Here it is! Chapter Seven of the The Skeleton Key. This is a Round Robin Blogvel created by the fascinating and wonderfully terrific Michelle Simkins You can find a complete list of chapters here. The next chapter will be available on Monday, July 25 at Jennifer's Blog The Demeter Diaries.
“I’ve got Jacque on call and Greta is on her way, though honestly, I have no idea what they could do to improve her.” Ashley glanced furtively at Angelica, longing clear in her hazel eyes. “Some girls have all the—” Her babbling halted with a squeak. “Beck,” her voice dropped to a harsh whisper. Ashley’s entourage leaned in, straining to hear her words. “Don’t look now, but the next Gap model is standing behind you. He is smoking!”
I tore my gaze from Angelica, who was glaring at Ax with palpable hostility, and followed Ashley’s eyes as they darted between Ax and me. “Um…about that…” I grabbed Ashley’s upper arm in a death grip.
“Ouch, Beck. What are you doing?” Ashley whined. Behind me, I could feel Ax’s body heat rise to scorching, and wondered idly if he would spontaneously combust. Ashley’s Jimmy Choo’s screeched in protest on the marble tile as I dragged her towards Ax.
“We must leave at once,” Ax informed me. His eyes were tight at the corners and his mouth set in a grim line. He took in Ashley, from her perfectly highlighted curls to her beachy coral toe nail polish that peeked out from her designer shoes. Jealousy bloomed in my chest. She was my identical twin after all. If Ax thought I was his mate, what did that mean for Ashley?
“Beck—wait,” Ashley drew up haltingly, her eyes wide on Ax. “You know him?”
Apparently we didn’t have time for introductions, because Ax hauled us unceremoniously into the crowded New York street. I ducked to avoid a collision with a sign that read ‘Meat: God’s Perfect Food.’ I caught a glimpse of Ashley’s stunned entourage through the glass windows, and finally Angelica. She bared her teeth, but she wasn’t looking at me. Her black eyes were trained solidly on Ax’s retreating back.
Ax didn’t stop until we were four blocks away, inside a crowded café. Ashley was rendered speechless, either by Ax’s rudeness or beauty—I wasn’t sure which.
I wrenched my wrist away from Ax’s scorching fingers, surprised when he let me. “Ashley, this is Ax. He’s my…friend.” How else could I describe him? Hey Ash, this is my mate. He’s a dragon—sometimes steam comes out his ears. Don’t worry, he’s harmless.
Ashley’s perfectly arched eyebrow reached her hair line. “Really? Fascinating.” Color rose in her cheeks and her voice turned menacing. I wasn’t really worried. Unlike Ax, Ashley actually was harmless. “As much as I’d love to stay and chat, I’ve got to get back to Angelica.” She whirled, ready to stomp from the dingy coffee shop.
“You will not be returning to Angelica,” Ax growled. A tiny puff of steam curled from his right ear.
“What’ll it be?”
Startled, the three of us turned to the barista. She cracked her gum and feigned disinterest in us. “Three chamomile teas please, skim milk and honey.” Ax gave her a winning smile and she swallowed hard.
When the barista was out of earshot, I said, “You drink chamomile tea?” I thought dragons only ate flesh—preferably still warm on the live and writhing victim.
Ax shrugged, “It calms me.”
Ashley looked ready to explode, her hands clenched in fists at her sides. “Look—I don’t know what’s going on with the two of you, but Angelica is waiting and I have a massage at one with Sven…” She trailed off as fresh steam wisped from Ax’s ears. All the blood drained from her face.
Oh no, I thought, here we go. I patted her arm reassuringly, wondering if she was going to faint. Ax would probably catch her gallantly and whisk her away to safety. I put my arm around her waist, just in case. “We need to talk,” I said finally.
Ax retrieved our steaming cups of tea and we took a table shoved into the corner of the tiny dining area. Ashley’s pallor turned from pale to purple to sickening green as I explained the morning’s events. Her hands shook so badly that she spilled scorching tea across the table and into Ax’s lap. He jumped up with a growl.
“Here, let me.” I pressed my napkin to the front of his jeans, until I realized where I was touching. Embarrassed heat flushed my face. Did dragons have male parts? He must, I decided. He was in a human body, after all. Ax stilled my hand with his own.
“It’s fine.” He held my fingers a moment too long, an amused smile altering his features and darkening his eyes with something else. Desire? Longing? When he finally released me, I crossed my arms protectively across my chest, hiding my hands.
“So—what you’re saying, what you said…what…” Ashley mumbled her first words, her eyes huge and disbelieving. “You’re crazy.” She nodded, her honey curls bobbed on her shoulders. “You’re both crazy.” She pinched her arm, wincing when nothing happened.
I snorted. I’d had the same reaction. “Look—all you’re going to do is get bruises. You won’t wake up. Ax is still a dragon, I’m still searching for someone’s finger, and all the monsters are real.” My voice took on an air of superiority. I was older by seven minutes. It was easy for me to boss Ashley around—I’d been doing it for twenty three years.
“No…” she moaned. “I’m just gonna go back to Chic and do the shoot with Angelica. We’re going to forget this ever happened.” She breathed heavily, like she’d just run a marathon. “None of this is real.”
Angelica. I’d forgotten about her, what with all my consoling of Ashley. I considered her long limbs and raven hair, her shiny coal eyes. I’d never seen anyone more beautiful. I wondered how Ax knew her. Neither one of them looked particularly pleased to see the other.
Next to me, Ashley hyperventilated while Ax looked on, unimpressed.
"It's going to be fine," I crooned in an irritating falsetto. "It's not so bad."
Ashley jumped to her feet, nearly knocking over the two remaining cups of tea. "You..." She pointed an accusatory finger at Ax. Several other patrons swiveled their heads with interest.
Before Ashley could morph into a total freak out, I pushed her towards the bathroom. Obviously, public was not the place to have this conversation. I’d warned Ax that she wouldn’t take this information well.
Ax followed us into the women’s bathroom, his expression murderous. He locked the door. The three of us barely fit in the tiny, smelly space. Ax’s shoulders brushed Ashley’s and she jumped, pressing herself closer to me.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she begged. She jammed a fist against her trembling lips and mascara streaked tears made rivers on her cheeks.
I rolled my eyes. We were better off without her. I dug through my bag for a tissue, ignoring the hummer that took up most of the space.
“What’s going on in there?” The door rattled under someone’s fist, loud enough to jar my teeth loose. Ashley mouth rounded into an ‘o’ in preparation to scream for help.
I lifted my hand to cover her face, but Ax had already pulled Ashley and me against him. We disappeared from the bathroom in a wall of flames.
I found myself on a busy city street. People bustled around us, speaking in high, melodic voices. I couldn’t understand their words.
“Where are we?” I murmured, looking around before glancing back at Ax. He was holding Ashley upright. Her eyes were rolled back in her head, the whites showing. She’d actually fainted. What a lightweight.
Ax looked down at Ashley in disgust. Her head lolled against his arm. “Is she always this…fragile?”
I laughed, “I warned you.” Behind him I spied a familiar landmark. “We’re in Tokyo?” I squealed, delighted. I’d always wanted to visit Tokyo, though I always thought it would involve tons of money, a vacation planner, and a really long flight.
Ax brusquely slung Ashley over his shoulder and firmly grasped my hand. He pulled me down the crowded street.
“Is there an embassy here?” I wondered as Ax continued dragging me, his fingers burning mine. “Do you think this one is ruined too? Where are the others?” My feet slapped against the pavement as I struggled to keep up with him. “Who’s Angelica?” Slap, slap, slap. “Why does she hate you?” Slap, slap, slap. “Why aren’t you answering me?”
Ax stopped abruptly and I smacked into Ashley’s drooping head. She moaned in response.
“Angelica,” Ax snarled. Steam trickled from his ears and his face turned beet red. He yanked on my hand, as if to continue dragging me. I dug my feet in and refused to budge. He rounded on me, enraged. Steam poured from his ears. “Why must you be so inquisitive?” He demanded.
I put my hands on my hips. “Why must you be so obtuse?”
Ax snorted and a smile broke across his face. “Rebecca…” he trailed a hand across my cheek and I instinctively leaned into it before I realized what I was doing. I stepped away from him, but he only frowned. “I have lived for fifteen hundred years. I am the most powerful being this side of the Quaterjarnexal Complex. And yet you question me.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him, working up my meanest expression—the one I reserved for only the direst moments. “Look buddy, this morning I found out that my coworker is a succubus, my boss is some sort of black,” I flailed my arms wildly, “thing, and was informed that the world is composed of monsters, demons, and things that go bump in the night. I was sent on a godforsaken mission to retrieve some dead chick’s finger from a murderer, and I saw a dead body.” I took a threatening step towards him. He had the common sense to look worried.
“I’ve been to Iceland, Istanbul, and Tokyo in the matter of a few hours. You’re a dragon that’s claimed me as a mate and you’re lugging my unconscious sister around like a sack of potatoes. Forgive me if I start to question you!”
“Angelica,” he said very mildly, “Is my ex-girlfriend. And if we don’t find the skeleton key, she’s going to kill me.”