The Queen's Mystery, страница 1
Schmidt / Queen’s Mystery Novella - 74
The Queen’s Mystery
An Emerging Queens Novella
Jamie K. Schmidt
This story takes place before the events in The Queen’s Wings.
The Queen's Mystery is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright @2016 by Jamie K. Schmidt.
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Cover Design by Thomas Schmidt
Chapter One: She walks in beauty, like the night
Bianca stood outside the dragon's bookstore and willed herself not to run away. She felt like the Little Match Girl. The biting wind cut through her coat and snowflakes dusted her eyelashes. Instead of lighting matches to keep warm, she was huddled in the doorway trying to figure out why the musky, Old Spice scent of the dragon smelled like coming home.
Byron's Classic Books looked like an antique store from the outside. It was a well kept secret in the dragon community. Nothing on the outside of the shop gave it away. Byron liked his privacy, disliked humans in general, and lived for books of all shapes and sizes. While the other stores on this block were decked out in holiday cheer, the bookstore was dark and uninviting.
Glancing down at the small children's book Niall had given her to bribe her way in, Bianca noticed her hand was shaking when she wiped the plastic covering. She wasn't afraid of the dragon, she was afraid of herself. She was going to start her new job at Smythe Industries in January as a dragon human liaison. It was a golden opportunity, and she was going to blow it if Byron couldn’t help her. Apparently, this little book was the key to his cooperation.
Before she left Niall’s office, she flipped through the pages. It was an illustrated 1872 copy of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Color pictures hadn’t been invented yet. Or rather they had, but it wasn’t widely used. But this copy had illustrations that no human had added to the book. A dragon child added his own illustrations of the golden haired princess and her friend Curdie, the miner’s son. The pictures had been magicked into the book. It was one of a kind. Niall had assured her, Byron would give her anything she wanted for this missing piece of his collection.
She swallowed past a lump in her throat. She needed to trade this children's book for an old diary from a monk who was in The Order of the Dragon Slayers. But more important, she had to remember that mission when she was alone with the dragon. She had always been attracted to dragons. Who wouldn't? The dragon Queens were mystery incarnate. There were only five of them in the world now, the last Queen dying way before Bianca was born. There hadn’t been a new Queen in centuries. But the male dragon, or studs as they were called, made the Earth their playground. There was never a shortage of humans to do their bidding in exchange for touching greatness.
This year, her infatuation became much more ominous for Bianca. Dragons of all shapes and sizes dropped what they were doing and huddled around her -- just to smell her. It was the weirdest thing she'd ever experienced. If she decided to sell her body, she could be living large right now. Bianca had been tempted, especially after the last dragon offered her a Bentley and an expense account at Tiffany's. But her abeula would've had a stroke.
Bianca finally went to Yale's department of Draconia to speak with the Great Wyrm, Niall, to see if he knew why she was suddenly catnip to dragons. Niall was one of the older dragons, the young ones -- studs -- usually died in adolescence from fighting each other as their hormones went berserk. Niall was old when the dragons signed the Treaty of 1099 with The Order of Dragon Slayers to broker peace between humans and dragons.
Niall noticed her twitching in his classroom at Yale and called her up to the podium after the lecture. He was wise enough to notice the symptoms and had his assistant, Carolyn with him at all times. They didn’t call him the All Knowing for nothing. Carolyn was human, like Bianca, and spent most of the time with her nose in a book.
"You have an intriguing scent," he told her, after they ruled out she was wearing a new perfume or used a new laundry detergent. "It would attract younger males to you like bees to clover, with the same thought of . . ." Niall cleared his throat. "Pollinating."
"I don't want to be a sex toy to studs," Bianca said, crossing her legs tight at the ankle and wringing her hands.
They tried several things. Niall introduced her to several studs, all with the same results. The adolescent males had to be physically restrained from grabbing her and running away with her. The older the dragon, the more controlled the reaction. Niall had arranged for her to go to the Dragon Embassy for testing because he said she had an unusual aura. That turned out to be a disaster. Too many dragons, not enough humans. Security had escorted her out. Thankfully she still had her underwear on.
As a last resort, Niall wanted her to meet a representative from The Order of the Dragon Slayers, but he was afraid they would recruit her to use against rogue dragons. He sent out inquiries, but then decided to send her to Byron's bookstore instead. Byron was an elder dragon. Not quite Great Wyrm status, but long past adolescence. Niall assured her that Byron would be more interested in the Princess and the Goblin book, than her.
If they could get the Order's diary, Bianca could stay under the Order's radar. It supposedly been stolen from them and may have a record of her condition. The book could have the cure inside it. She wouldn't get in trouble for possessing it because she was human. Byron and Niall had nothing to worry about, either. Sages like them were valued members of society, both dragon and human. The ODS only went after the man-eaters, and in this day and age they were few and far between. Or so the dragon society led you to believe.
"Can't you come with me?" she had asked Niall.
"It is not allowed." He was sympathetic, but resolute.
"Can I bring a friend?"
"He won't allow more than one human in his restricted area."
“Can’t someone else go?”
Niall shook his head. “The less people know about your condition the better.”
"What if he attacks me?"
Bianca wished she had Niall's confidence.
She could be cured.
She just needed to keep him at arms length.
Pushing open the door, Bianca paused in the doorway, blinking at the dim light. The scent of dragon musk tickled her nose and her knees trembled.
She saw him in the back corner of the store, but truthfully she sensed him first. A brooding, handsome man looked up at her in annoyance. B
They were sitting in a lushly decorated salon with a roaring fire. Bryon sprawled on the settee, his cravat undone, and his wine untouched. Her consort filled her glass and she continued on with the story of Victor's creature.
The bell ringer from the Salvation Army across the street jolted her out of her reverie. She blinked, still seeing imposed over the bookstore the men at her feet, hanging on her every word.
Bianca swallowed, almost tasting the fine wine.
"I've brought you this. From Niall." She handed him Niall’s scroll and the book, then scuttled back to the wide oak desk where the ancient cash register resided. She leaned against it, and forced herself take in the details of the bookstore to distract herself from the penetrating stare the dragon was still leveling at her.
It was clear Byron didn't want customers. Uninviting, the store was dark and the tomes on the shelves were in Latin. A cranky cat glared up at her from its perch next to the old style cash register. She didn’t dare pet it for fear of losing a few fingers. Sliding off her heavy wool coat, Bianca hung it on a ramshackle coat rack watching it sway as it took the weight.
Unable to bear the weight of his gaze, she faced him again. The bookstore owner resembled his shop. In human guise, he sat in a threadbare Queen Anne chair, the same dull, moss green color as the curtains around the shop’s window. Bianca wasn’t sure if he really was Lord Byron or if he just took on the poet’s name and resemblance. He dressed the part, in a mousy brown suit with a gold pocket watch tucked into his vest.
He hadn't jumped on her yet, but neither had he spoken. The worst part is for the first time, Bianca, felt an attraction back. Damned inconvenient. Sighing part in frustration and part longing, she pulled her curly brown hair off her neck and fanned herself. The imagined scene by the fire, faded.
"Do you want the book or not?" Fear made her snap the question at him. She didn't like feeling out of sorts.
Byron pulled his eyes from her to glance at the title. He did a double take. The scroll was forgotten as he pulled the book out of the protective sleeve. Verifying the date, he stared at the pictures. He was expressive for a dragon and she saw whimsy and nostalgia flash across his face before he remembered to clear it to a haughty impassiveness.
"It's a first edition," she said, her voice several degrees lower and with a husky note that had him glancing back up at her.
He nodded once, holding it to his chest. Then one-handed, he opened the scroll next. Bianca knew this dragon wouldn’t risk insulting the Great Wyrm of Yale and after the reaction she just saw, he would never give up that book. So her admittance into the old records was almost guaranteed. But would she find the cure she was looking for?
He looked over his glasses at the scroll, his strong jaw clenching and his dark eyes stormy. She watched him with a predatory desire that shook her with the depth of it. She wasn't a lust at first sight type of girl. If this was a hint of what the studs felt when they smelled her, she needed to figure out what was going on as soon as possible because she wanted to sit in Byron's lap and press kisses over his face. Glancing back at the door, she wondered if she should leave until the feeling passed. She could come back when he wasn't there. Get the book and go. The lust didn’t feel temporary. It felt bone deep, as if she would never get enough.
He stood up abruptly, startling the cat. Even Bianca took a wary step back. He hadn’t looked so big in the chair, but he loomed down over her she felt a little like a mouse about to be batted around by an ear-bitten tabby. He laid the children’s book on the desk with an affectionate pat.
“Why didn’t Niall send his assistant? The Carolyn girl?”
“He had things for her to do today.”
Niall actually said, “I’m afraid Carolyn couldn’t help herself in a place like Byron’s. I might never see her again or he might eat her in a fit of pique for touching his beloved books.”
"What's your name?"
Mary. Bianca almost said that name. Where had that come from? "Doesn't the scroll say?"
"I wanted to hear it from your lips."
"Bianca," she said, not sure if she was trying to convince him or her.
"And what do you want?"
You. Which was crazy. Bianca squelched that thought.
"The diary." She pointed a shaking finger at the scroll.
"Mmm hmmm," Bryon purred.
Bianca's knees went weak at the familiar sound.
They were in bed. The sheets were rumpled, the pillows askew. His teeth was on her throat. Her head was thrown back and she was clawing at his back, urging him on.
"Mary," he growled. "I love you madly."
"No words, my stud," she panted. "Let me feel the depth of your love instead."
"Are you all right?" Bryon put his hand on her arm.
Wrenched out of a daydream, Bianca felt her face flush. The symptoms must be getting worse. Instead of being dragon catnip, she was becoming dragon-struck. Soon, she would be one of those pathetic creatures so struck with the power and charisma of dragons, they devoted their lives to them as groupies, slaves, anything as long as they were allowed to bask in the dragon's presence.
"That's not me," Bianca said, her voice sounding odd to her ears.
"Are you sure?" Bryon asked.
Could he read her mind? Could he see her visions?
Bianca pulled out of his grasp. She could do this. Focus and concentrate. She’d get the book and leave. As soon as she hit the cool air outside, she’d be fine. She just had to hold it together for ten more minutes, tops. Bianca hoped it wasn’t much longer than that.
“So you just graduated from Yale?” he mused, toying with the scroll.
Bianca was sure all of her credentials were there, so she just nodded. Her foot tapped and her fingers drummed on the counter. He needed to hurry.
“What does one do with an advanced degree in,” he checked the paper, “ancient civilizations, with a concentration on dragon society and politics?”
“I’m looking to be a dragon ambassador.” Something that could never happen if each dragon she met wanted to bend her over a board room table every time a liaison was needed.
“It’s my dream come true.”
“To be a bureaucrat?” Byron hitched his hip on the desk, and idly stroked the cat.
Bianca watched the long fingers and swallowed past her dry throat. “Public service is a calling.” Truth was, she had been fascinated with dragons. It went beyond the teenage posters all over her walls. She toured all the five Queen’s castles—even had a picture with Esmeralda, the Cuélebre of North America outside of her temple on the Mayan Riviera. She had felt at home there.
“So’s the priesthood,” he said.
“Were you a priest?”
He shook his head. “I like fucking too much to give a vow of chastity.”
Bianca knew he wanted a reaction to his coarse language. But probably not this one. She dropped her gaze to his belt line and tilted her head. “I see.” His eyes were smoldering into hers when she looked up.
“Do you?” He moved again and she barely restrained another start when he passed by her with a quick, animal grace. He turned the sign in the window to closed and locked the door. “Come with me. Don’t touch anything.”
"Focus and concentrate," she thought, controlling her breathing with a great effort. Bianca followed him to the center of the store. Her feet tingled as they passed over a protective circle. Damn it. She rubbed her hands down her sleeves. She hated magic. It scrambled her brains.
She was in the salon again. Byron and two other men at her feet. She was calling forth a blue sphere. Inside lightning arced.
She cackled, "And thus with alchemy and electricity, the creature came to life."
Byron waved his hand and the concealment spell dropped, the ozone scent, like sm
Bianca tamped down the feeling of panic and gingerly crept down the stairs. She was going underground, into a dragon’s lair, probably where his hoard was kept. Visions of being ravaged on stacks of gold made her stumble and grip the railing tighter. The trap door protested again and was shut tightly above her head. Byron’s footsteps were heavy on the stairs behind her. The first landing had her pausing to look over the side. The light ball continued down the stairs and she let it get enough ahead of her so her eyes could adjust. It didn’t help. All she saw was blackness over the side rail.
They had run off in the dark, screaming in terror from her story. All but Byron.
"Can you believe them?" she laughed, cut off when he swooped her into his arms.
"Allow me to be your consort," Bryon said, kissing her throat and the tops of her breasts passionately.
"But Percy," she demurred.
"Shelley's a fool. Ran like a scared whelp into the night. Let me make love to you. I will be your consort, your protector. And you will be my world."
"Yes," she allowed, stroking her fingers through his silky hair as he ripped the dress from her body. "For tonight, I will allow you to pleasure me."
“I don’t believe you would survive the fall,” Byron’s deep voice sounded in her ear. He trapped her against the rickety railing, a hand on either side of her. She could feel his body pressing against her with a strength and a heat she didn’t want to find exciting. But she did.
“What is happening to me,” Bianca said with the last bit of sanity she had left.