Home > False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(16)

False Security (Death Before Dragons #5)(16)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“Huh. So, you’re like a cougar.”

At least that term had been around long enough that I knew what it meant, though my mind first went to feline shifters. “Guess so. Watch out.” I made an unconvincing cat’s paw with my hand and swiped it at the air. “Rar.”

Thankfully, the limo pulled to a stop before the conversation could deteriorate further. I was starting to miss my pompous dragon. Conversations with Zav weren’t boring, and he didn’t reference hip, happening things that I didn’t know about.

I slung Chopper’s scabbard across my back again and made sure I could draw Fezzik—though it had consternated Amber, I’d found my dress with the leg slit.

Weber got out first and offered me his arm. There was a bulge under his jacket. I wondered if he had a concealed-carry permit and if he knew how to use a gun or was more likely to shoot me when I was defending him. A very faint hint of magic came from the bulge—probably ammunition that he’d purchased from someone who wasn’t as good at imbuing bullets as Nin.

“The organization reserved the whole place including the lawn for the event,” Weber said. “We’ll wander around and mingle. There will be some press people I promised to talk to, and some business networking kinds of guys, and that’s all I need to be here for. We can leave early.”

I eyed the grounds and the building we were walking up to, a rambling structure in a quasi-Cape Cod style with a lighthouse tower in the middle. The tower looked like a great place for a sniper to hang out.

Outside, a large grassy lawn stretched around the building with evergreens on one side and a walkway and the water on the other. That walkway led to numerous docks, some out in the open and some covered. Dozens if not hundreds of boats were nestled in the slots—more places a sniper could hide. Wonderful.

“Am I, your cougar from Tinder, supposed to say anything scintillating to your acquaintances or just smile and stick my boobs out?” The V-neck of the dress ought to facilitate that.

“Just smile and pretend to be interested in the people here.”

That sounded challenging. I would rather fight bad guys. Maybe I’d get lucky and some of them would attack before dinner.

As we wandered into the building, I searched it with my senses, seeking any magical threats that might already be inside. Here and there, a quarter-blood elf or dwarf or gnome mingled among the well-dressed visitors, but I didn’t detect any shifters or anyone more menacing.

Unless the journalists counted. Several of them spotted Weber and beelined toward him.

I unlinked from his arm and grazed from hors d'oeuvres trays that the waitstaff brought by. I stayed close enough to protect him if need be and to listen to the questions the journalists peppered with him, hoping to hear someone bring up the app project. But they mostly asked him about his investments, his thoughts on such-and-such tech startup, and if he could get them interviews with more prominent tech moguls in the city.

Weber answered their questions, but a hint of exasperation slipped out at the dumber ones, and I wondered if he also hoped someone would attack him soon. Or maybe he hoped a few werewolves would attack them.

After a half hour, Weber escaped, recaptured my arm, and led me toward an open patio door. Trusting he didn’t have make-out sessions in mind, I enjoyed the opportunity to escape the crowded room. Potted plants lined the outdoor area, and the night smelled of jasmine. The sky was clear, the moon visible, and a few kayakers stroked past out in the water.

If I’d been out here on a date, it would have been romantic, but I was on duty, so I scanned the area with my eyes, ears, and my senses. Weber checked something on his phone—maybe looking for a better date on Tinder—then moved a few paces away to make a quiet call.

A few couples were out strolling along the walkway near the water, but I heard something rustling in bushes near the parking lot. I didn’t sense any magical beings in that direction, but I kept an eye on the area. The bushes were in the shadows between the streetlights.

The first dangerous thing I sensed came not from the parking area but from the sky to the west. I stifled a groan. Zav.

I can’t buy you food or hang out with you tonight, I thought as soon as I spotted his dark winged form against the starry sky. I’m working.

As am I. I am searching for the next criminal on my list. Also, your boss wishes me to see if I spot any vampires in the area.

And you’re coming to look for them at the yacht club? Why was I positive his appearance here wasn’t a coincidence?

I am simply flying past. Your boss said you would reward me if I found Zoltan.

She said I would reward you?

She offered me food, but I informed her that I would only accept food from you. She promised you would purchase me ribs and briskets.

How thoughtful of her.

Zav soared over the yacht club and banked, circling it slowly. He wasn’t just passing by.

I already checked here, I told him. There are no vampires.

Excellent. Then I will not need to stay long.

I thought about asking him to investigate the bushes, but I didn’t want to encourage him to come down. Besides, they’d stopped rattling, and I still didn’t sense any magic anywhere but from him. An amorous couple had probably been hiding in the bushes to make out.

Despite his talk of hunting criminals, Zav descended, heading straight for our patio.

“Brace yourself,” I told Weber.

He’d ended his call and put away his phone and returned to my side.

“Enemies?” he asked.

“Not exactly.”

Zav arrowed out of the sky and shifted into his human form at the last moment to land on the other end of the patio. Weber jumped, his hand twitching toward the bulge in his jacket. He stopped shy of reaching inside.

Zav opened his mouth to speak, but his mouth froze when he got a good look at me. His gaze traveled down my dress-clad form, apparently finding it more interesting than when it was under jeans and a duster. I shouldn’t have appreciated being ogled by someone whose mere presence here was certain to make trouble, but I admitted to being pleased that he’d noticed.

This is fascinating attire, he spoke into my mind. Is it practical for combat? Your leg appears to be free to kick a foe if necessary. He was a few paces away, but his fingers made a stroking motion in the air as he eyed my bare thigh.

It’s lightweight and more flowing than a lot of the stuff I tried on, but I’d rather have my armor for combat.

I find it appealing.

“Good evening, Zav,” I said politely, aware of Weber gaping at him. “I didn’t know you would be a guest here.” Silently, I added, Apparently, there are three missing vampires now, Zoltan being one of them, and I’m suspected of being responsible.

“I’m positive he’s not on the guest list,” Weber said.

Zav lifted his chin. “A dragon attends whatever events a dragon wishes to attend.” Telepathically, he added, Who suspects you of this? Since I investigated his domicile with you and saw the orc blood, I can speak to your accusers and give a dragon’s word that you were not involved. A dragon’s word is irrefutable.

That’s not necessary. I gave them cupcakes. I’m hoping that will be enough to put me back in their good graces.

“Not without an invitation,” Weber said.

I do not know what cupcakes are, but hope is insufficient. You will tell me who threatened you, and I will ensure they won’t bother you again.

Amber left me a couple of cupcakes, I replied to deflect his attention. I still didn’t think those shifters had truly been enemies, and I didn’t want him beating them up. I can give you one later, so you can see what they are, but they’re very sweet and not meat-flavored, so I don’t think you would like them.

Zav curled a lip. Why do you consume such things? Meat is superior to all other foods. There is nothing better than gnawing the flesh off a bone. His head rotated toward the open door. Is there meat here?

It had been easier than expected to distract him from the shifters threatening me. I made a mental note about the power of meat when dealing with dragons.

Some waiters were wandering around with pâté when we were in there. I don’t think dinner is being served yet. And you’re not invited.

Weber stepped up to my side, brushing my shoulder with his. He frowned back and forth between Zav and me, and I realized we’d been staring at each other while we communicated silently. At some point, Zav had crept closer so that he was standing right in front of me.

“You are not welcome, dragon.” Weber put an arm around my shoulder, and my instincts almost drove me to grab it and break a few bones, but I remembered in time that he was my employer. And that I was playing the girlfriend part tonight. Even though the patio was relatively private, people were standing just inside the open door and could look out any time. “Val and I are here on a date.”

Zav’s eyebrows flew up and his eyes flared with violet light. “You said this man was employing you to protect him.”

He is, I said silently, holding up a hand, lest he was thinking of getting physical with Weber for touching his supposed mate. Will you go away? You’re going to mess up my job.

“We’re putting on an act for his buddies,” I said out loud. “He doesn’t want them to know he hired a bodyguard.”

“I don’t particularly want the dragon to know that either.” Weber frowned at me, his arm still around my shoulders.

I extricated myself from it, though I captured his hand and patted it, hoping that would be enough for any onlookers. “He’s telepathic. He knows everything.”

“Actually,” Zav said coolly, watching Weber’s face, “I cannot read this human’s thoughts. He is using some magical charm to prevent it.”

“Of course I am. Magical enemies have targeted me and want my business secrets.” Weber lifted his chin. “If it keeps busybody dragons out of my mind, so much the better.”

“I am here to speak with Val, and I will do so.” Zav’s eyes flared brighter, and he looked like he was on the verge of hurling a wave of power at Weber, one that would leave him stranded on the roof with half of his bones broken.

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