Dragon’s Diversion is a free short that follows the novella Dragon’s Desire. There are no massive spoilers but if you want to read the novella first, you can check it out here!
“You know, we could ask her to give us another weekend,” Pahlin said. “I am sure she would understand.”
Violet sighed. It figured that the weather would curse her this way. She had a smoking hot boyfriend who turned into a dragon with the mood struck him. After years of owning and running her own bar, she’d finally gotten her second-in-command trained well enough to relinquish control for the weekend. And Pahlin’s boss, also a dragon who was modest but filthy rich, had given them the keys to her posh beach house for the weekend.
And then Tropical Storm Gertie blew onto the scene to ruin everything. Gertie sounded like a spinster aunt who would stare awkwardly and clear her throat at people kissing under mistletoe. They’d gotten a scant three hours of sun that morning before the sky darkened to warn of Gertie’s arrival. With much grumbling, mostly from Violet, they’d retreated to Seabird’s Landing, a café with tables facing the beach. At least she could feel sand on her feet if she kicked off her sandals.
“It’ll be a while before I can get away again,” she lamented. Screw Gertie.
Pahlin’s full lips tilted in a smile. “That is because you work too hard. You do not have to work every day, you know.”
“That’s what you get for dating an entrepreneur,” she said.
“Entre…” he hesitated. God, he was adorable when he was trying to figure out English words. Well, technically French. His brow furrowed, and he shaped his lips around the word like he was trying to figure out a mystery taste.
“It means I started a business,” she said.
“Well, I suppose no one is perfect,” he replied. “And even if we are stuck inside all weekend, I will have good company.”
She smiled and nudged his foot under the table. A broad smile spread across his face. “You do, indeed,” she said.
“You are supposed to say ‘so do I, Pahlin. You are so handsome and it is my great pleasure to—”
“Oh, Pahlin, you are so handsome,” she said in a dreamy voice. Despite her mockery, he grinned. A big tough dragon could take a little good-natured teasing.
Their waitress, Leah, approached the table. There was a splatter of something red on her pink floral uniform shirt. “How’s that ceviche treating you?”
“Excellent,” Violet replied.
“And your steak?”
A single filament of red meat was the only evidence that a steak had once existed on Pahlin’s plate. “Very good,” he said.
“You ate the whole thing,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “That’s…impressive.”
“He’s a growing boy,” Violet said. A forty-eight ounce steak was a typical meal for Pahlin. She supposed it would look unusual to anyone who didn’t know there was a dragon the size of a U-haul trapped within that delicious, bronzed shell. “We’ll take the check when you get a minute.”
“Sure thing,” the waitress said.
Pahlin helped himself to the last of Violet’s meal while they waited. He’d been wary of the dish when Violet explained how the citric acid cooked the fish. No fire involved. One bite made him a believer, though he’d restrained himself until she ate her fill and handed him the plate. The way he glanced around afterward told her he could have easily eaten another plate if there had been one left unattended.
Leah returned with the check and a handful of peppermints. “Now, are y’all from here?”
“Georgia,” Violet said.
She nodded. “Well, forgive me if it sounds bossy, but try to be careful. We tend to make light of storms around here, but be smart. Stay off the water, avoid the roads. Just stay inside if you can. Forecast has it moving over us pretty quick, so you shouldn’t have too much time off the beach unless it gets upgraded.”
“I am sure we will find something to do,” Pahlin said, a mischievous grin spreading on his face.
Violet’s cheeks heated as she kicked him lightly. “We’ll be careful, thank you.”
Pahlin hadn’t been kidding about finding something to occupy them. With the growling hunger in his belly sated, he had another appetite to satisfy. Violet was always beautiful to him, but he could couldn’t keep his eyes off her since they’d arrived at the beach. She was irresistible, with her hair flowing in loose waves over her shoulders, her body barely covered by a skimpy blue bathing suit.
Once they walked into the house, he had just enough sense to close the blinds facing the beach before pouncing on her. Untying the top elicited a peal of laughter that turned quickly into a low moan of pleasure. He would have been more than satisfied if the tropical storm kept them inside for the entire weekend.
When they were finished, they dozed in the giant bed. Violet nestled into the crook of his arm, dark hair fanning across the pillow. He awoke from a pleasant half-sleep to the gentle patter of rain on the roof.
“Hm!” Violet murmured, sitting up suddenly. She rubbed her eyes and looked up. “Is it raining?”
“Yes,” Pahlin said.
“Freaking Gertie,” she muttered. She got out of bed, granting him a fine show as she sauntered naked into the bathroom.
With his sensitive hearing, he could hear her humming to herself over the patter of the shower. He’d spent enough time in the car with Violet to recognize the song, though he couldn’t have named it. She emerged a few minutes later in a white bathrobe with her hair piled on top of her head.
“I am confused,” Pahlin said. “Who is Gertie?”
Violet smirked. “We name storms.”
“You name them?”
“That is ridiculous,” Pahlin said.
“You’re ridiculous,” Violet said. “Will you be ready to eat in half an hour?”
“Yes. I see exactly what I want to eat,” he replied as she passed by the edge of the bed. With a speed that came from years of combat training, he lunged out to grab her wrist.
She nimbly dodged his grasp—curse his post-nap sluggishness—and planted her hands on her hips. “I meant dinner.”
“So did I,” he said.
She laughed. “Ridiculous.”
In her absence, Pahlin took a quick shower. The white-tiled bathroom was bigger than his entire house back in Atlanta. Imani had told him her beach home was nice, but this was unlike anything he’d ever seen.
The human world still amazed him. Such an enormous dwelling would have been home to dozens of dragons back in his world. Part of him saw it as ridiculous, even criminal excess. But he had to admit that there was something pleasant about the privacy, the large space for just the two of them to carry on as they pleased without worrying about an elderly aunt walking in.
Through the flowery scent of soap, Pahlin caught a whiff of a familiar smell drifting from the kitchen. It was the spicy-sweet scent of ashka-vehl, a traditional dish from his homeland of Adrahl. As many of his kind did, he had left his home world a year earlier for the Wandering, to spend up to seven years in the human realm. This journey was an opportunity to experience life beyond their world. Most young Wanderers returned to the familiarity of home, and Pahlin had thought his own return was inevitable until meeting Violet. Now he wasn’t so sure. If the woman had learned to cook his favorite meal, he wasn’t sure he could ever leave.
He pulled on a pair of loose pants and a t-shirt, then hurried downstairs to find Violet bustling around the kitchen. Sure enough, a thick red sauce bubbled in one pan while she carefully measured rice into another. As she dumped the rice in, she danced in place, head bobbing as if she heard music in her head.
How had he been so blessed?
“What do I smell?” he said, almost regretful about interrupting her private moment.
She turned and waved him over. “Tell me if this is right,” she said. “Imani gave me some of the herbs, but I don’t know which is which.” There were two plastic bags on the counter, each labeled in the familiar, angular script of his native tongue. She also had a hand-written letter in Imani’s graceful script with the recipe.
Pahlin took one of the bags, smelled it, and nearly sneezed from the smoky spice. “Er-tahm,” he said. He tapped the piece of paper. “This one. One…tsp?”
“Teaspoon. You did all this for me?”
“Maybe,” she said.
He wrapped his arms around her, and she leaned against him, nestling into the crevices as if she was meant to fit there. Pressing one hand to her stomach, he reached over the stove. “Oh, you missed something,” he said. He reached into the pot. The hot water singed his fingers.
“Pahlin! It’s hot!”
“I’m fine.” He was a lightning dragon, after all. A bit of heat from the stove wasn’t going to bother someone who’d been channeling pure lightning for decades. He seized a grain of rice and held it in front of her. “This one is the adyun-khelar. The cursed grain.”
“Cursed grain,” she said flatly. “Okay, I’ll bite. How do you know that’s the cursed one?”
“I have a magic touch,” he said.
“Bullshit,” she replied.
He laughed and kissed the top of her head, still holding her tight to him with his other hand. “My aunt swears by this,” he said. “You must throw away the cursed grain. It takes any bad luck away, and your food will taste good.”
“All right,” she said begrudgingly. “Get rid of it.”
“My aunt also swears that if someone kisses the cook, everything tastes better.”
She elbowed him gently. “Now I know you’re making things up.”
“Are you insulting my family’s traditions?”
She turned and gave him a saucy look. “I’m willing to give it a try. I wouldn’t want to besmirch your auntie’s reputation.” She indulged him with a kiss. The spices were heavy on her lips, tickling his tongue. His hand slipped down to her hip, and she laughed before batting his hand away. “Not so fast, dragon boy. Let me cook.”
Violet watched Pahlin expectantly as he took the first bite. She’d cooked for him plenty—not because he expected it, but because food and drink were her love language. If someone was sick? Cook for them. Someone was sad? Homemade brownies and a bottle of wine. As soon as they’d started dating, she took him to try every kind of food imaginable.
His expression was neutral, his eyes closed. Her heart thumped. Then he began to chuckle. “Are you sure you are not a dragon after all?”
She relaxed. “It’s good?”
He covered his mouth and laughed a little. “It’s very good. You are more than I deserve.”
With satisfaction pulling her lips into a smile, she took the first bite of her own. It was tasty, though she had no standard to know it was right. It was enough to see that he was happy. Though she had to wonder if it was wise to remind him of the things he missed from home.
They had brought dinner out to the screened-in deck. Thunder rolled as the wind whistled around them. If they couldn’t be walking the beach in the moonlight, lounging inside a luxurious beach house that belonged on the cover of a magazine was a fine substitute. Gertie wasn’t going to ruin their weekend.
Halfway through his generous plate, Pahlin frowned and leaned out suddenly, like he had spotted something outside. “Do you see that?”
She followed his gesture as he pointed. “I don’t see anything.” The storm had whipped the water into frothy waves, with clouds concealing all but the thinnest slivers of moonlight.
He set his plate back on the table and dabbed his mouth with a napkin. Without speaking, he unlocked the door and walked out to the deck.
“Pahlin, be careful,” she said, following him.
He put one hand out. “Stay inside,” he said. His head bobbed a little, like he was watching something move. “There’s something out there.”
“There’s a light moving,” he said. “A boat, maybe? Do they have lights?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Don’t go out there.”
He was already pulling off his shirt and shimmying out of his pants. She certainly didn’t mind the view, but she didn’t want him going into the water.
“Can you even swim?”
He turned around and gave her a wry look. “I can fly,” he said. “But yes, I can also swim. I’ll just go check it out.”
“What happened to being discreet?” After he’d upended her world by transforming into a dragon, he’d explained that his people were expected to be subtle while living in the human world. A dragon flying over the beach was hardly subtle.
He gestured out to the storm-tossed ocean. “Who will see me?”
She sighed. “Can I talk you out of it?”
“No,” he said.
“No nookie if you go,” she said, half-joking.
He smirked. “Really? Is that a threat you can deliver on?”
“No,” she said. She sighed. “Please be careful.”
Pahlin’s people, the Kadirai, often had spirited philosophical debates on whether they were truly men or dragons. They were born resembling humans, but was that their true nature? After all, a butterfly looked like another creature entirely when it came into the world. That did not change its nature. He was no philosopher, but he knew that transforming felt like pulling off a too-tight garment and releasing a breath he’d held for far too long.
Pain lanced through him, from the base of his spine and radiating out to his limbs as his frame reshaped itself. Gleaming green scales emerged from his expanding body, hardening into armored plates along his back. And oh, the glorious feeling of wings unfurling into a strong wind. This form was undeniable might, but more than anything, it was freedom.
Violet still stood just inside. With his dragon form unleashed, his senses were even stronger than usual. A blend of salt water and savory food surrounded him. And through that, like a glittering gem, was her intoxicating, uniquely Violet smell.
“Be careful,” she said again.
He growled in response, then leaped lightly to the sand below the deck. Sand under his clawed feet was familiar, like the wide desert expanses of his homeland. Sweeping his head in a wide arc, he spotted what he’d seen before with razor-sharp clarity. A bright light bobbed above the water out in the distance. If not for the way it moved, he might have thought it was a distant star.
With a running start, Pahlin took to the air. He glided a few feet above the water with his wings spread wide. The rolling waves and rain formed a blur of white noise. He searched for something that didn’t belong, a wrong note in the symphony of storm and sea.
Human voices. Likely male. He couldn’t discern words, but he heard hoarse shouts, broken and clipped. The light bobbed above the waves, catching his eye once more. He corrected his path to put him on a straight heading for the light.
Breaking the green-black water was the gleaming white side of a boat. A light on its bow flashed as it crested on the wave, then disappeared again into the water. A weak bluish light bobbed nearby, clutched in the outstretched hand of a man in an orange vest. A second man clung to the boat’s roof, which was currently in the water. He was extending one hand for the other man.
“Help!” one of them shouted.
Pahlin circled and hovered over the boat. As he slowed, the cries of help turned into screams of terror. Ignoring the piercing cries, Pahlin circled the boat again to find his best landing point. He perched on the edge of the boat, sending it almost entirely underwater, using his front claws to grab the man clinging to the edge. The human flailed in his grasp. Pahlin braced his back legs on the precarious boat and hurtled upward, catching the wind with a mighty stroke of his wings.
The boat popped back out of the water, still on its side. The man bellowed in terror as Pahlin rose above the water.
“Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” he cried.
Pahlin swooped lower to the water and deposited the man out of the boat’s way. He flew farther out to give himself enough distance to build speed. With all the force he could muster, he hurtled toward the boat and caught the roof with his back feet. The sudden added weight made his joints groan. He pushed his wings as hard as he could to keep moving and angled himself upward. The boat emerged from the water, and he nearly fell out of the sky from the effort. With an awkward turn, he dropped the boat. The vessel landed on its hull with a huge splash, then remained upright.
With boat righted, Pahlin returned to collect the two unfortunate sailors. As he approached the one in the orange vest again, the man’s eyes went wide. He paddled away, splashing frantically in his attempts to escape. Pahlin plucked him out of the water and dropped him onto the deck of the boat. Flailing wildly, the man screamed. Then he stopped abruptly as he realized he was in the safety of his boat. Pahlin returned for the other man and dropped him atop his partner. Both men gaped up at him, dumbstruck.
Pahlin let out a deafening roar, letting a tiny arc of lightning escape from his jaws as he did. The men screamed again and threw their hands over their heads. Perhaps it was cruel, but they had interrupted his evening.
Laughing to himself, he grabbed the roof of the boat and began to push it back toward shore. It was rather undignified for a dragon—and one of a noble house—to be little more than a beast of burden for a pair of humans with no common sense.
The waves battered the boat as Pahlin hauled them back to the safety of the shore. It took all his strength and concentration to keep the boat upright and on a direct path for the shore.
By the time they reached the sandy slope of the beach, Pahlin was exhausted. The boat jolted as it ran aground, startling him. He jumped behind the boat, water slapping at his legs and belly. Throwing his massive frame into the stern, he shoved the boat ashore. It tilted precariously as it wedged into the soft sand.
The two men didn’t leave the boat, both clutching the other’s arms as they stared at him with wide eyes. He waited a moment, then gave them a warning growl followed by another crackling globe of lightning. Both men screamed, and they stumbled over their own feet in their rush to jump out of the boat and sprint toward the lights of the beachfront houses.
When they had disappeared from sight, Pahlin ran toward the big white house. Even with the men down the beach, he waited until he was tucked into the shadows alongside the house to turn back into his human form. The exertion of transforming left him shaking, his knees threatening to give out under him. He hobbled up the stairs to find Violet standing at the door with a towel.
“Jesus in heaven,” she muttered. “Come inside.”
He let her toss the warm towel around him and followed her into the house. The idea of walking up another set of stairs was unthinkable. Instead, he flopped onto the oversized leather couch. “Just a minute,” he said.
“If Imani banishes us from her beach house forever, this is your fault.”
“Mmhmm.” Sleep pulled at him like an insistent current.
“Are you okay?”
The barely-clad dragon that she called her other half hadn’t even made it upstairs before falling into a deep sleep. She’d wedged a pillow under his head and covered him in a blanket without waking him.
Fortunately, vacation-ruining Gertie finished her unwelcome visit and continued her rude ways to the north. Violet awoke to an overcast sky glowing gray through the skylight.
After starting a pot of coffee and finding Pahlin still snoring on the couch, Violet walked out to the back deck.
“Oh my God,” she muttered.
The beach was littered with what she would expect after a tropical storm. Piles of seaweed and ocean debris lay in rippled piles down the shoreline. But at a nearly perpendicular path from the house was a beached fishing boat. One might believe that its captain had simply lost control and run it aground in the storm, if not for the claw marks gouged into its roof and sides. It was practically a neon sign that said “sea monster.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were a dozen people gawking at it. Violet hurried upstairs to throw on a set of clothes and covered her hair with a baseball cap. Pahlin stirred as she scurried past him, but she didn’t wait for him.
Trying to look casual, Violet walked down the beach to the grounded boat. As she approached, she searched for footprints. The rain and wind had at least smoothed out the tracks of Pahlin’s massive feet.
“I don’t care how goddamn crazy I sound,” a man shouted. He wore a Florida Gators t-shirt, and there was a nasty welt swelling on his cheekbone. “Something came up out of the water and grabbed us. Didn’t they, Wayne?”
Another man in a khaki fisherman’s hat nodded. “Swear on my mama’s grave.”
“Your mom’s alive,” a woman said dryly.
“It was a dragon,” the man in the Gators shirt said. “Look at that! Claws!” he exclaimed, slamming his hand against the side of the boat. “What did that?”
“You ran the damn boat aground, Bill,” another man said. He gestured with the cup of coffee in his hand. “Of course your hull’s torn up.”
Wayne threw up his hands in frustration. “I’m puttin’ it on YouTube.”
“Just what we need, more kooks from Florida,” the woman muttered. “People already think we’re batshit crazy down here.”
“What’s going on here?” Pahlin asked. Violet turned to see him with an easy grin on his face. “Wow, what happened to the boat?”
Violet scowled at him. His charming smile wasn’t going to work on her.
“We were trying to get some fishing in,” Wayne said.
“Idiots,” the woman said. “With a damn storm blowing in.”
“The boat flipped, and something came up out of the water and grabbed us. I know it sounds crazy—”
“It does sound very crazy,” Pahlin said mildly. “Is it possible you were drinking?”
The two men exchanged looks. “Son, I’ve never had so much beer that I saw a sea monster come up from the waves,” Bill said.
Pahlin shrugged. “Perhaps you should be grateful you did not drown.”
“Yeah, you dumbass,” the woman said.
“Marie,” the man in the Gators shirt complained.
Pahlin tilted his head. “I’m sure the fear made you see things. Doesn’t that make more sense?” A tickling thrill ran down Violet’s spine. Both of the men’s eyes widened, and she could actually see Wayne’s pupils dilating, black spreading like ink against pale blue.
“Yeah,” Wayne said. “I mean, I’ve heard of skunk apes out here, but never a sea monster.”
Bill didn’t look so certain, but he frowned. “Maybe,” he said. He sighed and stared at the boat. “That’s gonna cost me to fix.”
Pahlin touched her waist. As they walked back toward the house, the small crowd began to disperse. “Did you do that mind thing?” Violet asked. She had learned—through an exceedingly unpleasant experience with another dragon—that dragon shifters like Pahlin could influence humans to do their bidding.
“You know I don’t like that.”
“I didn’t do it to you.”
Pahlin sighed. “Would you rather I ended up in the tubes?”
Violet burst out laughing. “On YouTube. And no,” she said. “I suppose not. I’d rather keep you as my little secret.”
He pulled her close to brush his lips across hers for a kiss. “And I approve.”