About This Book
Wry humor and weird magic bring this contemporary fantasy to life as a witch-in-hiding risks it all to save the baby dragon that showed up at her door: The Christmas Dragon, by bestseller Ruthanne Reid.
All Katie Lin wants is to get away from the magic and mayhem…
Sometimes, running away just doesn’t work as planned.
Unfortunately, someone has other ideas, and sends her a box. A box that jumps.
All Katie Lin wants is to get away from her family: from the magic, from the mayhem, and from the never-ending war.
The tiny fire hazard inside may just force her back to Wales – and right into the path of a dragon war, the Crow King, and at least one reluctant elf prince.
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Excerpt from Chapter One
The box jumped.
Boxes are not supposed to jump. It’s a law somewhere, I think. Maybe Guyana. Apparently not in New Hampshire, because the box kept jumping.
I sat in my idling car, puffs of exhaust rising in my rearview mirror, and stared at the uncoordinated box-dance. Said box was wrapped in the loveliest paper, too, which was a shame, because bouncing on my boot scraper had roughened all the corners and torn one edge. The bow was big and purple and covered in small green somethings. I wasn’t close enough to make them out.
I didn’t want to be close enough to make them out.
If I didn’t do something soon, the neighbors would notice. The box probably hadn’t been jumping all morning, or there’d be a crowd. Or maybe it was already on YouTube. I didn’t know.
So much for a safe, boring life among the Ever-Dying. New Hampshire, you have failed me.
I turned off the car. Time to go see what invaded my (mostly) magic-free space.
I did have a little magic, though admittedly I hadn’t used it in three years except to fix my hair on the go, so let’s just say I found myself rusty. Myself, and my wand. It was a little rusty. No, for real. Real wands are made of iron, didn’t you know? Better conductors.
So there I was in my New England suburb, staring into my trunk at my rusted wand while a box jumped on my front porch, and I will admit I wanted to run away. This situation was so bizarre that I couldn’t help wondering if (a) my family sent it, or (b) this was some kind of horrible, evil trap. Both options were silly on consideration. With one exception, my family doesn’t know where I am, and for another thing, I am absolutely and completely not worth some bad guy’s time. I didn’t even graduate college, for crying out loud.
The box kept jumping. It might have growled. I sighed, took my wand from the trunk, and hid it in my long winter coat for the treacherous walk to the front porch.
This time of year, ice covers everything. You’d think that this far north it would be the snow that gets you, but nope—it’s the ice. Ice on top of snow, layered with more snow, and finally more ice to top off this slippery sundae. Even my kick-ass boots only gave me so much traction, and I had to sort of inch my way along the walk.
My neighbor’s teenage son chose that moment to push the snowblower out of his garage.
Almost there. Inch, inch, inch—
“Hey, Katie,” Kyle called from across the street, and I waved at him and prayed he wouldn’t notice anything amiss. “Want me to dig your mailbox out?” he said.
The snowplows had buried it. As usual. “Thanks, sure. And tell your mom I owe her a coffee for last week,” I said, pouring all my focus into appearing friendly and nice and normal. My footing slipped. I caught myself, arms out for balance, bent over like a really bad skier.
The box jumped again. Dammit, box, I was almost there.
“What’s that?” Kyle said.
“Mexican jumping beans!” I announced because I watch too many cartoons.
And then I fell.
I managed to grab the porch railing to prevent breaking my ass on the ice, but this was not ideal because Kyle was a good kid. He was halfway across the cul-de-sac before I had the chance to right myself.
“I’m okay!” I called, hanging off the banister with one bemittened hand and holding up the other in the international sign for stop right there, buster. “I’m good! I’m all right!” My boot heels squeaked on the ice as I fought for footing.
Kyle stopped, but he looked fairly alarmed, and that meant it was time to go. Arm aching, face red, I grabbed the box and threw myself inside.
Two things occurred here that shouldn’t have: one, the door unlocked and opened all by itself, though I hadn’t even touched it. Two, I realized the box was hot. Really hot. I dropped it.
It squeaked. The jumping box squeaked.
Great. Something was alive in there, and since my lock wasn’t broken and my wards weren’t tripped, whatever it was, it generated enough magic to overwhelm mine and snap it like stretched gum.
I picked up the box again, hoping I hadn’t killed whatever was in there. Though maybe killing it was smart, before it got out and did what it was here to do.
No, I didn’t have the stomach for that. I couldn’t kill some helpless thing in a box. Seriously? You’d have to be a monster to do that without hesitation.
It wasn’t jumping anymore when I put it down on the counter, though it was still really hot. I tapped the top.
Something in there scratched back, trying to get out.
Screw this. I wasn’t wasting my evening playing guess-the-content with this thing. I had a date (finally), and my decidedly normal coworker would not understand a jumping, squeaking box that might contain something demonic.
So I pointed my wand and opened it.
Kin magic has no fanfare. Most magic is really showy (usually produced by Fey and other weirdos), but Kin magic just happens. It’s like flipping a switch. Trumpets don’t play when the bathroom fan comes on, either.
The box blew apart, double-thick cardboard smacking to the counter. Inside sat a tiny, perfect, snow-white dragon.
A dragon. On my kitchen counter. It squeaked at me, which could mean absolutely anything, and began to preen itself like a cat.
I may have grown up in the magical world, but even there, dragons aren’t common. They’re nearly extinct; the eastern Elders hid themselves in the earth somewhere long ago, and the western Red and Black clans are quite occupied with wiping each other out. In fact, dragons were declared endangered sometime in the sixteenth century—yet here a baby one stood, chewing clumsily at its dark claws.
Mother-of-pearl scales gleamed all over its ridiculously long, thin neck. The wee round-bellied body rested on tiny curved legs and a tail long enough to balance that neck. Its head was a drawn-out diamond, long and narrow, and its snout was so thin that the flare of its nostrils only emphasized the disproportionate cuteness of the whole package.
I’d never seen anything so adorable in my life.
Without warning, he chirped at me and jumped off the counter.
I caught him just before he hit the floor. He felt fragile like a frog—warm and soft with loose, smooth skin over teeny tiny bones. I stroked his sides and his tiny little legs, winced at the sharpness of his adorable little claws, and discovered an outline of wings hidden under the skin of his ridged back.
He looked at me warmly, leaned into my touch, and then puked fire all over my boots.
It wasn’t controlled. There was no distance achieved, just a messy splash of liquid flame straight down. I whooped and danced backward, throwing magic in a mad attempt to prevent my toes melting, or the floor melting, since this was a rental and I wanted my security deposit back.
I was glad Kyle couldn’t hear all this. I’m pretty sure I said a few curse words he’d never heard before.
The little dragon clung to my hand, claws digging in for dear life. He looked as spooked as I was by what had happened.
“The hell did you do that for?” I said, carrying him to the sink.
He didn’t want to let go of my hand. Too bad. Even cute things need washing.
“Hey,” I said to him as he wriggled and protested under the hot water. “Hey. Stop being cute. I mean it. I can’t keep you.”
Of course, he didn’t heed.
“Okay, Katie,” I told myself as I rubbed his soft underbelly. “You’ve always wanted a dragon friend. Look how cute he is, just hatched and already barfing fire!” He’d left some black burned spots on the linoleum, which I had no idea how to fix, or how to explain to my landlord.
Yeah, this wouldn’t end well. I couldn’t keep the little guy.
Which led to a problem. It wasn’t like I could set him loose. I was also pretty sure both the local ASPCA and orphanages would find themselves ill-equipped.
The microwave blinked 6:52, which meant it was four thirty (I’d never reset it after the last power outage). I had an hour before this evening’s date was scheduled to appear.
The baby dragon trilled in my hands, a guilelessly happy sound, and wriggled to get his tiny face under the water.
I was unregistered. If I went to the local magical authorities for help, they’d know I was here. If I left the poor baby on their doorstep, who knew what they’d do to him? He was unregistered, too, and unlike me, didn’t have the wherewithal to defend himself.
I couldn’t keep him. I couldn’t get help here. I knew only one way to safely guarantee he’d be okay: I’d have to call my family.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. This was not how Katie Lin rolled. When I’d left them for a normal life, I’d meant it, and when I said I’d never talk to them again, it was a solemn vow. They didn’t even know I was dating. Or had dropped out of college. Or lived in the sticks.
Generational war has its casualties, and not all family loss is due to death. No, there had to be another way.
There was: I could take him to my uncle. I trusted my uncle. He even had my address. Maybe this could work.
Evidently, I had previously unknown skill in dragon wrangling. The baby dragon trilled constantly, like a purr, and pressed into my fingers. At least I wouldn’t give him a name. Nope. I absolutely would not, because I wasn’t keeping him, and Vesuvius wouldn’t care what I called him anyway.
I had no choice. It was time for the most epic way to blow off a first date via boring voicemail ever. “Hey, Darrin, it’s Katie. I—” Vesuvius puked fire again, fortunately into the sink, but it hit the sponge, and the sponge melted. I didn’t know they could do that. “Uh. Sorry, dropped something. I hate to do this, but I need to cancel tonight. Sorry this is so abrupt. I’ll call you later, okay? Bye.”
It’s okay. I hadn’t really liked him that much, anyway. I just wanted a normal date.
Normal. No food that changes colors or magic singing tablecloths. Normal.
I told myself this. I had to, every day. And that meant I couldn’t be the magical one on a date, either, or the Mythos—the magical beings of this world—would get pissed because I’d revealed the truth to the Ever-Dying.
They called my kind Kin, which meant part Ever-Dying (such a flattering word for human, isn’t it?) and part something else. Technically, I’m about as human as the next guy (I can give blood and everything), but there’s just enough other in my family tree to extend my lifespan and give me access to magic.
I know someday my attempt to live like a pure-blood human, to love one and spend my life with one (whoever that may be), is going to crash and burn in my face, but that day is not today. Today I will keep lying, for as long as it takes, to preserve this fragile and ever-dying life.
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