port Townsend with my husband. A beautiful town tucked away on the Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend is rich with history—and the area is also rich in ghostly lore. As Samwise and I were eating lunch on the beach (the town is situated along the Strait of Juan de Fuca), I suddenly imagined Shimmer diving into the waters off the coast. And when we visited the abandoned military battery there, I could see the area being ripe for a ghost story. So I hope you enjoy Flight from Death, and stick around for Alex and Shimmer’s further adventures.
Next up, this autumn, on October 27, 2015, you’ll get to read Autumn Thorns, the first book in yet another new series I’m writing. In the back of Flight from Death, you’ll find an excerpt of Autumn Thorns, the first book in the Whisper Hollow series, which follows the story of Kerris Fellwater, a spirit shaman who attempts to put the dead to rest. Kerris returns to her hometown of Whisper Hollow, Washington, after her grandparents die and leave her their home. Located near Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula, Whisper Hollow is a town where spirits walk among the living and the lake never gives up her dead. And not only do monsters hide in the shadows, but so do secrets of the heart, and love can be as dangerous as anything else that lurks in the dark.
In February 2016, we’ll return to Otherworld with Darkness Raging—book eighteen of the Otherworld Series.
For those of you new to my books, I hope you enjoy your first foray into my worlds. For those of you who have followed me for a while, I want to thank you for taking a chance on my new series. Check my website, galenorn.com, for information on my newsletter, short stories, release info, and links to where you can find me on the Web.
The Painted Panther
“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.
“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. E-mail 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.
By the time I headed home it was six in the morning and the majority of Seattleites were just beginning their day. Because Alex was a vampire, we worked nights. Luckily, since I was a dragon, I didn’t need as much sleep as humans and so I would stay up till around two thirty to run errands and get my shopping done, then sleep until seven, and arrive at work by eight thirty.
When the Wing-Liege had carted me off to Seattle, he’d provided me with enough Earthside cash to set myself up for the first year. I was able to buy a small house—albeit in a ghost-ridden district that still creeped me out. But my home was a comfortable two-story bungalow that had been built in 1938, and the lot was filled with indigenous plants. Over the months, I’d managed to cut back most of the tangle and now I had a tidy lawn, an arbor draping with moss roses, and knee-high ferns that gave my home a wild feel while still appearing cultivated. A trellised archway straddled the sidewalk up to my house, and I had pruned back the honeysuckle draping over it, so it was still thick but not quite so aggressive.
I’d also installed a security system after an old enemy of Alex’s had kidnapped me a couple months ago. Alex promised that Julian wouldn’t come looking for me again—he was too smart to try the same thing twice—but I wasn’t so sure. Hence, security codes on my doors and windows, and Ralph had encrypted my computer to make it difficult for anybody to hack in.
As I unlocked the front door and punched in the code, I inhaled a long breath and let it out slowly. There was something that felt reassuring about coming home. I had never felt this way in the Dragon Reaches. I’d never had a home there.
I stopped by the giant aquarium I had installed across one wall—it covered two thirds of the space and gave me the feeling of living in a virtual ocean. My biggest concern had been making sure that all the fish I bought for it got along and wouldn’t eat each other. Glancing around the room, I smiled softly. The tangle of plants gave life to my home, and the colors were soothing. When I shut the door behind me, it felt as though I’d left the city behind. I wasn’t used to the crowds and the noise, and the feeling of being cooped up in a concrete cage still jarred me.
Dropping my purse, I picked up a bowl of popcorn I’d left on the coffee table the morning before. I’d been watching a TV series on Rentbox, trying to puzzle out relationships in this realm. Hell, I didn’t even understand them very well among my own people. But Sex and the City wasn’t helping a whole lot, other than reaffirm my notion that humans were far too hung up on who was sleeping with whom. Jealousy and possessiveness were well known in the Dragon Reaches, but more over things than partners.
As I nibbled on the kernels, I looked around the room. The walls were pale blue, with cream trim. All my furniture was in shades of gray, white, and periwinkle, and a painting of a storm crashing against the backdrop of ocean waves hung over my desk. My sanctuary was serene, and secure . . . and lonely.
With a sigh, I dropped to the sofa. “I never needed anybody before. I don’t know why I should feel lonely here.” Talking to the fish wasn’t all that productive, but on the plus side, they never argued back and all they asked for was a clean tank and food. Setting the bowl aside, I leaned forward and rested my elbows on my knees. I glanced at the tank. The jellyfish was giving me an accusatory look.
“I don’t know how to make friends, okay? I’ve never had a friend—well, other than Chai, but I haven’t seen him for a long time. I can talk to Bette because she’s a great broad and she doesn’t judge me, but I’ve never done the gal-pal thing. And until now, men have just been something to toy with. And you and I both saw just how well Carter worked out.”
For a little while, after I arrived, I’d dated Carter—a half-Demon, half-Titan who ran the Demonica Vacana Society. His job was to chart the levels of demonic activity over Earthside. I knew enough about him to know that I wasn’t cut out for his level of play. We stayed friends, but only because we had nixed the relationship.
Coolray wiggled a tentacle. I waved back. Even when I was in human form, sea creatures and fish recognized me as part of their world. They may not always have much in the way of the brains department going on, but the familiarity was there.
“As for Alex . . . I have no idea what to do about Alex. Should I give it a try? What if it goes bad? I’ll have to spend five years coping with the results of a mistake. What then?”
The jellyfish paused, then, apparently bored with the conversation, burbled away.
“Not much help are you, you little goober?” I laughed, forcing myself to think about something else. As I debated on whether to do laundry, pack for the trip to Port Townsend, or watch a movie, the doorbell rang. As I opened the door, a whiff of lilac perfume hit me.
“Hey girl, what’s going on? I thought I’d drop by after work and see how you were doing.” Stacy was the one human friend I had made outside of work. And she was all human, with coffee-brown skin that glowed under the soft light. She had short hair, braided against her head, and she was wearing a pair of indigo-wash jeans and a white button-down shirt. I first met her when I started eating at Marion Vespa’s Supe-Urban Café. They had been full up, so we had agreed to share a table.
Stacy worked as a security guard at a local nightclub. After her shift there, she pulled another shift—though shorter—at an all-night coffee shop. She was doing her best to keep her little brother afloat while he was in college, and to help out her mother, who was disabled. She also took weekend courses and was on her way to becoming a legal aide.
I motioned for her to come in. “Thank gods you’re here. I was talking to Coolray again.”
Stacy snorted. She never said a word about me naming my fish, including the jellies. Or talking to them. She also knew I was a dragon. I’d reluctantly told her, but she had been more delighted than anything else. And most important, she knew how to keep secrets.
“Yeah, well, just watch it if he starts answering back.” She made herself at home on the sofa and leaned back with a long sigh. “The club was packed, and so was the coffee shop. I’m so freaking tired.”
Grateful for the company, I retrieved a couple sodas from the refrigerator. “Drink. Relax. I was just about to forage for dinner,” I called out from the kitchen. I rummaged around and found the leftover bucket of fried chicken and a package of cheddar cheese that I’d bought the day before. Carting everything into the living room, along with a pack of napkins and a couple of plates, I spread out dinner on the coffee table.
Stacy took a long hit off the soda. She let out another sigh, this time one of relief, and accepted the plate of chicken and cheese I gave her.
“You like your meat and dairy, don’t you, girl?”
I grinned. “I’m a dragon. What do you expect? Just be grateful it’s cooked and not still on the hoof.” While I’d developed a taste for some sweets, my dragon instincts were still in full force.
“So, how’s it going?” She gave me a long look. “Alex treating you right?” Stacy didn’t like vampires very much, and while Alex was a good sort, she steered clear of visiting me at the office.
“It goes. And yes, Alex is fine.” I thought about telling her what had happened but then decided to wait. She wasn’t exactly thrilled about my secret crush on him—which I had mentioned from time to time. Now that he was free of Glenda, I had the feeling Stacy would be a lot less lenient. As I said, she didn’t care for vampires.
She gave me a long look and shook her head. “I don’t think so. Girl, you look like the cat that ate the canary. What gives?”
I swallowed a piece of breading off a drumstick, then shrugged. “No, really. Pretty much the same old, same old . . . But I do have a question for you. Do you know anything about Port Townsend? Regarding ghosts, to be exact.” At that moment, I realized I’d forgotten to look up the specifics on the ferry, but I figured I could do that later. What more could we need than a time schedule?
Stacy blinked. “Port Townsend? Why? It’s a beautiful town, but freaky. A lot of spooks up there, for sure. And ocean.” She motioned to the aquarium. “The town sits on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you know. Makes your aquarium look like a kiddie pool.” She paused. “You’ll be near the water. You can always go out, take a long dip in the strait.”
I curled up on the sofa with my food and soda. “That sounds wonderful. It’s been too long since I’ve shifted into my dragon form.”
Closing my eyes, I could see the huge expanse of water. The roll of the waves, the pull of the currents. The spray of salt water and brine . . .
I drifted in memories of immersing myself so deep in the water that the light disappeared and all that I could see were the bioluminescent shrimp and jellies and other creatures so strange that no human had ever before seen them. The pressure of the depths was incredible—like the weight of the world pressing down on my shoulders. But blue dragons were built to handle it—at least in our natural form. The water, the depths, were an integral part to our lives. With a sudden pang, I realized how thirsty I was to dive deep again, to go swirling in the mad dance of waves and whales and dolphins that always came out to play. It had been far too long.
“Shimmer . . . Shimmer?” Stacy’s voice echoed through my thoughts, and I shook myself out of the memories. “Where did you just go, sugar? You were really out there somewhere.”
I blinked, glancing at the clock on the wall. It had been almost five minutes. “Sorry . . . I guess I really do need to be in the water. While I’m up there, I’ll spend some time during the early morning out in the depths.” I caught my breath, missing the oceans of the Dragon Reaches.
She poked at her chicken thigh. “Tell me what it’s like. Tell me about your home. I can see it in your eyes, Shimmer. I can see how much you miss it.” Glancing up, she smiled softly.
“You really want to hear?” I hadn’t spoken to anybody about my home since I’d been here, no more than to say I came from the Dragon Reaches.
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to hear.” She cocked her head to the side. “I don’t know much about the Dragonkin, so take it slow.”
I wasn’t used to this—I wasn’t used to trusting people. I didn’t even know if what I felt was trust, but Stacy was safe. I knew that on a gut level. I could feel it emanating from her, in her words, her manner, the smile in her eyes. “The Dragon Reaches are at the top of the world. They’re among the highest climes. We live where the air is thin, and the clouds roll below the tall peaks. It’s always cold there—at least for humans it would be.”
She slid her plate onto the coffee table, sitting up. “Like Everest?”
I pulled off my boots and tossed them to the side, then sat cross-legged on the sofa. “Not exactly. There are lakes and marshes up there, rocky crags, and oceans. My kind live in the water, most of the time. We make our dreyeries there.”
Stacy frowned. “What’s a dreyerie?”
“A dragon nest. Like a lair. Dreyeries are our homes. Silvers, whites, gold dragons—they mostly live in the tall peaks. Red dragons live in the lower elevations, where it’s warmer. Shadow dragons live in the Netherworld—they’re also known as black dragons. Green dragons live in the temperate areas . . . and we blue dragons? We live in the oceans.” I watched her closely.
She frowned. “You don’t intermingle much, do you? I get the feeling . . .”
I shook my head. “You’re right. There’s a strong caste system among my kind. Silver dragons are at the top of the food chain, and then gold. Silver dragons rule the Dragon Reaches. If you’re half-breed, you belong to the higher class of your parentage. What matters most is your lineage. You cannot escape your family heritage. You can marry out of it, but you can’t leave it behind.” I stopped as a wave of anger welled up to catch me by surprise. I hadn’t felt this upset since I’d come Earthside, and now the emotion was an unwelcome visitor.
“Shimmer, your eyes are glowing. I mean really, really glowing.” Stacy slowly unfolded herself from the chair, and I realized she was frightened.
I tried to get hold of my temper. At the Lost and Foundling, where I grew up, they’d taught us hard lessons on controlling our emotions. We were wing-strapped when we overstepped the boundaries and harshly punished for any infractions, which is probably why my temper had such a quick wick now. Add to that, blues were the most volatile breed, highly moody and emotional, and I was no exception. But Stacy had done nothing to warrant my throwing a temper tantrum.
I let out a shaky breath, once . . . twice . . . then a third time. As the glow in my eyes faded—I could feel it subside—I hung my head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. The fact is, I don’t talk about the Dragon Reaches much because of the way I was treated there.” Stacy knew that I had been sent here to work with Alex, but I’d never exactly told her why.
“What happened to you, Shimmer? What happened to you that sent you Earthside?” She leaned forward. I realized she was genuinely interested—she wasn’t just being nosy.
I held her gaze, for once not looking away. “What I haven’t told you is that I have no standing in the Dragon Reaches. I was an orphan, washed up on the shores . . . I have no place, no caste, I don’t even have a name. I don’t really even exist there.”
• • •
As the huge contraption trapped my wings, spreading them out so I was unable to fly, unable to even move, it pressed me flat on my belly. The Wing-Liege was on the dais above, in his dragon form, while the guards—who had shifted—tightened the screws on the Strap. One of them leaned down near my ear and laughed.
“No name. No family. No class. You’re a pariah . . . you have no standing. You don’t even exist. When the Wing-Liege gets done with you, you’ll wish you’d never been born.” His voice was harsh, guttural, and I realized that he was enjoying himself. I struggled again, but with every move, the Strap made my wing muscles shriek, pain lancing through me. I screamed, my voice hoarse from the beatings the guards had given me when they’d hauled me into custody. As I geared myself up for another round of punishment, a voice broke through the haze of pain.
“Stop. Remove the Strap.” The Wing-Liege’s voice was gruff, but soft.
Amid whispered questions, the Strap was removed and I fell forward, exhausted. Confused, I found myself shifting into my human form. I was naked, save for the tattoo that adorned my body. The blue dragon started at my waist, its tail curling near my hip, and worked its way around my right side, surrounded by waves. The head came coiling down my right arm, with more ocean waves on either side. It was the one thing they couldn’t take away from me—and it would always remind me of who I was.
“Bring her to my office.” Again, the softly spoken command, and the unquestioning obedience. As I stumbled forward, aching in every muscle, I wondered what could be worse than the Strap, and so very afraid that I was about to find out.
Once there, Lord Vine motioned for me to put on a robe that was hanging over the chair. I slid into the white silk, wrapping it around me, wincing as blood from the cuts on my back soaked through. Wing-strapping left marks, it left scars that never went away even when we were in human form.
“Shimmer . . . you have to tell me the truth. Why did you do it? Greanfyr isn’t going to let this rest. Even if you are imprisoned here, he’ll come for you and find a way to destroy you.” The impenetrable gaze of the Wing-Liege held me fast, and I couldn’t look away. He was third in line to the Emperor and Empress, in terms of law and rule, and he had the charisma to prove it.
I didn’t want to answer. I wanted to just let them think I’d been stupid. But the realization that Greanfyr’s clan would come after me no matter what slowly sank in. Finally, I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Greanfyr’s son . . . Slap-Happy—I don’t know his society name. He and a few of his friends caught me near the shore. They . . .” I stared at the table.
“Did they rape you, girl?” The Wing-Liege shifted uncomfortably, and I knew exactly why. Dragons that were outcaste, or without caste, had very few legal rights.
“No, they did not. They talked about it, but decided I was too . . . unclean for that. But they humiliated me. They forced me to strip and parade around in front of them naked. They made me wait on them, crawling on my hands and knees. They treated me like a trained bear—like I was . . . their property. I may not have status in this realm, but I am no one’s slave!”
The memory of Slap-Happy laughing as he made me do tricks like a carnival animal reverberated through my thoughts, and I suddenly leaned over the side of the chair, dry heaves racking my system. As the cramps eased, I was able to sit up again. The Wing-Liege was waiting patiently. I held his gaze, even though by law, it was against the rules. I should have looked down, but at this point I no longer cared what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
He must have seen the pain, because he held up one hand. “Stop. I think I understand. So . . . because you had no other recourse, you chose to retaliate by stealing from them?”
I scuffed my foot against the floor. In truth, I’d intended to set up a few booby-traps, to hurt them if I could. Greanfyr was no better than his son. The whole lot of them were corrupt and vile. But I was smart enough to shrug and nod.
“Yeah, I guess that was the idea.”
The Wing-Liege nodded, then pushed to his feet. “I think I know everything I need to.” He motioned for the guards to enter. “Take her back to her cell. Make certain she has food and access to a bath and clean clothes. Tend to her wounds.”
And with that, he gave me a long look, then left the room.
• • •
“Oh my God. Shimmer, that’s horrible. They strung you up like that for stealing? After you’d been tormented by those . . . I was about to call them boys, but that doesn’t seem right.” She searched my face, a look of pain in her eyes.
“Close enough. And, Stacy, you have to understand. In the Dragon Reaches, I have no standing. It’s a harsh place. What I did? Stealing from my betters? I could have lost a hand. Or my life. Blue dragons may be higher ranked than white dragons, but since I’m an orphan and have no name, no lineage . . . I’m outcaste. I’m lower than dirt, regardless of my breed.” The words hurt, but they were true and I had been long taught to admit my failings.
Stacy shook her head, the pain replaced with anger. She let out a sound that I’m pretty sure wasn’t complimentary. “We have words for that here. Bigotry and discrimination.”
I shrugged. “It’s a dragon thing, and it has been that way since the beginning. My people aren’t going to change. I either agree and fit in the best I can, or . . . I do what I did and go against them. I pushed the envelope so many times it’s amazing I wasn’t caught before now. But I never hurt anybody—not anybody who wasn’t trying to hurt me.” I’d been in my share of strafing fights, but nobody had ever died, and I hadn’t started any of them.
Stacy stood up and reached down to take my hand. “Up. On your feet. Get your coat.”
“What? Where are we going?”
“We’re going out. We’re going to go out to eat a proper breakfast. Then we’ll go down to the docks and watch the water. I’m prying you out of this mire before you fall in too deeply. And while we’re out, we’ll grab a map of the peninsula so you have some idea of where you’re going.”
And just like that, I shook out of my thoughts and focused on the day.
• • •
Stacy left to go home and sleep after we ate breakfast, went shopping, and then stopped for coffee. I decided to stick around the Mug ’n Brew—a Supe-oriented coffee shop—for a while.
She waved good-bye as she headed for the door. “Catch you later, and . . . Shimmer? Don’t dwell. Please? It’s not worth your energy. Over here, you can be just about anything you want, regardless of where you started out.”
I smiled at her. “You’re right. I’ll call you when I get back from Port Townsend.”
Stacy knew how to get in there and shake things up, all right. The woman was all business and no nonsense. If she said we were going to have fun, by gods, we’d have fun. And if we were going to get something done—it got done. In fact, she kind of intimidated me, especially for a human.
Dragons didn’t usually bother with humans. Now, living among them, I was being forced to confront my own prejudices. Respect was harder to give when you could shift into a giant creature and squash just about anybody you wanted . . . but I knew what it was to be at the mercy of others.
And, when I’d been ejected from the Dragon Reaches, the Wing-Liege had pared down my powers to a minimal amount. Now I could only shift when I was in water—the source of my power and strength. Otherwise, I was stuck in human form, even though I had superhuman strength and faster-than-average speed. I still had some of my magical abilities, though not all, and the heightened awareness of emotions was innate—nothing could take that away.
After Stacy left, I gathered my packages and headed home. I needed to clean house before I left. I’d rigged an automated fish feeder, so that was one worry off my list. And Stacy had said she’d come in to check on the house and the fish a couple times while I was gone. But I still needed to tidy up, vacuum, and clear out the refrigerator.
As I was putting away the tea I’d bought—one of the delightful surprises I’d discovered when I came over Earthside was herbal tea blends—I heard a noise. It sounded like wood scraping on wood. Frowning, I turned around to discover that one of the cupboard doors I’d closed had come open again. The latch must be loose. Or had I really remembered to close it?
I softly pushed it closed, making sure the latch caught, then turned back to the fridge. I pulled three containers of leftovers out and set them on the counter. I could finish them off for dinner. They’d just go bad if I left them while I was gone. Using a damp sponge, I quickly wiped up one small mess on the corner of a shelf and then straightened up just as the scraping sound caught my attention again.
Turning around, I saw the cupboard door was open again. As I walked toward it, the door slammed shut and I heard a low laugh. I never thought I’d hear that voice again and I didn’t know whether to laugh or be pissed . . . or both.
“Cripes. Chai, stop it. You just scared the hell out of me.”
The laughter stopped, and a waver in the air told me where he was.
“Show yourself. Come on out.”
Very slowly, almost like a game of peek-a-boo, a figure shimmered into view. He was tall, very tall. Seven feet at least. His skin was golden and he had eyes the color of sea foam. Broad shouldered and bare-chested, Chai was gorgeous. I raced over to him, throwing myself in his arms as he hugged me tight.
“Shimmer! Little Sister! I’ve been looking high and low for you.” He brushed my forehead with a kiss. “Finally, someone on the Western Shore told me that you’d been expelled over Earthside by the Wing-Liege. I don’t need to tell you how hard it was to track you down.”
Laughing—seeing him made all my troubles melt away—I playfully slapped his arm.
“Trust me, Chai, that’s a good thing. The harder it is to track me down, the safer I am.” If Chai had trouble finding me, then it meant that Greanfyr and his clan would have an equally difficult time. And the harder I was to find, the safer I was.
He pushed me back by my shoulders. “Girl, what a mess you got yourself into. If you needed money, why didn’t you just come to me?”
I shrugged, not wanting to spoil the mood with the story of why I had really broken into the white dragons’ dreyerie.
“What can I say? You know me. Now sit down and tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself.” I pushed him over to the kitchen table. My house had an eat-in kitchen nook, as well as a formal dining room, and I’d decked it out in a blue and white theme that reminded me of the water. The walls of the kitchen were the color of pale morning sky, just before the sun peeks over the horizon. The fact that a djinn was hanging out in my kitchen seemed delightfully surreal to me. The fact that I even had a kitchen seemed surreal.
“All right, all right. Don’t get pushy, Little Sister!”
Chai and I had met when I was first released from the Lost and Foundling—the orphanage for abandoned dragonettes. The owners brought us up rough and harsh, to steel ourselves for our adulthood. Not every orphan survived the ordeal. We weren’t exactly abused, but there were no vacations or holidays and not much playtime involved. I had learned early on just where I stood in the world.
When I left the orphanage, I’d headed out for the Western Shores, intending to track down information on my heritage. Family meant everything to me at that point. Instead, I had found Chai, sunning himself on a rock. We’d struck up a conversation, and somehow, in the twisted way of the world, we’d become close friends. Djinns were tricky and you could never truly trust them one hundred percent. But in the scheme of things? Chai was the best friend I had.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Flight From Death by Yasmine Galenorn is the first full-length Fly By Night Novel, and its wonderful! I love the emerging relationships with Shimmer and her new friends, and her growth into her new life Earthside. I cannot wait to see more of her stories!
Wonderful details and intriguing characters. I can't wait until the next book!
NUMBER OF HEARTS: 3 REVIEW: Flight from Death is the first book in Ms. Galenorn’s new Fly by Night series. As I started this book I knew that this was a spin off from her Otherworld series (sadly I have not got catch up on this series). I wondered if I would be lost in this new world. I was not. Ms. Galenorn does a great job of bring us up to speed quickly on the world she has created. I think were it would have been beneficial (for me) was to see Alex and Shimmer before this book. They have some kind of history. I think that history, while retold a little in Flight from Death, would have helped understand Alex and Shimmer’s attraction to each other just a little better. I felt like in Flight from Death that it went from “oh he is cute, but has a girlfriend” to “oh the broke up, must jump at this chance”. Now don’t get me wrong I loved Alex and Shimmer I just wish that there was just a tad bit more build up (hence knowing their history in the other books). But that being said, Flight from Death was a good book. I enjoyed the story line and the what’s and why’s. I love that Shimmer is a dragon. Not enough female dragon shifters everywhere. If you are a Yasmine Galenorn fan you will love this book. If you are new to Ms. Galenorn I hope that you will give Flight from Death a try. Favorite line: “..... Say, I’m hungry. Patrick have anything good in the house? I could eat a horse.” Alex glanced at me, grinning “Have you ever? Eaten a horse?” I blushed. Truth was, I had........... Awe, gotta love dragons. Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley & PENGUIN GROUP Berkley, NAL / Signet Romance, DAW in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review.