Mark of the Dragon
by JW Troemner
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
Rosario Hernandez doesn’t ask for much. She’d like to sleep on a bed instead of a sidewalk, to know where her next meal is coming from, and maybe, if she’s really feeling optimistic, to get a girlfriend. More than anything, though, she wants her best friend Arkay to not murder anyone— because Arkay is a dragon, claws and all, and she has a penchant for vigilante justice. When Arkay’s latest escapade goes sour, Rosario gets stuck with a stolen van and a cooler full of human organs. Now they’re on the run, and it’s not just the cops who want answers. The owner of the cooler is still out there, and they want to replace what they’ve lost— by any means necessary.
Occult ‘R’ Us:
The room was lined with dozens, maybe hundreds, of unlit candles in shades of white and red and black. The line of candles only stopped at a bookshelf full of old, leather-bound tomes and even older-looking brass weapons. An iron circle had been pounded into the concrete floor, which had been liberally smeared with rust-brown stains. The far wall was shiny and steel with a big door that looked like a walk-in refrigerator, the kind you’d find in a restaurant kitchen.
Arkay had apparently ignored Occult ‘R’ Us entirely, except to stack the old books under a window and try to pry open the glass with a rune-covered dagger. “Think you can fit?”
“I’ll suck it in,” I said.
“Then give me just a minute. I’ve almost got it.”
So during that minute, I did The Thing. You know, that one thing you usually see people in horror movies doing. The one that makes you facepalm and shake your head at the sheer stupidity.
Because Arkay was busy with the window, and Matheson and his goons were scratching at the door with what sounded like a screwdriver, and I had nothing else occupying my time or my mind.
Nothing but that giant freakin’ door in the shiny metal wall, just begging to be opened.
Three guesses what I did.
* * *
Hello Nikolina, and thank you for giving me the chance to be here today.
This week I thought I’d share an alternate opening to the second book in the series, Shadow and Steel. We meet a new character named Adam, who gives Rosario a new perspective on the supernatural. In the final draft, he comes onto the scene in the middle of a tense situation, but that wasn’t always the way we were introduced to him.
* * *
“Is this seat taken?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer before a complete stranger sat down in front of me. White, muscular, chiseled jaw, blonde hair in a military-style crew cut. He looked like he was in his late teens, early twenties— younger than me, at least. Young enough to be ROTC, but his eyes said something different.
Didn’t change the fact that the coffee shop was almost entirely empty, and he still decided to sit next to me.
“Listen,” I said, putting down my coffee cup. “I appreciate what you’ve done for this country and all, so I’m trying to say this with the utmost respect: no thank you. I’m not interested in men. No, ‘being with the right man’ won’t change that. No, you aren’t invited to anything I do in my personal time. No, being Latina does not make me any more ‘spicy’ than anyone else in this building. And any disrespectful remarks can be taken up with my department of complaints, who I have on speed dial.” I pulled out my phone for emphasis.
He blinked at me. “All of that is… good to know,” he said. “I take it you get that a lot?”
“Horny white guys coming up to me out of the blue and asking for my number? Yeah.”
He gave a sympathetic grimace. “I’m sorry to hear that. But if it makes you feel any better, I’m not here to flirt. I’m here to talk about your roommate.”
For a split second, my expression froze. The conversation suddenly got a lot less predictable. He could be working with Detective Sharp. He could be FBI. He could be a ghoul or a necromancer or who knew what. Or he could just be one of Arkay’s fans from the strip club.
“Oh,” I said, shrugging. “Yeah, she’s available. Though in the name of disclaimers, she doesn’t take well to stalker types, and contacting me instead of her directly— it’s kinda creepy.”
“Not like that,” he said, lowering his voice. “I mean about what happened last November. In Indianapolis.”
I did mention stalker types, didn’t I?
“That was months ago. Is there a reason you’re talking to me about it now?” Say nothing direct. Any spoken acknowledgment could be picked up by a wire and used against us. We’d been so careful. So damn careful.
“I’m afraid people on my end have been a bit busy these last few months.”
“People on your end,” I repeated. “As in the police?”
“Not exactly. We specialize in more… unusual situations. Like yours.”
“So… the FBI, then? The MIB?” I sat back. “Which can of alphabet soup are we talking about?”
“There’s no acronyms,” he said. “I’m from the Order of Saint Michael of the Sun. We try to stay generally under the radar. It helps keep people from panicking.”
“Apparently you need it, if it takes you guys six months to get in contact with someone. You know I’d normally be halfway to Bloomington right now, right?”
“Actually, I didn’t,” he said. “I’m actually in town on other business right now, so I thought I’d try to track you down. Talk to you about what happened. Make sure everything is all right.”
“And if it wasn’t?” I asked. “You’d… do what, exactly?”
“Help in any way we can,” he said.
I raised the coffee too my lips to hide my expression. “What about it?”
“It was an impressive thing you did there,” he said. “You wound up saving a lot of people, even if you don’t know it.”
“But part of what happened that night… it worries me.”
I glanced at him to go on.
“Your roommate. Arkay. I understand that things got a bit out of hand. That she got out of hand.”
“There’s no law against defending yourself when other people try to kill you,” I said carefully.
“No,” he said. “Of course not. And I think the two of you did the right thing. But it might not always be the right thing. If I understand correctly, your friend has one hell of a temper. I’m just concerned about what might happen if that temper gets out of control in less appropriate circumstances. I’m not sure everyone would be safe if that were to happen. I’m not sure you would be safe.”
I stood up abruptly. “I think we’re done here.”
“No, wait!” He started after me, but I was already on my way out the door.
Rule One when you’re a busty girl in a big city: know how to walk away with a purpose. Unfortunately, my diva stride had nothing on his military two-step, and he was in front of me before I’d gotten around the block.
“Wait,” he said, without even the indignity of looking winded. “I’m sorry if I offended you. That was out of line. I really am concerned, that’s all. My people, we’ve dealt with dragons before, and they can get scary sometimes. But if that’s not your experience, then I get it. I do.” He reached into his pocket and pressed a card into my hand. “But what you’re dealing with— even if it is healthy, it can get rough. If you ever need to talk, if you ever need help, we’re here. That’s all I wanted you to know. Have a good day.”
He gave me a curt nod, and without another word he melted into the crowd.
I looked down at the business card he’d handed me: it was plain and white, just a phone number and the single most obviously fake name in history: Adam Smith.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
JW Troemner was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States, where she lives with her partner in a house full of pets. Most days she can be found gazing longingly at sinkholes and abandoned buildings.
Mailing list: http://eepurl.com/bRaRF5
Buy link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H8GI5HS
JW Troemner will be awarding $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.