Aleda Sable must decide if she is to remain in two legged form or shift to her dragon form.
Unexpected shifting by dragon/human shifters complicates her decision.
Aleda Sable faces the toughest decision of her life—to stay in dragon form, live as a two-legged or put one foot in the human world and one talon in the dragon world.
An urgent call from her newspaper editor sends Aleda to report on an accident whose driver appears to be a dragon. Authorities have the scene locked down and aren't allowing access to anyone. Television broadcasts flash pictures of scaly legs hanging from a crashed car. However, the bodies disappear into thin air. When the stations try follow-up reports, all they find are state highway workers busily tearing up the roads.
In determining the truth of the shifter disappearances, Aleda finds the truth of her own dilemma.
Her SUV in the garage, backpack tucked away in the closet and briefcase opened on the coffee table, Aleda propped her feet next to the briefcase and sighed across her cup of hot chocolate. There were so many issues swirling in her head she felt a headache coming on. She really needed a day off in her human form; time to revel in the hot water of a shower, taste the food she ate and stretch her muscles without the fear of hitting something.
She took a sip from her hot chocolate and rolled the sweet concoction around her tongue. The heady rich smell with a hint of cinnamon drifted through her olfactory senses and sweet chocolate coated her mouth. Boy had she missed this. Aleda cradled the warm cup between her slender mocha colored fingers. She examined the skin covering her digits and flexed a finger marveling at the ease of motion.
"We humans really are amazing."
Knots in her shoulders brought on by days of flying in her dragon form loosened with the warmth of the room and comfortable feeling of being home. Her eyelids began to drift to her cheeks. Soft, pliable couch cushions whispered sweet nothings in her ear promising undisturbed slumber.
As her head bobbed to her chest, the shrill ring of a phone jerked her eyes open and drove her reflexes to catch the falling cup with hot chocolate before the liquid spilled and stained the carpet.
"Who the heck is dumb enough to call me at..." she squinted at the mantle clock on her fireplace. "...nine flipping o'clock at night?" Pushing up from the warm nest of couch cushions, Aleda glared at the readout on the phone.
"Oh, no, not Warren. Maybe, I won't answer it." Aleda turned her back on the phone waiting until the instrument quit ringing. If it was important, they could leave a message. Grabbing the cup from the coffee table, she shuffled to the kitchen and popped it and the remaining contents in the microwave.
"All I want is some peace and quiet and a hot cup of cocoa." She grumbled as she pushed the buttons on the oven. Thirty seconds later, the machine beeped and the phone rang again.
"Jiminy, Warren, I'm supposed to be in China. How the heck did you know I was home?"
Warren Hennessey, editor and owner of Portland's Choice a dubious weekly newspaper in Portland, Oregon, had been an award-winning journalist thirty years previously but his propensity to write stories about Bigfoot and UFO sightings made him less than popular with the legitimate news agencies. Taking matters into his own hands, he took all the money from his 401K and bought a paper. He wrote what he wanted and gave budding journalists a start in the business. He was aware most of them would only be around for a year but Warren didn't mind. For a year of their lives, he got the brightest reporters a paper could ask for.
Aleda had started like most of the young reporters, looking to put in her year and then try to get on with the Oregonian or USA Today but something about the stories Warren found for her to cover kept her interest. When the time had come for her to decide about getting a Master's degree, Warren had offered to foot the bill. Aleda was taken back by his generosity.
The one thing she had learned in all the time she'd worked for him was Warren was tenacious when he wanted to get something done. If he was trying to get hold of her for a reason, he'd call all night long.
When the phone started ringing for the third time, Aleda answered.
"Aleda! You're back!"
"Warren, don't play coy with me. You somehow knew I was back. Hence the continuous calling."
"Uh, yeah. I do have a few spies around town. Someone drove by the house earlier and saw you parking your SUV in the garage."
'Great! I'll never be able to escape his scrutiny.'
"Warren? What do you want?"
"Did you get pictures on your trip?"
"I told you I'd try to get some pictures of what ever was over there."
"I need something to put on the inside page of the paper. One of the newer reporters we just hired got snatched away by a California paper so there's twenty inches to fill. I figured if you had a couple shots and could do a quick write up..."
Aleda dropped on to the couch. "I'll see what I can do. You'll get it before deadline... unless you moved up press time."
"No. I need the final at ten-thirty to make press time at eleven thirty. Thanks, you're a lifesaver."
"This is going to cost you, Warren!" She shouted into the instrument she clutched in her hand. Warren had a way of hanging up the phone before she was done with the conversation.
So much for relaxing. She flipped open her briefcase and pulled out her laptop. For ten days she'd not done any work for the paper and it had felt good. She turned on the computer, plugging in the laptop to the nearest outlet and searched through dozens of photos she, Brittany and Cyre had staged. While in China, Aleda had gotten a photo of the imperial dragon Shang Li, his golden scales shimmering in the faint light of the sun. Even now, the regal figure sucked the air from her lungs.
"He is magnificent." She ran a finger over the picture.
Moving the mouse over the next photo, Aleda hit the zoom button. She'd been covert in getting this shot. Large, even for a full-grown dragon, Ao Shun had been elusive at best during the conference. Dark, black scales and golden eyes set him apart from the rest of the eastern clans. A carelessly made comment by her friend Cyre had clued her to the identity of the black northern dragon... her father. His reaction upon seeing her for the first time had clinched her suspicion. He'd accused her of being the one person she most disliked, her mother.
By the end of the conference, Aleda had seen enough of the Northern Chinese dragon's actions to be thankful she'd been raised as a human.
She filed the photo in her personal pictures and focused in on the staged photos. Choosing a picture with the tip of Cyre's tail leaving the frame, Aleda clicked on the photo and saved it. She picked another picture of the very end of Brittany's snout and a picture showing two talons.
She opened a blank page and sat and stared at the white screen. Normally she was verbose about her favorite topics but tonight, her brain was numbed by the lack of restful sleep in the last ten days and all the unusual exercise she'd experienced.
She titled her article---"Fancy or Fairytale?"--and proceeded to write ten inches of print. The copy editors would tear up an inch or two and the graphic artists would decide which of the pictures rated being put in the story.
When she hit the send button to ship the story to Warren, she added a note at the bottom.
"Not coming in for two more days. Don't call or I'll change my number. A."
She saved her work and unplugged the laptop.
"I'm done. It's been a long day and I want to sleep in my bed tonight; clean sheets, warm blankets and no sulfur smell. Life is good."
Trotting to her room, she peeled off clothing dropping it on the floor as she headed to the master bath. She turned the water on as warm as she could stand and slid into the glass encased room.
Warm cascades of liquid sluiced down her brown skin. She tilted her head back letting the water soak her hair. Quickly shampooing and rinsing, Aleda elected to use the massage feature of the shower nozzle on her body. The pounding of the liquid combined with the heat loosened the rest of her aching muscles.
A thick terrycloth towel draped on the rack over the heater vent provided warmth and softness to soak up the few remaining water droplets from her skin as Aleda buffed her skin vigorously.
Aleda padded into her room and was drawn to her backpack. Digging deep inside the darkened interior her hand found the silky smoothness of satin. She clutched the firmness within and pulled the item to her chest. The interior of the silky bag began to hum a Celtic tune Aleda recalled from her childhood.
"Yes, I've needed this recharging for a long time."
She placed the bag on her dresser and slipped into her nightclothes. Bare footing it around the house, she secured all the doors and windows, flipping off lights and closing down her home.
She snatched the bag from the dresser and slid between her fresh sheets. The light from her night table glowed warmly next to her bed. Aleda put her hand inside the satiny holder and retrieved the amber encased ruby. The sweet song filled the room. Aleda gave in to the urge to close her eyes and drifted into slumber.
~ * ~
Cinder, short for Cinderella, Simmons paced the floor.
"Come on, come on! Answer your phone!"
She threw her cell phone across the room to the divan.
"Ahhh! She's been home for two days and she hasn't called me. Something is wrong!"
Throwing common sense to the wind, she got in her car and drove through early morning Portland traffic to her friend, Aleda Sable's, house. It wasn't like Aleda not to call the minute she got home from a vacation and fill Cinder in on all the happenings. Cinder was dying to know if Aleda had finally met a man.
She pulled into Aleda's driveway and hopped out of her car. Running up the steps, she got to the front door and tried the handle. It was locked.
Cinder frowned. "Mistake, girlfriend. I know where you hide the key."
She skipped down the steps and made her way to the side of the house counting the stones lining the flowerbed until she'd gotten the right number. Lifting up the rock, she was shocked to find the spare key missing.
Running back to the front door, Cinder began to pound on the door and yell. About the time she was pulling out her cell phone to call the police, the door opened an inch.
"What the heck is going on here?" Aleda's hair stood in fifteen different directions, her eyes were half shut and she looked very unhappy.
"Oh, thank goodness! I was worried something had happened." Cinder pushed her way past Aleda and flopped on the couch. "Do you know the key is missing from the rock?"
"Yes. I brought it inside so I could get some rest."
"Oh?" Cinder sat forward on the seat. "Spill."
Aleda closed the door. "Not until I've brushed my teeth, washed my face and made some coffee. I can't function without coffee."
Cinder huffed a breath through her lips. "Make it snappy girlfriend. You've got a lot of sharing to do."
Aleda shook her head. Her best friend, Cinder, was almost as tenacious as Warren her boss. How did she get these people in her life? Completing her bathroom routine, she changed into jeans and an Oxford-styled, button down, long sleeve shirt. Brown slip-ons kept her feet from being too cold. Aleda went to the kitchen to create the fluid that would give her life-coffee, espresso, to be exact.
When both girls had settled in and sat cradling their cups, Aleda looked at her friend.
"Why in the heck are you here? Shouldn't you be working?"
"Oh, puleese! How do you think I could possibly work after you've just come home from 10 days away? I want details, girlfriend, juicy-don't-miss-a-single-thing details. Did you meet a man? Is he handsome? When do I get to meet him? Give."
A small smile touched the corner of Aleda's mouth. She could truthfully tell her best friend she'd not met a man.
"Sorry, Cinder, no man."
"I don't believe you." The young cafe colored woman narrowed brown eyes at Aleda. "I think you met someone and you're trying to hide him from me."
'If you only knew how true your statement was, you'd have a coronary.'
Aleda sipped the bitter nectar from her cup. "Why would I lie to you? You'll just hound me until I tell you every detail of my trip making life miserable should I decide to keep any small smidgen of the story to myself."
A smug expression stole over Cinder's face. "You know me well."
"Yeah, since grade school, Miss Thing. You'll just have to trust my word I didn't meet a man. I was clear up in some forsaken valley in who-knows-where-North China because Warren had gotten a tip there were dragons sighted."
Cinder dropped her feet to the floor. "Dragons! Has he absolutely lost his mind this time?"
Aleda shrugged her shoulders. "Heck, he paid for the trip. I got to see part of the world where very few people have traveled."
"Well, duh! It's the middle of nowhere, Allie. Why can't he send you to Hawaii to investigate the goddess Pele or the Caribbean to check out zombies? Why Northern China?"
She shivered all over. Heading in to the kitchen, she tossed over her shoulder to Aleda. "More espresso?"
"Yeah. I have to put my notes together and come up with another story to send to the paper."
Cinder emerged from the kitchen with the small coffee container in her hand and a mischievous grin covering her face.
"I have the most delicious idea."
Aleda held her cup still as Cinder filled it with black liquid inspiration.
"I'm afraid to ask."
"Let me help you write your story." Cinder's espresso-colored eyes twinkled wickedly.
Aleda rolled her orbs skyward.
"This could get me in deep trouble."
"Or you could win a Pulitzer. Who knows?"
"Who knows indeed?"