The Emerging Queens Series by Jamie K. Schmidt

123rf dragon 2

It was easier to slay dragons back during the Crusades, but a treaty forged with blood strengthened their protections. In return, humans grew prosperous and plentiful, while the dragons grew powerful. Integrating into human society, dragons were revered as warlords and statesmen and as time marched on, celebrities and CEOs.

When the cult of humanity sacrificed a dragon Queen to break the treaty, they crippled the breeding process. A female hasn’t been hatched or shape shifted in over a thousand years. With the dragons looking extinction in the face, they are desperate for females. Only five Queens remain, each more corrupt and sinister than the other.

Book One: The Queen’s Wings

The queens wings

Buy here: The Queen’s Wings

Save the Dragons

Long ago, the Cult of Humanity sacrificed the Dragon Queen, crippling the breeding process. But now Carolyn hears the voice of that long dead queen telling her that she holds the key to breaking the spell that will free all the female dragons.

FBI dragon Reed’s disdain for humans can’t mask the magnetic attraction he has for Carolyn, but when she tells him she’s going to shift into a dragon he thinks she’s crazy. A female hasn’t been hatched, or shape shifted, in over a thousand years.

He’s proven wrong after Carolyn shifts and is named the new Queen on the block. A never-ending line of suitors forms, but she only wants Reed. Too bad he doesn’t want in on the competition. But when the Cult kidnaps Carolyn to sacrifice her in an effort to make the curse against the female dragons permanent, Reed must face his fears—and feelings, racing to save the woman he realizes he can’t live without.

123rf dragon 1

Excerpt

The Queen’s Wings
by Jamie K. Schmidt

Copyright © 2014 by Jamie K. Schmidt. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

I had a date with a dragon. Only it wasn’t a fun going-out- for-drinks-and-dinner kind of a date. It was more of an honestly-I’m-not-crazy—I-know-I’m-going-to-shift-into-a- dragon-any-minute-now appointment.

“Poor, deluded human,” a handsome dragon near me said.

Just because I was human, didn’t mean I was deaf.

I sat in one of the hard plastic chairs that the Connecticut’s dragon embassy had in their lobby to discourage dragon- struck humans from loitering. I wasn’t one of the throng of adoring fans who took one look at a dragon and immediately decided he was my one true purpose in life. I actually was a dragon. Except no one believed me. And since I couldn’t shift my form to a giant flying lizard or anything, I wasgenerally written off as one of those.

I tried not to listen to the two males in their human form talk about me under their breath. I flipped through the latest Rolling Stone magazine. Sure there were some human bands in there, but the cover story was about a Mexican winged serpent, a Quetzalcoatl named Casimiro. The picture showed him in his human form, dazzling handsome. You could almost feel the emotion wafting off the picture of his soulful brown eyes. He was crooning out love ballads while a bunch of female fans screamed, cried, and fainted. It wasn’t fair. Dragon studs were like catnip to human women.

“She thinks she’s going to shift? At her age?”

Their snickers felt like a baseball bat in the teeth. I slapped the magazine down and picked up another one. Of course, you could resemble an underwear model and still be a raging asshole. Beauty being only skin deep, the two studs sneering at me were beautiful jerks. Being twenty- two was time to call AARP with this crew. If you weren’t hatched from an egg, then you shifted into a dragon at puberty. Otherwise, you were a human and would always be one. Since I passed puberty (thank God—or Nidhogg as the dragons called him) about ten years ago, no one believed me when I told them I was a dragon waiting to shift.

Flipping through the pages in a gossip rag, I enjoyed the compromising positions they caught the CEO of Renaissance Computers in. He was flexible even for a dragon. I craned my neck at one picture that just had to be airbrushed. Then I fanned my flushed face with the magazine. Hoo boy. Dragons sold magazines and newspapers and pretty much everything else. Ever since the Treaty of 1099, when dragon slaying became as illegal as razing villages unless the villagers offered a virgin sacrifice, dragons became beings of great stature and admiration.

I didn’t want anyone to worship me any more than I wanted a virgin. I just wanted to fly.

The receptionist, my friend Jane, gave the dragons a lethal glare when they continued to insult me. Well, it would have been lethal if she was a dragon with a laser-beam- like gaze. Instead, she was a lithe blond with green eyes rocking some killer heels to go with her short skirt and low- cut blouse. Because she was human like me, the glare just bounced off the dragons’ Armani suits. I was underdressed in my T-shirt and jeans, but I never could pull off the ice- princess routine like Jane. The best I could do was slouch and pout, which intimidated no one.

The elevator eventually came, and they went inside. One of them flashed a toothy smile at me and winked. Dragons are gorgeous, no matter what form. You never see an ugly one.

However, most of them were dicks.

“Don’t let those undersexed drakes get to you, Carolyn,” Jane said, dismissing them with a sniff.

“It’s not like I haven’t heard it all before,” I said and tried on a smile. But it wasn’t fooling Jane.

She pushed away from her desk and came over to sit next to me. “They don’t want to get their hopes up that there might be a new Queen. Not that I’m defending those jerks to you.”

“I know it doesn’t matter what they think. I’m going to shift into a dragon. I dreamed of flying again last night.”

“I believe you, honey.” She tucked a lock of hair dangling in my face behind my ear. “Did you fly over strange and exotic places?” “I ate a cow.”

Jane made a small noise. She was a vegetarian.

“And then I woke up naked, clutching my chimney with wet leaves stuck on my ass.”

“That’s poetic,” she said and went back to her desk.

I glared at the elevator where the drakes disappeared. It would serve them right if I was a Queen. There were only five left in the whole world. If I shifted—when I shifted—I wouldn’t let them near me. Jerks. Still, they had a point about my age, even if it was rude.

“Why do you think I didn’t shift when I was a teenager?”

Jane shrugged. “I’m not the one going for her PhD in parazoology. Why do you think you didn’t?”

I thought about it. I wasn’t any closer to the answer than all the doctors who poked and prodded me. I had anomalies in my system that in a younger girl would point to a shift. But that shift never happened. “I’ve always been a late bloomer. I didn’t get my period until I was fifteen.”

“Is it TMI day today?” Jane wrinkled her nose at me.

“Sorry.” I turned back to the magazine choices, but truth- fully, I was a little sick with all the dragon worship going on. It was bad enough the dragons had all the money, the important jobs, and managed to treat us humans like little more than playthings. The fact we went out of our way to be treated like that bothered me. When I was a dragon, I wasn’t going to act like I was better than anyone—except maybe my older brother. He is a pill.

“Do you want to go out for some Ethiopian food for lunch—if you’re not too full from a thousand pounds of beef?”

I rubbed my chest. “I kind of have heartburn.”

“Meat will do that to you.”

Her buzzer sounded. “Send her up,” a tinny voice commanded.

“You heard the man,” she said and jerked her thumb toward the elevator.

“Wish me luck.”

Jane glanced away, but not before I saw the pity in her eyes.

The elevator ride just made my stomach pains worsen, and I clawed in my purse for some antacids. Sinking against the wall, I let out a huge burp that echoed back a few times. My mouth tasted like sour milk and my head throbbed in time to the Muzak. The door opened to a large waiting area lavishly decorated in a modern art style. I staggered to the watercooler for a quick drink and a few deep breaths.

“Ms. Donovan, come in, please. I do not have all day.”

“Sorry, Mr. Zhang.” I hurried into his office and sat in another uncomfortable chair. This one was facing a large, antique desk and a huge window overlooking the city skyline.

He was sifting through my file. I know this because his lips were pursed and his eyebrows rose at a few points. Zhang always reminded me of Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon. I could have been projecting a bit, but the goatee and the silk robes were a little over the top, even for a dragon.

“Ms. Donovan, you’ve been coming here for about a year now.”

“Right when the symptoms first appeared.”

“Shortly after you moved into your new house, which you think is haunted.”

“It is haunted. The guest bedroom’s walls bleed, but it’s gone in the morning.”

“Yes, I see. Bleeding walls. Yet, when the parapsych-iatrists—”

“Psychologists,” I corrected and then shrank under the glare he gave me.

“Their instruments didn’t come up with anything. The only one who has seen this phenomenon is you.”

“She’s shy.” I was trying not to get defensive.

“She? Ah yes, your ghost is a she. And puts thoughts

into your head?” He arched an eyebrow at me and I heard Queen’s Flash Gordon theme song in my head.

Flash! Ah AH!

Focus, Carolyn. I told myself. “That doesn’t have anything to do with me shifting into a dragon,” I said aloud.

“Oh, I think it does.”

“I’m not crazy. I can tell a dragon on sight.”

“So can most humans if they know what to look for.” That was true. But with me, it was like they smelled

different. I’m not saying they had BO. It was more like a tickle in my nose, evoking a feeling. Zhang smelled like green tea and grass. The two drakes in the lobby smelled like knock-off Drakkar Noir and beans.

“My nails have shredded my sheets. They’re sharp.” I swiped the air.

“Let’s pass on your basic hygiene, shall we?”

“Then you don’t want to hear about my roar?”

“Your belches? No, and kindly refrain from demonstrating.” “It’s not human normal. It’s rather…” I stared up at his disbelieving face. “Virulent,“ I finished in a whisper. “And now you’re claiming you dream of flying.” “It’s not just a dream.”

He slapped his hand on the file. “Ms. Donovan, we have spent the better part of the year studying you. You’ve graciously submitted to blood and urine tests and nothing.”

“My psych exam came back normal.” “Yet, you see a therapist.” “Everyone sees a therapist.”

“I don’t,” he said.

“Do dragons have therapists?” I asked.

“Some should,” he acknowledged with a small smile. “But the fact of the matter remains, Ms. Donovan, there has never been a female dragon in modern times that did not hatch out of an egg. And sadly, very few of those.”

“But human males have shifted into dragons.”

“At puberty, and if I might be so rude, Ms. Donovan, you are well beyond that.”

“I’m twenty-two not one hundred and two. I feel I am a dragon. I dream about it. I believe it.” I hated the desperation in my voice, and the sadness in his eyes.

“You are not alone,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean it is true. I’ve kept your file open because we are desperate for more females. But I feel I am misleading both of us. This will be our last appointment.”

“But what happens if I shift?”

“You won’t.” He closed the file.

“But if I do. I’ll be all alone.”

“Your file says you work with Niall at Yale. He can contact me directly if he feels I need to revisit your case. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a full schedule.” He slid my file into a folder in his desk drawer. At least he didn’t toss it in the trash.

I stood up, numb. He didn’t understand.

I was on my way to the door when an ice pick stabbed

me in the back of my neck. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I whirled around. But Zhang was still at his desk.

He glanced up, frowning at me. “I believe we’ve said all that there is to say.”

There was no one in the room but us. I peered over Zhang’s shoulder out the large plate-glass window and saw three massive red dragons. They had spiked heads and long tails pumping them in hard and fast. In attack formation they bore down on the embassy.

“Oh no,” I gasped as they stretched their long necks back to ignite their breath.

Zhang moved so fast he flickered, slapping a hand on the control to close the blinds. He pressed an alarm. The lights dimmed and made a powerful hum. “The force field won’t hold for long. Take the stairs.” He jammed a thumb drive into his computer.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked as the two drakes from downstairs rushed in.

“We’re under attack,” Zhang said, ignoring me. “Kristoff, lock down finance. Markus, start the evacuation.”

“I don’t think so.” One of them shot him with a hand cannon, rendering me deaf.

Zhang flew back into the shielded blinds. His body spasmed when the drake shot him four more times. Because he was a dragon, pieces of him didn’t explode all over the office. But he was knocked out. He lay on the ground in a puddle of silken robes.

“Mr. Zhang,” I lunged forward, but the other drake tossed me into the wall.

Ow, that was going to sting.

“Grab the paperwork,” Kristoff, the drake that shot Zhang, ordered the one who tried to play racquetball with my head.

That would make the shitheel Markus, who hopped to it, sweeping his arm across Zhang’s desk. What didn’t fall into the large bag he carried, he knelt to stuff in.

“And hurry, he’s starting to heal.”

“Kill him now,” Markus said.

“I don’t want to take the time to shift,” Kristoff said,

searching around until his eyes lit on me. He smiled a gorgeous, male-model smile, and the bile swirled in my stomach. So much for the antacids.

“Are you still here?” He hit the button to power down the force field. The blinds opened, and a wall of flame hit the building.

I burped and a noxious gas hissed out of my mouth. My stomach lurched, and the acid came up.

“You’re not going to get sick, are you?” He sounded half amused and half disgusted. “Weak, little human. I’ll just kill you now.” He raised the big pistol up at me.

If I wasn’t a dragon—and the evidence seemed to point in the other directions—this was going to hurt. So I did what I could under the circumstances. I closed my eyes and threw up.

His screams and the fact I wasn’t dead opened my eyes. Kristoff’s arm was covered in a clear liquid, which was smoking through the metal of his pistol and most of his hand.

Did I do that?

Markus dropped the bag of papers. “What the hell just happened?”

“It burns,” Kristoff cried and his skin flaked away. He was going to shift, space for it or not.

Oh crap.

I turned and ran.

“Stop her! Don’t hurt her,” he said. Which I thought was mighty generous.

Pushing open the heavy door leading to the stairwell, I pounded down the stairs. My heart was beating so fast I half expected it to jump out of my mouth. I did not want to find out what they had planned for me.

Markus leaped down a flight and bared his teeth in a snarl in front of me. My scream echoed down the stairs. Would anyone hear me? Would anyone care about the dumb old human?

“Back you go,” he said. “What was that you threw on Kristoff?”

“I’ve got more of it for you,” I bluffed.

“I don’t think so,” he said and climbed toward me. “Why couldn’t you have been a good human and die?”

I stumbled back up the stairs, scrambling for the door. Markus just advanced slowly. Glass shattered as the windows imploded on the floor above us. I tripped and landed hard on my knees. Markus smirked. After pulling myself to my feet, I ran back into the office. The sprinklers were dousing the room, and I was instantly drenched in dirty, black water. I crunched over glass to get to the elevator and pounded on the buttons. It was coming up, but too slowly for me.

Kristoff roared. He was completely shifted. He looked like a Komodo dragon on steroids. Green scales bristled and shimmered as the sprinkler doused his flanks. His teeth were hard and flat—made for crushing—and his nails clenched on the carpet, shredding it as he advanced on me. Drakes were wingless, but made up for it in foot-long talons. I had a really good look at them as he stalked me.

“Shit.” I jabbed the elevator button as fast as I could.

Maybe it would sense the urgency of the situation. Maybe I was going to get pulverized. “Sorry about your hand.” Not really. But if I stalled, Zhang’s wounds might regenerate enough that he could step in and rescue me. “I’m not sure what happened.”

The drake’s breath blew hot over me before he spoke. “And here I thought the greatest treasure we would find is Zhang’s hoard. But we have a little Queen.”

“A Queen,” Markus said, exiting the stairwell. “That’s impossible.”

I put my back to the elevator when Kristoff smashed out the doorway to Zhang’s office with his tail. “She spit at me.” “We can train her not to spit,” Markus said. “A Queen of our very own.”

“First we’ll have to train her to obey. Tie her up. We’re taking her with us.”

“No,” I screamed as Markus grabbed my arm and started dragging me away.

The elevator doors opened, and two dragons dressed like commandoes burst out. A swarthy, dark-haired one brandished a crackling baton. The other, a redhead, cracked his knuckles and took in the scene.

“She’s a Queen,” Markus said to them. “Let us go, and we’ll share her.”

“Bullshit,” Red said. He tackled Markus and all three of us went down.

“Zhang’s been shot,” I said, wrestling away from them.

Markus head-butted the other dragon in the nose, but Red drove his fist into his face three times, fast as a jackhammer. Markus’s neck lolled back.

“Reed, Zhang’s still alive,” Red said and went back to beating Markus until he was broken, bleeding, and unconscious.

I sidled into the elevator, but the doors wouldn’t shut. The building shuddered like there was an earthquake going on. Stepping out quickly, because I didn’t really want to be trapped in the large metal box ten floors up when the building came down, I stumbled over to the stairwell again.

Reed fought Kristoff, without changing into his dragon form. I stopped and gaped. It was stupid and breathtaking, but Reed was winning. Kristoff was twice as big and had the weight advantage, not to mention his snapping mouth and swiping claws. Yet Reed was never at the receiving end of them. The baton pulsed energy whenever it struck Kristoff.

Part of me would have loved to stay and watch. Reed was fascinating—wide shoulders, a noble profile with an aristocratic nose, all muscles and deadly skill. The other part of me—the I-can’t-believe-you’re-drooling-instead-of- running part—was whispering, Get out. Get out. Get out.

I whirled and ran back down the stairs. Twelve floors of stairs are a killer, even if you are going down. Four murderous dragons above you, however, are a great motivator. I hit the lobby and wanted to throw up, but I was afraid of what I’d do to the marble floor. I sank over Jane’s desk and breathed in and out. I think I’d just manifested a breath weapon. And the only one to have seen it was about to be killed.

The building groaned and bits of ceiling started to fall down. I sprinted for the doors and hit them, exiting as sirens, red trucks, and firefighters greeted me.

“Are you all right?” Jane asked, giving me a hug. She pulled me to safety behind the police barriers. Up in the sky the battle raged on as dragon fought dragon. People were standing on the tops of their cars to get footage of it with their phones.

“I think I’m going to take the rest of the day off,” I said.

Jane looked at the embassy and the dragon battle above it. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Book Two:  The Queen’s Flight

TheQueen'sFlight

Buy here: The Queen’s Flight

Courts, queens, and sexy dragons with wings…

Viola Pierce has never had particularly great luck with guys. That is, until the day she shifts into a glorious, deadly, three-headed dragon. As it turns out, Viola is a dragon Queen. But when she’s abducted by a greedy dragon who wants to breed with her, Viola begins to realize the dragon world is filled with betrayal, deception, intrigue, and danger…

As a rule, Sergei hates Queens, but Viola’s beauty and humanity reach something deep within him. Something he should not be feeling. When she names him her protector and consort–quite by accident–Sergei has no choice but to accept. Now they are bonded for life…with a growing attraction neither of them could have imagined.

But the dragon court is ruthless…and what doesn’t kill Viola will only make her more dangerous.

Sergei and Viola

Excerpt

The Queen’s Flight
by Jamie K. Schmidt

Copyright © 2015 by Jamie K. Schmidt. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Chapter One

Viola Pierce watched the clock on her computer screen. Maybe the screen wasn’t refreshing? She jiggled the mouse.

The office was sweltering, and she felt like she’d been doing tequila shots on an empty stomach. She rolled her head to ease the numbness in her neck. Would this day never end? Almost seven p.m. Once the big hand hit the twelve, she was out the door and the supplier could eat voicemail tape.

Do they even use tape anymore, or are the messages floating around in a cloud like miscreant angels?

“Ms. Pierce, do you have the numbers for the Smooshie promotion?”

Viola blinked up at her boss, Mr. Smythe.

What the heck is he doing here after six?

“I’m waiting for Paris to call, and then I can compile the data.” Viola wasn’t sure why it was so damn important if a bunch of toys stuffed with dragon feathers sold out in the first week. But humans would buy anything with the word “dragon” on it.

She pushed her glasses back up her nose and squirmed in her seat when he continued to stare at her. Some women would find him handsome, but she thought he was too slick for his own good with his soul patch and thin ponytail. He was dressed in a gray polo shirt with the company logo—a dragon’s claw—and black khaki pants. She’d never seen Smythe in his true form, but the company website had him posing in all his snake-like glory. He was black and oily, like a giant eel with wings.

“Are you all right?” He had this terrible habit of clicking his pen while he talked.

“Yes,” she said, swallowing the urge to vomit. For the last ten minutes she’d felt feverish, and her pants were cutting off her circulation.

Smythe examined her. “How old are you?” Click-click-click-click.

Viola was pretty sure he couldn’t legally ask her that question. Or maybe he could. Dragons could get away with a lot. And while she’d like to stand on principle and tell him to shove it up his scaly ass, she needed the job. “Twenty-five.” Sweat trickled down her temple as he continued to stare at her like she’d just farted the “Star Spangled Banner.”

“Hmmm,” he said, his lips pursing in thought. Then he shrugged and walked through the double glass doors and into his inner sanctum. Her head throbbed in time with his pen clicks.

Dragons. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t get a decent-paying job without ’em.

Viola took some napkins out of her desk to blot the excess moisture off her body. Checking the camera overhead, she discretely patted under her arms.

A whiff of sultry and expensive perfume warned her that one of Smythe’s girlfriends was on the prowl. Sure enough, a stacked redhead slinked up to her desk. Viola had long since given up trying to remember names. It was like a revolving door of beautiful human women.

“Tell Smythe I’m here,” the redhead du jour said, her towering stilettos tapping a staccato beat on the marble floor.

This wasn’t Viola’s first rodeo. If Smythe had been expecting the redhead, he would have left instructions. No instructions meant no entry.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Smythe isn’t in right now. I can leave him a message, if you like.” One that he would toss in the trash without even looking at.

“Do you know who I am?” The redhead drummed her perfectly manicured nails on Viola’s desk.

“I know you don’t have an appointment.” The snark just flew out before she could stop it. Sometimes Viola thought she had an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other—and the devil was mouthy.

“How dare you?”

Viola held up a hand and channeled the angel side of her personality. “I understand you’re eager to see Mr. Smythe, but he’s never in the office this late.” And for the most part that was all true. He was usually out moving and shaking with the other dragon studs.

“He’s going to make me his Queen.” The redhead pouted.

Yeah, you and every other gold digger without a gag reflex.

Viola was proud that little gem stayed inside her head. There were only five dragon Queens in the world. You had to be born one, not made. Red was out of luck if she thought Smythe was going to give her a crown.

“He’s probably at his club. I bet if you leave now, you can catch him at the bar.”

The redhead huffed. But luckily, she took the bait and, with a final sneer, sailed out of the office with a toss of her fiery mane.

Viola didn’t understand why humans went crazy over dragons. Sure, they were rich and powerful, but deep down they were reptiles—more like dinosaurs. Everywhere—TV, internet, billboards—there was another news story or advertisement or plain old gossip about them. Even Viola had taken a quiz in her magazine, “What kind of dragon are you?” She came up with a sky dragon.

Nimble and ethereal, you float through your world like the Queen you are, the description read. The sun is your only goddess and your radiance will lead you to greatness.

What a bunch of horseshit. Dragonshit. Whatever.

The annoying ring of her phone brought her back to the present.

“Talon Industries,” Viola answered, in case the powers that be were monitoring her call.

“Vi, you were supposed to be home an hour ago.”

“I know, Ma.” She lowered her voice. “I’ll be home soon. I’m waiting on an overseas call.” It was difficult talking to her mother—even worse when she was right. Viola rubbed the burning ache in her chest.

“Something suspicious is going on at the dragon embassy in Hartford. Has your lizard said anything about it?”

“Nope.” One of these days, her mother’s conspiracy theories were going to get her fired.

“It’s like a street party. Dragons everywhere. They’ve got the riot cops out to keep order. You should see all these stupid people falling all over themselves dying to get a picture or an autograph. It’s disgusting.”

“Oh yeah?” Viola tried to get to CNN’s website, but there was too much traffic. She switched to TMZ and pressed “play” on an amateur live video link. Goosebumps raised up on both her arms and she rubbed them. It was spooky. She saw a bunch of dragons, all shapes and sizes. The display was impressive. No wonder the media was having a field day.

The Chinese dragons were the newscasters’ favorite because they were the most colorful, both in body and personality. Although, something had to be said for the pure brutal power of the Celtic dragons. They took no shit, brooked no quarter. They were like a living embodiment of arrogance. There were even some species of dragons she’d never even seen before.

“Is that a Queen?” Viola said, squinting at her screen. There hadn’t been a Queen hatched in over a thousand years. “Is it Esmerelda?” Esmerelda was North America’s Queen, and if she was in Connecticut, the traffic on the interstate would be a parking lot for days.

The humans were being roped off by the cops and whoever was sending the video was too far away to get any more details.

Something was definitely going on. Viola could feel the excitement through the pictures on her screen. It wasn’t mixing well with her sickness.

“No, it’s the bitch from Europe, Lerisse.”

“I didn’t think she ever left Paris.” Viola wasn’t a dragon groupie, but she followed the news. All those male dragons to only five females? Well, it was no wonder the dragon studs plowed their way through human women.

“It’s like a rock concert. Girls throwing their unmentionables at them, screaming and fainting,” her mother ranted.

Viola gave a short a laugh. Working as a dragon’s administrative assistant cured any dragon fevershe might have had. Riffling through her desk, she found her last two antacids and popped them.

Her mother was no doubt plastered to the television. She had a love-hate relationship with the dragons. She loved to hate them.

“I bet they’re planning to take over the world,” her mother said in an ominous tone.

“From Connecticut?”

“Think about it. It’s the perfect time. We rely on them for everything now as it is. Name me one CEO of a fortune-five-hundred company that’s not a dragon, and I’ll bet he’s a figurehead. I’m telling you, Vi, it will be back to the feudal days. They’ll hold humanity in their wretched claws.”

Viola focused on her company’s logo of a dragon’s talon clutching the earth, which loomed on the wall. For some inane reason, her mind starting singing, “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.”

Her stomach roiled ominously and it wasn’t only from her mother’s dramatics or her weird thoughts. “I gotta go, Ma.” Bile was creeping up her throat.

“Pick up some ice cream on your way home.”

Viola disconnected the phone and wrenched her headset off. To hell with the supplier. She was shaking. She heard a loud rip as the seam of her dress pants gave way. Mortification flooded through her, but then the back of her blouse shredded.

Before she could do anything but grab at the scraps of fabric, her whole body rumbled and expanded, like she was a balloon attached to a helium tank. Her cubicle walls went flying. The desk crunched under her as her body elongated and broadened.

There wasn’t any pain, but a whirlwind of excitement danced through her body like lightning bugs chasing butterflies. Viola was stretched to her very limit. Her ears hurt from the sound of a thousand car alarms that shattered the tiny windows surrounding her office.

It took her a minute to realize that she was making that sound. The copier was smashed to smithereens as a giant barbed tail slammed down on it.

Her tail.

Panicking now, Viola ran but became off balanced until she was on four legs. Four? Rearing her head up, she banged it on the ceiling and chunks of particle board fell on her heads.

Heads?

She glanced to her right. A white, horse-like head with a long equine nose stared back at her. It looked as astonished as she was. Whipping her head to the left, she saw a red head with goat-slitted eyes and horns. It looked mad.

What the hell did her middle head look like?

“Duh, dragon. Purple face, long snout, big sharp teeth.”

“But your eyes are a lovely shade of violet,” the white horse head said in a calming voice that reminded her of her late grandmother.

“This isn’t happening,” Viola panted. Barreling through the room, she left crater-sized holes in the cubicle walls when her shoulders wouldn’t squeeze through.

“It’s happening, doll,” the red goat head said in a snarling cadence.

Viola hit a dead end when her bulk wouldn’t let her get to the hallway. This was like the one time she couldn’t fit her ass in the economy seat on that discount airline. Hyperventilating, she pushed and squirmed. If she couldn’t get to the hallway, she couldn’t get to the door, and she’d be trapped. Her tail swung in agitation. Computers, phones, and desks went airborne all over the office.

“Calm down!” a voice sounded behind her.

Oh no!

Viola turned around. “Mr. Smythe, I’m sorry about the mess. I don’t know what’s happening.”

He sidled around the debris, smiling wide with delight and…avarice? “My dear girl. You are far too old to shift—but you did. I can’t believe it. I thought I smelled a female dragon. I thought I was going crazy. But here you are.”

“I don’t understand.” Viola was horrified her voice was warbling.

“I don’t, either, but you’re going to be fine,” he said. His soothing voice grated on her last nerve.

“Fine? I’m a freak!” Viola screeched.

Her horse head spoke, “I’ll find a way to pay for all this. Please don’t fire me,”

“You’re a Queen now, Viola. You won’t have to pay for anything ever again.”

“Nothing’s free,” her left head hissed. Viola had to agree with the goat.

Smythe smoothed down his tie. “We can talk about that later. Shift back into human and we can go up to my office and have a light supper and a drink to ease your nerves. We can talk about your future.”

“I don’t know how to…shift,” she said. She’d worry about the rest of his offer once she was back in her own body.

He looked at her like she had three heads—which she did. “You just do it. Think about becoming a human.”

“I am human.” Even if she looked like a three-headed nightmare, she felt human.

He raised an eyebrow, looking her up and down.

“I used to be, anyway.”

Viola closed her eyes and imagined shrinking. It didn’t work. She tried retracting her tail, but she only managed to swing it through the debris. Sitting back on her haunches, she glared at her arms. They were covered in feathers, and instead of hands, and she had eagle-like talons.

“If I’m a dragon, where are my wings?” she asked, attempting to look over her shoulder without bumping into her two other heads.

There they were.

They were wisps of gossamer silk draped over her back like a cloak. She could barely see them in the fluorescent lighting “And why do I have three heads?”

“I don’t know. You’re unlike any dragon species I’ve ever seen. But you’re beautiful.”

Viola recoiled from the malevolent greed emanating from him.

When he raised his hand to touch her flank, her goat head snapped at him, missing his fingers by a hair’s breadth. Smythe smiled and moved out of striking reach. “I can see you need a little time to get used to your new form.” He backed away slowly. “I’ll have dinner brought down to you. Would you like anything else?”

“Wine,” Viola said. “A lot of it.”

“You are not going to get hysterical,” Horse said. “There’s a perfectly good explanation for all of this.”

“You’re huge!” Goat said.

Viola distanced her mind from reality. It helped if she pretended she was watching a movie—that this shift had happened to another woman. Her sanity hung on a thin thread.

A small part of her was gleeful she was out of a job—there was no way they wouldn’t fire her for this mess. Another nagging part of her worried how she’d find a way out of here.

After kicking the padded cubicle walls on top of each other, Viola climbed on top and closed her eyes, concentrating on her breathing to calm her raging thoughts.

Squeaky wheels had her opening up an eye. A large cask of wine was being rolled in.

“Three straws, please,” Goat said.

“Breaking News,” the mechanical announcement said over the PA system, followed by an annoying xylophone ring of tones. “Dragon ritual ends in tragedy and hope.”

“Is there anything else I can get you, my Queen?” the night janitor asked. His head was downcast and she bet if he had one, he would have tugged on his forelock in reverence.

“Bob, it’s me. Viola. Sorry about the mess.”

“Think nothing of it.”

Well that was a switch. She used to get her ass chewed out for throwing gum in her trashcan.

She closed her eyes on one head. It was like winking. She glanced behind her, in front, and to the side and almost threw up from the wave of vertigo.

“What would you like for dinner? We have a side of beef I can have the chefs warm up. Or there are some chickens we can deep fry.”

“That’s probably not a good idea.”

“As my Queen commands.”

But what if she got hungry later? It wasn’t as if she could call out for Chinese delivery. She didn’t have fingers anymore. Flexing her fingers, her claws contracted. Maybe having something more than a diet shake in her stomach would settle her blood sugar and help her get a handle on what was going on.

“On second thought, Bob, the beef sounds great.”

She winced, expecting him to go off on a tirade, like he always did when asked to do something, but he merely bowed.

“Don’t freak out,” Horse told her.

“I dunno,” Goat chimed in. “It seems like the thing to do.”

The PA system continued to broadcast the breaking news while she gnawed on the beef Bob and two others brought her. She was able to eat with all three heads.

As she pieced together what happened, Viola asked for another cask of wine. Trying to talk while one of the heads was chewing was almost impossible. She felt like a ventriloquist. Or its dummy.

Apparently Lerisse, the dragon Queen, had sacrificed her life during a magic ritual and had broken the curse plaguing the dragons for centuries. Her life force empowered female dragons to finally shift, like they should have once they reached puberty.

Viola would have shifted into a dragon Queen sometime around her fifteenth birthday, if this crazy Cult hadn’t cursed the dragon female line a thousand years ago.

“Swell.” Viola swigged back the second cask. At least she hadn’t been at her mom’s house and squished the cat. If she had to wreck the joint, she couldn’t have picked a nicer place than good old Talon Industries.

Unfortunately, instead of firing her, Smythe seemed to think he’d won the lottery and assumed she was destined to be his Queen.

“Not going to happen,” Goat said.

“You’re telling me?” Viola burped, shaking the few cubicle walls that were still standing. “’Scuse me.”

“He was kind enough to give you a promotion when your supervisor quit,” Horse said, sounding like the voice of reason.

“It’s not like he had the choice. He didn’t have time to train anyone new,” Goat quibbled.

“Shaddap,” Viola slurred and drained the cask. “Maybe this is all a weird, hallucinogenic trip. Someone put happy gas in the ventilation system.” She yawned and a few more windows cracked. “I’m going to sleep, and tomorrow, I’ll be back to normal.”

Viola sank her dragon head on her chest. Her left and right heads rolled their eyes before tucking in and following suit.

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