Time and time again, Ryu the Ravenous has petitioned to be allowed to move to the human realm, but every application has been denied. As a black dragon of near royal blood with plenty of gemstones in his treasure cave, many females want him for a mate. Ryu doesn't want a female mate, though, and when he's badly burned in a conflict between tribes, he sees his chance to escape.
Egil Olsen is running The Book Dragon's Lair, a bookstore on Dragon Row, while Draken the Dreadful, his mate, is away fighting a war on the other side of the veil. The relief of not having Draken around is great. For the first time in years, Egil doesn't have to watch every move he makes. When word reaches him that Draken is on his way home after having been injured, he considers running away.
The dragon stepping over the threshold to The Book Dragon's Lair isn't Draken, though. He claims to be, but Egil knows his mate, and while all dragons are dangerous, the male standing before him is nowhere near as cruel as his mate. Ryu never wanted to be a book dragon. Books don't sparkle, but if it's the price he has to pay to be in the human realm, he will pay it. He'll take over Draken the Dreadful's treasure, and he hopes he can take over his mate, too. Egil doesn't want to be mated to a dragon, but without a mate, he'd be homeless and without a job.
A few hours after having met Ryu, Egil thinks being mated to him might not be too bad, but how will they be able to fool the people around them into believing Ryu is Draken? And what will happen if the real Draken comes back?
He gave him a quick sideways glance and jumped when he found Draken studying him.
“Mr. Dragon ...” The woman speaking looked ready to pass out. “... will you sign a book for me?”
Egil sucked in a breath and moved away so fast everyone turned to stare at him. People often begged Draken to sign books, and it often ended with snarled threats and things flying off the counter.
“Our policy is to not sign books.” Egil did his best not to let his voice quiver. He’d suggested Draken should sign books once. He’d been covered in bruises for a week after.
“Oh ...” The woman looked disappointed. Egil didn’t understand them. Who wanted a book where some evil being had scrawled Draken the Dreadful on the first page?
There was an awkward silence where the women looked at each other before slowly moving toward the door without buying anything. When the bell above the door chimed for the second time, signaling the door had closed after their departure, Egil sighed. They could use some sales.
“Why don’t we sign books?” Draken’s voice was deeper than usual.
“Erm ... You’ve always refused to.” Didn’t he remember? A flicker of hope lit in Egil’s chest. If he didn’t remember, then maybe he’d agree to sign a few books or cards or whatever. Then Egil winced. He didn’t remember because he wasn’t Draken.
Egil took another step to increase the distance between them in case Draken was playing some game with him. “Yes.”
“But it would have made them buy something, and we’d get more ... paper notes. We’re paper note dragons.”
Egil blinked at the floor. What the hell? Was the wannabe-Draken playing with him? “Ah ... erm ...” Before he could come up with a reply, the phone in the small office behind Draken rang.
He snarled and whirled around, smoke coming from his nostrils.
Egil grabbed the counter for support. Could it be PTSD? Draken or not, the dragon was acting weird. “It’s the phone. You should answer it.”
Draken turned to look at him, his face twisted in a savage expression that had Egil’s heart block his throat.
Another shrill ring cut through the air, and Egil hurried around the counter so he wouldn’t have to pass Draken and dove for the phone through the open office door. “The Book Dragon’s Lair. How may I help you?”
“Is he back?”
Egil sighed as Reverend Goodwin’s voice came through. Turning to Draken, he motioned at the receiver. “He arrived this morning, sir. Do you want a word?”
He held up the phone for Draken. “The reverend wants a word.”
“A word?” Draken didn’t move.
“He wants to talk to you.” He dangled the receiver. “He’s waiting.”
Slowly, Draken moved closer. Once he was within reach of the cord, Egil handed it to him and angled himself to slink by Draken. He didn’t manage more than a step before a strong hand closed around his arm. Draken didn’t look at him, and he didn’t hurt him, yet it was as if the walls were closing in. Sucking in a breath, Egil watched him study the receiver with a frown.
Crap. His hands shook as he reached for it and held it to Draken’s ear. “Say hello.”
“Hello.” Draken jumped when Reverend Goodwin’s voice came through, snatched the receiver from Egil’s grip, and threw it on the desk with enough force for it to splinter. He then pushed Egil out of the office. “Witchcraft.”
Egil couldn’t breathe. Paranoia? Was paranoia a symptom of PTSD? “Eh ... it’s only a phone. You use it every day.”
Draken turned to him -- his body huge and his face not entirely human. His eyes had turned into black, shining stones, and the skin that already was a little too dark to be his normal skin tone turned darker.
“Erm ... Draken ... You can’t change in the bookstore. There are bookshelves everywhere.” He flinched, expecting to be thrown into one of those bookshelves. Nothing happened. Draken loomed over him, his scars a stark contrast to the otherwise smooth skin, his teeth sharp as they peeked out from underneath his full lips.
Egil swallowed hard. To this day, Draken had never bitten him, but he always feared the day would come. Normally, he didn’t allow his teeth to show, and Egil found it impossible to look away. So sharp.
Seconds went by, the air around them standing still, then Egil met Draken’s gaze again. Eyes couldn’t be that black. Draken’s eyes had an elliptic pupil and yellow irises. Now they were black.
The hairs prickled at the back of Egil’s neck. Who was it who had him trapped against the wall?