The Queen's Dance (Emerging Queens), страница 1
He can never have her, but he’ll protect her with his life.
Despite his handicaps outside his natural habitat, water dragon Remy “Champ” Champlain fights to protect Queen Margery from those who plot to quash her damaging news reports by silencing her...forever.
After newly shifted sky dragon Queen Margery is rescued from smugglers by water dragon Remy Champlain, she debates whether to flesh out the story that nearly got her killed or embrace her royalty and build a court of protectors and studs. Sparks fly between Remy and her. He’d love her to give up her job and settle down…hopefully with him…but he can’t fly and she can’t swim, so their relationship can never get off the ground.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Discover the Emerging Queens series… The Queen’s Wings
The Queen’s Flight
Discover more Entangled Select Otherworld titles… Through the Veil
Pale Moon Walking
Waking up Dead
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 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.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Select Otherworld is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Robin Haseltine
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Cover art from iStock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition May 2016
To my mom and dad for always being there.
Margery was dying. Damn it. Life was just getting good.
After twenty-five years as a redheaded human who never burned in the sun, Margery had unexpectedly shifted into a sun-worshipping sky dragon. She could fly! Well, not at the moment, and probably not anymore.
The sway of the boat had long since stopped making her seasick, but she couldn’t get used to being in the pitch darkness. Away from the sun, her new dragon body shriveled. Her glorious scales became brittle and flaked off one by one. When they opened the hatch to toss down her meals, she could see that her once colorful feathers were now faded and drooping. She was terrified to shift back into human form. If she was weak as a dragon, as a human she’d be easy pickings for the men who had captured her.
Gunfire and shouting gave her the strength to lift her head up from the slimy deck. Could it be there was a chance of escape? Margery crawled over to the ladder, but her arms were too weak to lift her up the rungs. If she didn’t have the strength for that, she’d never get past the locked hatch.
“Help me!” Her voice, hoarse from screaming, was just a rasp of breath.
The boat rocked hard, and she tumbled across the hold. When it tipped on its side, she scrabbled across the walls. The inside of her prison exploded as something punched through the side of the boat.
“Sun,” she croaked. Daylight poured into the rank cell. She belonged in the open air with the sun on her face. She had been slowly dying without it.
Margery caught sight of a large serpent’s head and giant teeth as it ripped open the boat. Water surged in, but she didn’t care. She had to get to the light. With the last of her strength, she lunged but fell short. Her heart fluttered and slowed. Her breathing stuck in her throat.
No. Not like this. Not when escape was so close.
A box of the little red dragon dolls that got her into this mess tumbled toward her. She snatched one up out of the water. If she was going to die, they’d find the evidence on her body she’d risked her life to get.
That sounded like the female dragon that had been tracking her down telepathically…Viola.
“I’m here,” Margery said, but her voice cracked. Please! Don’t leave me down here any longer. Don’t go! She thought with all her might, trying to reach Viola telepathically. But she didn’t have that skill. “Help me.” Her voice was just a whisper.
There was no way they were going to hear her. When a ray of sunlight hit her eyes, she found just enough strength to crawl toward the hole. Her wings flopped uselessly, but she managed to stick her head out into the blessed daylight. There were three dragons staring at her like she just won the Pulitzer.
“You found me,” Margery said, blinking at a three-headed dragon hovering above the water. “You’re real.” She had half convinced herself she’d been hallucinating.
“You’re safe now.”
Margery gave the female dragon a weak smile. Don’t cry. Don’t pass out.
She took a deep breath of the wonderful, fresh lake air, closing her eyes as her abused body absorbed the healing rays of the sun. With the full effect of the sun hitting her, she grew stronger and cleared her throat. “Thank you.” Proud that her voice didn’t shake, she still felt wretched, but she was going to live. She was going to live. This time the tears flowed down her cheeks, and she tried to sob quietly.
Viola asked, “Champ, can you do something about the pleasure boats coming in to investigate? And help me round up the crew in the water. We need some answers.”
Champ was the dragon in the water, the one who’d smashed through the boat. He looked like a cross between a brontosaurus and the Loch Ness monster. But he had kind eyes. He kept the boat from sinking by holding it on the surface of the lake with one of his massive coils.
Wait! Did she say “Champ”?
“They were going to sell me to the river monster named Champ in exchange for him looking the other way while they smuggled drugs across the border,” Margery forced out as quickly as she could. Coughing, she tried to take in deep breaths, but couldn’t.
He reared back, affronted. “I’m not a monster. I would never have allowed that.” Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and paused a moment. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, but I just returned from Scotland this morning.” Champ bent his head in respect. “This is my lake, and I offer you my protection while you’re on it and in my territory.”
She nodded, her vision dimming as her head swam from her coughing fit, but didn’t immediately accept his offer.
There was a dragon protocol to all of this. The first thing she’d done, once the curse that stopped females from shifting into Queens had been broken, was read about dragon politics. Margery knew a lot already, based on some stories she’d done in the past. But any information on a female dragon—a Queen—was closely guarded. She had to proceed carefully, otherwise she cou
She looked at Viola and noticed another purple dragon flying around. Surely, her rescuers could be trusted. “I’m not sure about the dragon formalities,” Margery said, hoping that she could blunt any faux pas with her apology. While she was pulling herself out of the destroyed hull, a wave of dizziness hit, and she stopped half in and half out, immediately regretting her decision. Stretching toward the sun, she hoped, would give her more strength, but it didn’t. For the moment, it was enough that most of her was out in the open. “My name is Margery Cooper. I’m an investigative reporter—or I was until I shifted.” Her stomach clenched, and if she’d had anything in it, she would have thrown it up. “I’m not feeling very well.”
“Come with me,” Viola said. “We can get you to safety.”
“I have so many questions. I need to call my editor.” But then the adrenaline she’d been relying on ran out. Margery fought the blackness, but it was futile.
Remy “Champ” Champlain watched the sky dragon’s eyes roll back into her head, and she neatly slid into the water. Her body collapsed in on itself and shifted into a naked human about to drown in his lake.
Not on my watch.
Ducking his head, Remy got beneath her body and pushed her back to the surface. Viola grabbed her in her claws and flew her to shore. A Queen. Alone and unprotected. Fear for her made him reckless, and he plowed through the lake, casting great wakes as he made for shore. He transformed into human and caught the naked redhead when Viola dropped her in his arms.
Sergei, Viola’s consort, flew cover, snarling and whipping his tail to discourage anyone from getting in too close as Remy hurried to get the Queen in his truck before the news crews could converge on them. That’s all they’d need was to have every stud in the area attacking to get to the Queen.
After jumping into his truck, he set her down as gently as he could on the bench seat. Why did she have to be a redhead? He had a weakness for them. And beautiful? He stifled the punch of lust he felt, seeing her naked and dripping just inches from him. Feeling like a pervert, he averted his gaze out of respect. Still, her curves beckoned him from the corner of his eye. So he floored it and concentrated on keeping the truck on the dirt roads as he ate up the terrain. Sergei and Viola provided air cover until he was clear of the locals. No one would dare come on his private lands.
Although the media was getting bolder lately, even with him. Normally, he wasn’t much of a story. Sure, he was a dragon. But he didn’t run a Fortune 500 company, and he wasn’t a movie star. The most exciting thing he did was throw out the first pitch when his baseball team, the Lake Monsters, opened up their season.
However, ever since Queen Lerisse sacrificed herself to break the curse that stopped female dragons from being born or hatched, any dragon was news. A month ago there had only been five Queens in the world. Now hundreds of them were popping up, shifting into their new forms. And dragon studs who hadn’t ever even seen a Queen were desperate for one of their own. Desperate enough to do unforgivable things to defenseless women who’d been human for most of their lives.
Like the unconscious woman lying next to him.
He knew nothing about her. She could be like a normal human or like one of the five ancient Queens—entitled bitches who wanted to rule the world. Grinding his teeth, Remy tightened his hands on the steering wheel. Didn’t matter. She was his problem until she declared her court. Here’s hoping she already had one. He hadn’t lived his entire life off the Queens’ radar to be dragged into dragon politics.
The healing burn of the sun pinned Margery to the ground. Her eyes wouldn’t open, but she could see the blazing orange from under her lids. She’d been saved. Pressing her cheek against the sun-warmed grass, she took a deep breath of fresh air for the first time in a week. Coughs racked her body. She was still so weak. A tear leaked out of her eye.
“Please don’t cry, chérie. You’re safe here.”
That was the lake dragon. The one who’d helped rescue her. Margery’s hands clutched the ground. She was no longer on the water, trapped in a smuggler’s hold hidden under the deck of a yacht. No longer lying in her own waste, dying a slow and painful death.
“Where am I?” she asked, her words coming out as a strangled whisper.
“You’re at my home in North Hero, Vermont. It’s very private here.”
He had a sexy way of talking. French Canadian accent, if she wasn’t mistaken. It was comforting, nonthreatening. Margery stretched as the healing sunbeams sank into her core.
“Your kidnappers have been brought to justice.”
They were more than kidnappers. In return for pimping Margery out to Champ, they had wanted him to turn a blind eye to their smuggling operation on his lake.
Margery bolted upright and regretted it immediately. “Where is it?” she cried. The sun blinded her, but she didn’t care. She groped around with her hands.
“What?” he said, panic in his voice.
“What the hell is a—” Champ cut himself off and continued in a more polite tone. “I don’t understand, my Queen.”
Queen? Oh, right.
“The red dragon doll. I had it in my hand when you rescued me. It’s very important.”
“Uh, hold on. Let me check my truck.”
She heard him run.
Great. He probably thought she was an idiot looking for her little dolly.
Rubbing her eyes, Margery tried to stand up. But her legs refused to obey her, muscles trembling as she strained to rise.
The pirates had grabbed her when her camera’s flash malfunctioned and went off while she was taking pictures of their illicit activity—stuffing the dolls with drugs. When they saw her, they tried to kill her. If she’d been human, they would have. But when the bullets tore into her, she had instinctively shifted into her sky dragon form.
She’d only been a dragon for three weeks. Actually, she had always been a dragon, but an ancient curse had stopped her shift at puberty and blocked her dragon magic. When that curse was shattered, all the suppressed Queens shifted into their true forms. It took a lot of getting used to. The first week, all she did was cry and break things. The second week she flew around the world over and over again until sheer exhaustion claimed her. By the time the third week rolled around, Margery figured she’d better get over herself and return to her career as an investigative reporter.
She had no desire to keep a dragon stud harem and lie around all day being waited on hand and foot. It sounded good on paper, but there was no such thing as a free meal. Those studs wanted babies, and she wasn’t ready to settle down just yet.
Shifting to a dragon made things weird; all the studs would want to mate with her if they caught scent of her. Luckily, she knew all about them—she had dated one before she realized that a dragon would never love a human. So when she shifted, Margery kept it to herself. She tried to go about her life as if she couldn’t turn into a mythological creature.
About the size of a VW bug, Margery didn’t have the sheer bulk to bully her way out of fights. Her dragon powers gave her exquisite vision, excellent flying skills, and the ability to camouflage herself in the sky—which was how she’d stayed out of sight, until she’d been reeling from the pain at having three clips from automatic rifles fired into her. Dragon or not, those bullets had hurt.
“Stay with me, chérie,” Champ called. “It’s going to be all right. I promise you.”
Margery managed to get up on her knees and then realized she was still very weak. When she tried to shift back to dragon form to hide in the clouds, the world went dark.
Remy saw the Queen fall and sprinted back to her. He picked her up in his arms and was at a complete loss over what to do next. If she’d been a human girl, he’d have tucked her into his bed and gone fishing. He’d come back in time to fix her supper, have a go-around in the sheet
But Margery was a Queen—the only Queen he’d ever touched, aside from his mother, who was the Loch Ness monster, although he hadn’t seen her in nearly a thousand years. No dragons had. The more vicious dragon politics became, the more he retreated into his peaceful solitude. Maybe his mother had done the same.
Lake Champlain had been his for almost two thousand years. When the Queens started to die out and no more females were hatched or shifted, Remy started taking a deeper interest in the people who lived on his shores and traveled on his lake. He thought the dragons’ end had finally come. For all that his brethren strutted and posed on the global stage as moguls and rock stars, their species would become as extinct as the dodo.
So he embraced the humans as his family.
They called him Champ and held parties in his honor. He was a fun tourist attraction, and for a while it was enough. Then it got a little boring, being idolized all the time. So he spent more and more time in the lake. Maybe he’d spent too long alone.
Margery made a frightened sound, and he tightened his hold and told her she was safe. She was incredibly compelling, this Queen in his arms. Light as a feather. Remy was afraid she was too delicate for this world. He swallowed hard and eased his grip. Part of him wanted to carry her off and wake her with deep, passionate kisses. Another part wanted to lock her away from anyone who would ever harm her again. Remy shook his head to clear it. It was her scent that was driving him crazy. He’d never been this close to a Queen. That was why she affected him like a lovesick virgin. Still, he couldn’t deny how lovely Margery was. She had tiny freckles across the creamy perfection of her skin. Long, ginger lashes rested on her cheeks, a lighter shade than the silky, red curtain of her hair that was draped over his arm. He could look at her for hours. When she’d crawled out of the yacht broken and half dead, he’d considered destroying all the humans in his sight. They had almost killed her by keeping her out of the light.