Excerpt: Dragon Deception

“A picnic?” Dane repeated, looking down at Lumie and Alloy’s eager faces with skepticism and disbelief. These were Mercury’s crazy kits. Why couldn’t they have waited to ask Mercury when he got home? Daisy, once his part-time housekeeper and more recently his and Mercury’s full time nanny, was at parent-teacher conference for her own kids, so she wasn’t a possible savior for at least five more minutes. Dane couldn’t stall that long, and Mercury hadn’t yet gotten home from work. It looked like Dane would have to save himself. “Why a picnic?”

“You and Daddy work too much,” Lumie explained solemnly as Alloy nodded in agreement. “You go, relax, and the answer will come to you.”

“Like magic!” Alloy chirped eagerly.

Lumie and Alloy were in a neck-and-neck race for which kit was Mercury’s strangest. Alloy should win for his looks alone. Unlike most dragons, he had hatched with two powers: fire and water. All other elemental dragons could only use one element, but Alloy was different—and that difference was reflected on the outside too. In human form, he had one red eye and one blue. His hair and his scales when he was in dragon form were an even mixture of the two colors. That the red and blue hadn’t mixed into purple was odd, but Alloy actually enjoyed having two colors.

Alloy was the result of a cruel experiment done by humans looking to harness dragon magic for their own selfish use. One day Dane was going to crush those humans, as soon as he could find them, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t love the results. They had made Alloy into something different, something special—but even he wasn’t as special as Lumie.

Lumie was also the result of experimentation. He looked normal for a fire elemental dragon. His hair in human form was flame red, as were his eyes. His scales in dragon form were a universal red as well. Whatever had been done to him wasn’t reflected on the outside, but rather with his magic. Lumie had fire magic like all dragons of his kind, but he was also impervious to the magic of others. He could walk through wards that would stop Dane without feeling a twinge and sneak around Dane’s house without Dane knowing he was there. Sometimes Dane wondered if Lumie was prescient as well, but since he didn’t walk around prophesying all the time, Dane couldn’t say for certain.

Both boys were five years old, although since Alloy liked to cuddle and play while Lumie had grown to be more aloof, it often felt like there were multiple years between them. They were just two of Mercury’s seven kits, all adopted. Unlike the kits, who were all elemental dragons, Mercury was a bronze precious dragon. His kits were all young dragons he’d rescued from secret government labs. It was unusual for dragons to mix between elements, never mind between elemental and precious, but they somehow made it work. All of the kits—even Lumie and Alloy—were beyond the age that most adults would allow them to share territory, but Mercury wasn’t most adults. He, and now Dane, were committed to raising them to full adulthood. Which meant occasionally entertaining the whims of five year olds.

Dane could tell that Alloy and Lumie were both eager to help given that they continued to stare expectantly at him and he found himself unable to say no.

“Tomorrow,” Dane said, caving into their wide puppy-dog eyes. “Mercury and I will have a picnic lunch. Will that be okay?”

They cheered and smiled. “I have to tell Copper!” Alloy exclaimed, spinning on one heel and dashing out of Dane’s office door. Dane could hear him yelling Copper’s name all the way down the hall.

“I’ll make sure you have all the right picnic foods ready,” Lumie said before he followed Alloy at a much more sedate pace. Dane hid his grimace until he was certain Lumie was gone. Lumie and edible foods weren’t exactly synonymous. He liked food with cinnamon in it, the more the better, and he couldn’t quite grasp the fact that other people would throw up and die if they ate as much as he did.

Also, what were the chances that Lumie actually knew what foods belonged in a picnic? Pretty low, damn it. Maybe Dane could order a pizza and sneak it to the picnic spot without Lumie noticing. That way Mercury and Dane would be able to actually eat something and Lumie would still be happy.

It would take some finagling to get a pizza past Lumie, since he noticed everything, but Dane wasn’t the son of a god for nothing. He would find a way or, knowing Lumie, die trying. Mercury would need to be warned too, Dane reminded himself. Still, that was a problem for tomorrow. Dane had a lead on his current case that he wasn’t about to let grow cold.

Two weeks ago, a mother dragon and her three very young kits had been attacked. She had managed to get safely away with all three kits, but her mate had been badly injured in the attack. He had managed to send word to Dane, since Dane had made it widely known over the past five years that he was very interested in helping any dragon in need. The enemy had left the father dragon for dead, uninterested in a full-grown dragon when they had three kits to snatch. Dane needed to find the kits and their mother before the enemy did and get them to safety with the still-healing mate.

Dane’s newest lead was from a werewolf who’d stopped by Dane’s office to tell Dane about the strange bag lady he’d run into two nights previously. It had been the full moon, so some of what he had seen was a little shaky in his memory, but he clearly remembered a harried-looking woman wearing what looked like two dresses and three coats pushing a shopping cart through the woods he and his pack were hunting through. He remembered three children in the cart, he had told Dane, but none of them had smelled like prey, so he and the pack had moved on.

Either that was the mother dragon ineffectively trying to hide with human clothing customs that she didn’t quite understand—she was a wild dragon from the forest; she hadn’t been taken in as a kit by humans like Mercury had been—or Dane had a lamia hunting in his territory. A lamia needed to be destroyed at once before she started eating children, so it was just as imperative that Dane locate whoever the werewolf had seen.

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