I have to thank Michelle for scheming up this summer fun. I’ve adored her energy for years now. First as a fellow NaNoer, then as an AQer and lastly, as one of the best cyber friends a gal could ever want. I love you, Michelle.
If you haven’t read THE SKELETON KEY from the start, you should right now. Chapter ten can be found at Laura’s Universe, while next week Michelle will try to fix any plot problems I throw her way with chapter twelve.
This paranormal romp is as delightful as the talented writers creating it, and I hope I don’t disappoint them. First off, it was waaaay outside my typical genre(s). Secondly, I was drawn to the voice of Ax, and so followed A.M. Supinger’s lead and brought his POV back into the action.
THE SKELETON KEY: CHAPTER ELEVEN
A screech ripped through the air. “This can’t be happening. Thiscantbehappeningscantbehapning.”
Ax’s body worked faster than his brain and his wing unfurled, catching Rebecca before her head hit the ground. Out cold. He set her on a mat in the Embassy reception room. As he did, his talons retracted into nails, his claws to fingers, his scales to smooth skin.
A trickle of fear slid down his back. He had never lost control of his human form. Not once in fifteen hundred years. Not unless he wanted to, and he most definitely did not want to. Not now. Not like this.
He could ill afford for Rebecca to see his true form until after the mating ritual was complete. If she refused him—and her new life—the destruction would ripple to the Quaterjarnexal Complex and beyond, a consequence he dared not contemplate.
The air wavered, hot and smoky.
“Monster incoming.” The voice rumbled with pain, prickling Ax’s scalp. The stirrings of a crest rose with his hair, and he willed his body to behave.
Skyniar’s form emerged from the darkness beyond. He held a tattered wing close to his side and crimson blood oozed from a gash above his eye. He reached out for Ax, his words burbling through thick foam. “Twin’gan ka.”
“Skyn!” Ax jumped forward, closing his hand around emptiness. Skyn’s broken form shimmered, nothing but an illusion. A manipulation of the magic inside the gate. The gate Rebecca controlled. Light flashed, taking Skyniar with it.
Ax’s bones ached with the need to change, to rescue Skyn. Death didn’t come lightly to a dragon, and though Skyn was not nearly as powerful as Ax, his brother’s immortality should have been guaranteed.
Yet, ever since Rebecca had come into his life, nothing was guaranteed. Quietly filing papers in the dungeon of the New York City Portal seemed like a past life. Never mind that it was this morning. He’d found his mate without looking, lost his physical control and tangled with an old flame.
Angelica. Just thinking her name made his muscles vibrate painfully and his skin itch. “Get a grip, Ax, my man. Get a grip.”
He sucked in a deep breath and opened his soul to Rebecca’s thrumming. Her essence calmed him, and he refocused on the task at hand.
Angelica. Fiercely beautiful and emotionally passionate, Angelica loved as deeply as she hated. They first met over a chocolate cupcake—one of Genevieve’s finest. He’d been enticed to try the pink-topped treat, only to get a bit of frosting on his face. Or so Angelica said as she walked by and licked his top lip clean. She smelled of lavender and sulfur, an odd mix that extended to her eccentric personality. She’d nearly driven him crazy, and now, gatekeepers were dying at her hands.
Gatekeepers and brothers.
Yet something didn’t sit right with Angelica’s story. A thought nagged just out of reach. Needing more clarity, Ax scooped Rebecca into his arms. Her soft form molded to his and he rocked her in his lap. Her hair—jasmine scented silk—fell through his fingers, taking him back to the New York City Portal and the last time he’d been upstairs before meeting Rebecca.
Mr. Harvey’s office overgrown with a new vine—an anonymous gift so potent Ax could taste the lavender in the air. Genevieve and another pink cupcake. Jim and Marguerite arguing over Jim’s whereabouts the night before. Where had the vamp gone and how had he slipped through the portal without Marguerite’s knowledge?
Something about her aural imprinting malfunctioning. A virus of some kind.
And then the thrumming that brought him upstairs this morning and the revelation of Genevieve’s vision.
She claimed a man killed Marguerite. Something Angelica definitely was not. Nor did Ax believe Damien had murdered the gatekeeper, for surely Genevieve would have recognized Damien’s imprint.
Once banished, a monster’s spectral fingerprints were transmitted to all transition station staff to prohibit unauthorized reentries. Genevieve should have sensed his status. Unless someone learned how to override the system.
Ax shook his head, bringing himself back to the present. Spectral imprinting was the most sophisticated security measure the transition centers used. It was also the most natural phenomenon used by paranormals, and nearly impossible to disrupt. In part, this ability is what had drawn him to Rebecca, had alerted him to her status as his mate.
No, something else was going on.
Rebecca stirred in his lap and mumbled. “…hate dragons…nightmare…home….”
Her voice called to him, like nectar for a bee. He dipped his head to hers, running a gentle finger along her jaw, over her lips. Consciousness slowly returned. She blinked, her eyes glittering in a way that made his heart quiver. Perfect. Everything about Rebecca was perfect.
Until she opened her mouth.
She sounded like a dying cat. The half screech, half mew raised a scale or two on the back of his neck. He fought the change, just barely controlling it. He was turning rogue. And nothing was more dangerous than a rogue drake.
His brother’s words came back to him. Twin’gan ka.
The phrase and the impulsive need to change didn’t make sense. Not until he realized Skyn had more to say. Tin’gan ka’an.
“You’ve been poisoned.” The warning nearly destroyed his physical control.
Rebecca’s flailing fists didn’t help either. Apparently her nightmare wasn’t over yet. She spat out her next words in a high-pitched voice sounding too much like Ashley’s for his comfort. “My sister. You have to save my sister.”
Ax pushed Rebecca off his lap and stood. “I can’t.”
“You must.” She pulled herself up and stomped her foot. Definitely an Ashley move.
He suppressed the urge to shake her like a child. Shake her into silence. By all that was holy, he hoped the twin thing didn’t carry too far, because right now, he needed the old Rebecca. Not a freaked-out, Ashley version. “I can’t. I’m sworn to protect you, not your sister.”
Rebecca’s eyes sparked and her lips curved upward. “I demand it. As my…mate.”
Bitter laughter erupted between them and steam escaped from his ears. Ax reached out and tucked a stray tress behind her ear. “Awww, honey, it don’t work that way in my world. Trust me, if I could have left you alone, I would have gone after Skyn.”
Her shoulders sagged and her defeat hit him like a physical blow. When she looked up, Ashley was gone from her attitude. “Somehow I knew that. But I just had to try.”
Ax paced the reception room, running through the options in his mind. “Does Ashley have a bit of you in her, as well?”
“What do you mean?” Rebecca followed his path with her eyes.
His chest swelled at the attention, something he hadn’t felt since he was a fledgling. The juvenile reaction confirmed his fears. Definitely rogue. “Does she have your spunk? Will she be strong enough to…?”
“Survive? I don’t know. It depends on what that spider lady has in store for her.”
“Death. Torture. Well, torture first and then death. She needs the key, after all.”
Rebecca squeaked and he ceased his pacing. Damn, he’d forgotten who he was talking to. New monsters could be so touchy. “I meant, Angelica will try to get the key from her.”
“Why didn’t she just take me? I practically threw myself at her. Is she stupid or something?”
Genuine laughter burst the tension building within him. “Yeah. Pretty much. Angelica was never any good at being original.”
“I hope I’m better than that. That you…,” Rebecca looked down, then swung his gaze boldly back to his. “I hope..you know…that I’m…you picked…”
Ax closed the gap between them. He didn’t ask for permission and she didn’t turn him away. They met in a tangle of limbs. When his lips found hers, Rebecca took the lead, releasing the passion within him.
He stroked her arms, reveling in the tingle that pulsed through his fingertips, that spread throughout his body. She positively hummed for him. He increased his ministrations. In response, she arched her back, pressing herself against his chest. His heart raced, keeping time to hers. His breathing, too, mimicked that of his mate’s.
Mate, the word flittered across his mind and his lips curled against his will. He’d never wanted a mate. It’s why Angelica hated him so deeply. She’d been nothing more than a bed warmer. Even if he had been free to choose—to override his natural imprinting—he would not have chosen her.
He wouldn’t have chosen anyone.
Rebecca pulled away and he reeled from the loss of contact. Her skin shimmered iridescent blue, a reminder that she wasn’t a mere mortal. They might win this war after all.
“Your sister, who does she care about?”
“Besides Jimmy Choo? Nobody. She doesn’t have a boyfriend and our parents are, well, less than connected, I guess you could say.” Rebecca gave Ax a once-over before continuing. “Well, not so unconnected they wouldn’t object to me marrying a dragon.”
A beautiful red blush crept up her neck and across her cheeks. “Right. Mating.”
Ax swept his eyes around the room and changed the subject before he found an appropriate place to complete the ritual right then and there. “She has you, but you’re twins. Ashley won’t change for you, even if she has dormant magic.”
“But she does have it, right? If we’re identical that means, well, we’re kind of exactly the same.” Rebecca’s voice trailed off.
The unspoken question hung in the air. He did his best to evade answering. When she crossed her arms over her chest, he sighed. “There is that.”
She tapped a foot. The red staining her cheeks no longer begged for his touch. Instead, they mocked him with her anger. “Did she hum for you?”
Ax swallowed his guilt, but took advantage of the moment. “Does your jealousy mean you’ll take me as a mate?”
“Of course not. You’re a dragon. I’m a human.”
“Chameleon. You’re a paranormal, too.”
Rebecca froze, as if this was the first time she’d actually thought about the eruption of scales and what that would mean. She shook her head in silent denial. “I’m a graduate student with loans to repay. I’m a sister and a daughter. I’m normal. Not some freak.”
Ax stepped closer. Close enough to see her flinch. The sweet cadence of her humming spiked and he knew she heard his own. “But you’re my graduate student with a skeleton key in your pocket. You can’t deny that.”
“You’re a monster.”
“I’m you’re monster.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“Not anymore you don’t.” His arms closed around Rebecca and he sought her mouth. Stars exploded around him, through him.
He’d never wanted a mate. But Rebecca? He’d die for her. And not because he had to.
She pulled away. “His name is…”
“Hadriax.” He enticed her back, deepening his kiss until her arms circled his neck. Caressed her back until she returned the favor.
He could do it now, complete the mating ritual without her knowing, effectively binding them for eternity. Power surged in his chest and it took enormous effort to keep from controlling her. It was his right, and yet he couldn’t bear to hurt her that way. No, he wanted his coupling to be perfect, like Rebecca.
He wanted her consent, not a stolen moment of physical ecstasy.
Her delicate hands tangled in his hair. He sought out her neck, tracing his tongue along her collar bone to the tiny dimple at the base of her throat. She tasted as good as she smelled.
Thought left him as she returned his exploration. Her moan turned to a squeak. Without breaking the kiss, he opened his eyes and ice replaced the fire inside.
His arms crushed her to him. His talons dug into her sides. Once again, he’d started to change.
And this time, he couldn’t stop.