TABITHA WISHED SOMETIMES THAT SHE DRANK. Even a drop of wine on her tongue made her nauseous. Part of the price, her mother had said, before confessing she couldn’t touch it either. It would have been helpful right now while Howard rambled on about his job as a professor of classic literature at the local university. How many drinks would it take, she wondered, to make him look like those hunks on a romance novel’s cover. Three? No. Had to be more. Three would only make that patch of hair in the center of his balding head sexy.
He told a joke, and she forced out a laugh.
Be honest, Tabitha, she thought. It’s not how he looks. His sense of humor doesn’t fit with yours. He bores you.
But then, the charismatic ones didn’t do it for her, either. Even the hotties she’d managed somehow to attract in her first year at college eventually bored her. At least there the feeling was mutual, she thought, remembering his wide eyes when he’d found out she wasn’t going to sleep with anyone until she was married.
That was part of the price, too.
All my life, she thought, watching Howard eat and wondering if she would ever feel a connection to any male of her species, I have sacrificed for the sake of keeping the ability to use magic. I have done this to keep a promise I made to my mother. If I didn’t feel that aura, I would have given up long ago.
She felt the residual magic in the crystal tucked in her shoe (the only place on her person she could hide it and still feel its warmth) and was glad for it. It gave her something else to focus on besides finding a husband.
Unable to take it anymore she said, “Excuse me. I have to use the ladies’ room.” She got up and tried not to run. A small curl fell in front of her eyes and this time she did use a little magic to blow it away until she could get in front of a mirror.
What good is keeping my ability, she thought, if I never feel I can use it?
A balding man coming out of the men’s room hit her shoulder, knocking her slightly off-balance.
The man stared at her as well for a moment, eyes wide. Then he said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
Tabitha shook her head, feeling as if she’d been drugged. Her eyes saw the balding, average-looking old man in front of her. In her mind, however, she could see a dragon with gray-green scales and horns that went straight back from his head, green as his scales but with brown tips. Only the eyes stayed the same, with brown irises, streaked with gold, green and purple, though the dragon’s pupil was a long slit, not round.
Her mom was right. Dragons were real.
She couldn’t breathe, the aura so thick around her it was as if she were drowning in it. The old man’s eyes narrowed. “Are you all right?”
He’s feigning concern, she thought. Once I admit weakness, he’ll attack.
“Do you need to sit down?” he continued, reaching out to her now.
Forcing herself to think, she shook her head quickly. “No,” she wheezed, moving away from him. “I’m fine.”
“Yes, you’re so fine you’re not breathing.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and watched her.
“I’m fine,” she stressed, trying not to gasp. “I just…had a little trouble there.”
I should have brought my wand like my mother told me when I was younger, she thought. It would have been a pain, but now she had a dragon right in front of her and couldn’t do a thing about it. The old man nodded, not believing her in the slightest if his narrowed eyes were any indication, and it was then she noticed that he sniffed. In fact, he was sniffing more often than the strange man who asked for Machiavelli. He’s searching for something, she realized, noting how his eyes never left her face.
“Well,” he smiled, “If you’re sure?”
She nodded. “Yes,” And it was true. His aura had been stifling at first, but she had adjusted enough to be able to hide the impact it had on her.
I wonder if this is part of the price?
She ducked into the ladies’ room, waited a moment, then opened the door to see if she could catch him going back to his seat. The old man disappeared around a corner. She left the room and followed him, watching him as he sat down at a table that also had an athletic-looking, brown-haired woman with sunglasses. Must be blind, she thought, noticing that the woman mostly stared straight ahead in the dim light. He said something to the sunglasses woman who looked in his direction, nodded, then looked directly at Tabitha, as if she saw her. She smirked and turned back to the old man.
Maybe she was a dragon, too.
My wand, she thought. I have to get my wand.
The woman in sunglasses stood up. Unfolding her cane, she said what seemed to be good-bye to the old man and left, while the old man called over a waiter. Tabitha hurried back to her table, never losing sight of the old man. If she could end this date now, she might be able to find a way to follow the old man home. Once she knew where he lived, she could fulfill her promise to her mother. The thought still hadn’t entirely registered. So many years and it was finally time to finish it and move on with the rest of her life.
Thankfully, the old man was still in view when she sat down. Yes, he’d asked for the check and was leaving. “Howard,” Tabitha said, hating herself for lying, “I’m not feeling well. I think we’d better call it a night.”
“Oh, okay.” He called to the waiter for the check, then turned back to Tabitha, his concern increasing her guilt. “Do you want me to get you something on the way home?”
“Actually,” she cringed, “I think it’s a stomach bug. I’d hate to ruin the floor of your car, so I’ll just call a taxi.”
“Oh.” He wrinkled his nose and said, “All right. I’ll take care of dinner.”
Tabitha brightened a little. She tended to be an old-fashioned girl, a trait encouraged by watching her father serve her mother, and small gestures like that made her smile. It was, her mother explained, a sign of hospitality. On a date, you’re the man’s guest, even if he takes you out to eat. “That’s very sweet of you.”
“You can just pay me back on our next date.”
Her smile faded and she glanced back at the old man. His table was empty. Panic caused her to get up unsteadily, muttering something to Howard in way of appreciation, before walking swiftly toward the exit. Up ahead, she saw the old man and relaxed. Just find out where he lives, she told herself. Pulling out her cell phone, she called for a cab. It shouldn’t take long for one to arrive. She followed him outside, watched him walk down the street, then duck into an alley. Not even thinking of the danger she might be in, she rushed forward and saw…an empty alley.
And yet his aura was so thick, she couldn’t believe he wasn’t still here, somewhere.
For a moment, she looked at the dead-end alley for any place he might have hidden. Maybe he was hiding behind the dumpster. Or in it.
But that would mean he knew she had been watching him. That she knew what he really was.
Without a wand, she wouldn’t be able to kill him. That was what her mother had told her. But she did know how to defend herself from an attack using the wind. Quietly, she reached out, her open palm feeling the magic tied into the air around her. She closed her fingers and pulled back. It followed obediently, rippling from her hand as if she had pulled it through sunlit water. With her other hand, she grabbed one end of the ripples she had caused and, walking forward, moved it behind her, twisting it as she walked, faster and faster. Fast enough and she could at least knock the dragon—he wouldn’t keep his human form during an attack most likely—down long enough for her to get into a better position.
Or run, her more practical side reminded her.
First, she looked all around the dumpster. No sign of a dragon, though the aura was thick deeper in the alley. Bracing herself for an attack from the first real dragon she’d ever found, she decided to use the wind to lift the dumpster lid, thus keeping her hands free. Crouching down as best she could in her A-line dress—never built for combat, that much was clear—hand still twisting her magical weapon, she scooped up a ball of magic, glowing in her hand like fire. She took in a deep breath and held the ball in front of her mouth, squeezing it to condense it as tightly as possible in her fist. One quick blow through into her fist and the magic streamed outward, the contained energy powerful enough to blow the dumpster lid back.
Nothing emerged. Scratching noises from inside kept Tabitha ready. Gathering magic again in the palm of her hand, the scratching turned into a scrambling. A rat jumped from the inside the dumpster and scurried away.
“Just a rat?” she whispered and dared to look inside. Only garbage within. “Good gr—!” She kicked the dumpster, stubbing her big toe.
She gritted her teeth against the tears forming in her eyes. Resentment she hadn’t even realized had been growing filled her now. She could feel his aura disappearing. He was gone.
She didn’t even know how he’d left. The wall was too high to jump and she didn’t think he’d want to risk transforming to escape. With a sigh, she reluctantly walked back to the street, then let out a bitter chuckle. Her taxi had arrived.
This ends the excerpt of Lady Fair, book two in the series, The Will of the Unknown, available in ebook form December 13, 2013. Please follow this blog if you’d like to know when it’s available on the various platforms. If you have an account on Goodreads, please add this book to your To Read list. Thank you.