The Bastard Dragon – Viola Grace

Trin grinned at the barista who had just arrived to begin his shift. “Running a little late, Tobias?” Tobias blushed slightly and hung up his coat. He rolled up his cuffs and tied on his apron. “The rain slowed the traffic.” She pulled the handle of the steamer and leaned back as the cloud of vapour warmed the milk to just shy of scalding. “Uh, huh. The weather seems to kick in every time you have an evening shift.” “It is just luck.” He winked. “For someone with four rabbit’s feet, you are surprisingly unlucky.” She poured the waiting espresso shots into the cup and walked it around to the customer’s table. “Here you go.” The regular smiled. “Thank you, Trin. Are you escaping?” “Trin! The machine is stuck!” Trin closed her eyes for a moment, inhaled and exhaled.

“I am getting away as soon as the equipment is functioning.” The woman chuckled, sipped at her coffee, and lifted her book. Trin walked back to the counter, and she assessed the situation. Tobias was filling the orders for regular coffee, but the specialty orders had to wait. Humming softly, she went to the back office and got her toolkit. The ancient equipment was older than she was and part of the reason that she had been able to open this shop with Brenner. Harbinger Coffee was the cornerstone of their small empire, but it was the one that was chronically full when either of them was in attendance. It was like they gave off a pheromone that pulled in customers. She looked at the pressurization mechanism and nodded as the problem became apparent. It was time to reset the pressure gauge.

Easy fix. “Tobias, I am going to bleed the pressure. Don’t jump.” He didn’t have a chance to reply; she used her wrench, and the machine let out a shrieking hiss before blowing out a cloud of steam that was more reminiscent of a train than an espresso machine. With the pressure off, she took the gauge off with deft twists, and she used her compressed air canister to verify the readout as the dial whipped to one side. “Yay.” Tobias glanced at her. “Is it fixed?” She checked the washer and replaced it before putting the gauge back in place. She closed the bleed valve and pressurized the system, doing a test shot before she nodded to Tobias. “It is working well.

I am on my way out.” He nodded and got to work on the backlog of orders. “Go. I have kept you long enough.” She smiled. “Okay. I will be across the way at the teashop for an hour if you need me again.” He nodded again. Trin headed to the back office again and put her tools away, adding a new washer to her shopping list. Working with a fifty-year-old machine made it a draw for the patrons, but it took a lot of maintenance to keep the gears, wheels, and pistons working all day long.

When the equipment was tucked away, she scrubbed her hands and took her apron off. Her open skirt was mildly wrinkled, but that was part of her charm. She was always wrinkled or mussed or scruffy. It was part of the fun of being human in a city filled with shapeshifters. She grabbed her jacket and folded it over her arm. Slinging her small purse strap around her wrist, she checked the shop one more time, and then, she left for the day. The bell rang as she exited, and she crossed the small paved walkway that ran between Harbinger Coffee and Harbinger Tea. With the success of the coffee shop, Brenner had asked if they could expand to tea, and she had not seen any reason not to. Now, each coffee shop that they owned had a teashop across the walkway. It satisfied both of their target demographics and let everyone get home at a reasonable time in the evening.

When the bell rang as she opened the door, she heard laughter from inside. There were two small groups of women murmuring and giggling. It was a sound that Trin loved to hear. She walked toward a counter, and a tea tier was placed in front of her. “Thanks, Niida.” Niida chuckled. “You are late. Tobias again?” “Yes. I am going to have to put my foot down. Eventually.

” “Trin, you are too easygoing.” She shrugged. “I am. It doesn’t matter to me. I could do the whole day there.” Niida’s eyes widened. “Don’t you dare. Brenner is really competitive, and the next thing I know, I would be missing a husband.” Trin snorted. “Bren is yours, he wouldn’t spend any time more than necessary out of your company.

” “You have a seat, I will bring your tea.” Niida smiled. Trin took her tray with its treats, and she walked to one of the small empty tables. The seat cushion invited her to lean back, so she did. Looking around the neat shop, she saw the touches that Brenner had asked her to add. An antique kettle with a hand-cranked gearing system to ignite the flame that boiled the water. It was something that could have taken up less than a square foot, but he had asked her to make a long chain of twisting gears and rotating links to finally spark the ignitor. It was a new piece designed to look old, and it didn’t require much maintenance. It was kind of cool. Niida swished around the counter, her cascade of brilliant burgundy hair was lying in a thick braid over one shoulder.

Brenner had gotten very lucky with this vixen. His fox had never been so happy as he was the day they said their vows. When Trin visited their home, they were often frolicking in their beast forms when she arrived. Clothing was put in place shortly after. Trin smiled as Niida poured the tea. “Busy day?” “Very. Dorothea had to leave early. Her daughter is approaching her first shift, so they are watching her around the clock.” Trin sipped at the tea and sighed in relief. She really didn’t like coffee.

“Eagle, right?” “Right. It is going to want to fly, and they have to help her control it.” Niida sighed. “I thought it was tricky to learn to use four paws.” Trin smiled. “I wish I could say I understood, but…” “Right. Of course.” That seemed to have garnered the attention of the ladies gossiping. One by one, they turned to look at her. Trin nibbled a sandwich and raised her brows.

“Yes?” One of the older women sneered, “Human? They let humans in here?” Niida frowned. “Of course. She is a protected species.” Trin chuckled that Niida didn’t mention that Trin owned the shop. It was best to figure out what they were dealing with. The woman drummed her fingers on her table. “How can you even get through the day? You are feeble and weak.” Trin smiled. “I am also clever and good with my hands. You are Lady Meshnal?” The woman blinked.

“Yes. How do you know me?” “I helped Lord Meshnal last week. His vehicle was stalled. He had blown a hose. He was late for dinner with you and showed me the gift he had purchased for your birthday.” The woman blinked. “He said he had vehicle trouble and that a young man had stopped to help him.” Trin grinned. “I was wearing trousers and a cap. It was drizzling, and I hate getting a good dress wet.

” The woman didn’t know what to say. It was scandalous that Trin had been wearing a set of trousers, but it was worse that she had helped a shifter in need. She was good and evil all wrapped up in one human package. Trin continued to eat her way through the tray. “So, Niida, are you going to the shower on the weekend?” “Of course. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. How do you think she is feeling?” Trin smiled. “I think she will feel better for having us there.” “Did you want a ride?” “No, I am going with Tobias and the portable machine. It is part of the gift.

” She winked. “Are you nervous?” Niida was aware that their conversation was being listened to by eager ears. “Nope. We are there for her. She needs us.” Trin winked and sipped more tea. “She does?” Trin nodded. “Trust me on this. She definitely needs to see faces that don’t want anything from her aside from her coming through the pregnancy healthy and happy.” Niida agreed.

“Then that is what we shall be. I am hoping that she will be there for me when my time comes.” Trin blinked. “You too?” “I am not showing yet, but yeah. About two months along.” Trin got up and hugged her. “Congratulations.” Niida laughed. “You are going to be an aunty.” Trin bit her lip.

“I am going to have to think up an amazing gift.” Niida hugged her again. “Yes, you will.” Trin sat back down and finished her meal, watching the other groups leave. She helped Niida wash up and close up, walking arm in arm with her down the street. They met Brenner on the way to the Dexom home, and he took over the escort duty for his wife. Trin congratulated him on the infant in development, and he blushed. They had known each other since they were four months old. This was one secret that he had kept, and she didn’t blame him. If Niida was confident enough to tell her about the baby, the couple was ready to share it.

Trin would hope for the best for them. Every baby deserved to start off in a home filled with love, and they deserved to be wanted. In the Dexom home, they would have both. Chapter Two Trin sat next to Creata and laughed as she opened the gift. Tiny tools were crafted and laid out on a leather roll. Creata laughed in delight. “Oh, wow. The kitchen appliances will be in danger as soon as the baby can walk.” The rest of the gift, the quilts, cloths, and diapers were sitting nearby, but Creata was holding up the small, functional tools one by one. Creata’s mother-in-law cleared her throat.

“Dear, the ladies gathered here have also brought gifts. You might want to look at the presents they have brought.” Creata regretfully put the tools back and rolled them up. “Thank you, Trin. I love everything.” “You are welcome; I will be nearby once this gift orgy is over.” She winked and kissed Creata on her cheek. Once she surrendered the giving seat, one of the very posh ladies took her spot. Creata smiled politely and took the new gift. Niida was standing to one side, sipping coffee from an elegant cup.

“She loved the tools.” Trin chuckled. “She always did. If she hadn’t met and mated with the Secretary to the Senator, I think she would have made an amazing mechanic.” Creata’s husband was one of the most influential men in the country and one of the most powerful in the city. He had the ear of the senator and the love of his wife. Niida snickered. “Speaking of mechanics, I think Tobias is having trouble with the portable unit.” Trin sighed and turned, walking past some of the young ladies who had to attend Creata’s baby shower because her husband, Vasic Tal, secretary to the senator, was important. They were muttering about being stuck at this low-class bitch’s shower.

Trin paused but kept moving. She could make a scene later. Tobias was dealing with the lineup of women by flirting and serving them standard coffee. She didn’t speak to him. She moved around and took charge of the machine, spun some wheels, and let out a burst of steam. It was working in a minute. Tobias gave her a happy glance, and she left to get some snacks at the buffet. She was just reaching for a cluster of carrot sticks when she was slammed into from behind. “What the hell?” She whirled and saw the young woman who was dripping with cranberry juice and glaring at her. “You have ruined my dress!” Her high-pitched shriek got everyone to turn.

Trin tried to keep calm, but something about this woman set her on edge. “You ruined your own dress. You cost me some carrot sticks.” Her voice was a growl, and the sound startled her. The woman was wearing a soft yellow gown that sported a brilliant red stain. She lifted her chin. “I should have expected someone of your sort here. After all, the pregnant cow is lowborn. Her friends are worse.” A glance in the direction the woman was speaking showed Creata standing within earshot.

Trin snapped. She reached out and gripped the woman by the neck, shoving her head down and forward, pushing her out the room and through the open patio doors. In the back yard, Trin gave a hard shove. “You don’t know who you are dealing with, you human bitch!” The woman hissed. Trin looked at her and watched her face scale over. “A dragon. Great. Shouldn’t you know better than to attack a registered human?” The woman hissed again and spoke in a weird gurgle. “When I am done with you, no one will know what you were.” The woman’s eyes glowed, and she exhaled a pulse of energy.

Trin heard laughter, and someone shouted as she was thrown backward. Her dress flared around her, and she landed in a shrub. Fury built up in her blood, and she stood and faced her opponent. Her fingers flexed, and she stretched her neck. “Really? You want to play?” The shift to full dragon was taking a while. Trin moved forward, but it wasn’t her taking the steps. Something was taking over, and it was mad. Trin was watching from behind her own eyes as her dress tore and she was wrapped in ice and fire. She was tall. She was huge.

Her limbs were long and tipped with talons, and her opponent was small. Half her size or smaller. Trin wasn’t done shifting yet. The woman—the other dragon—was staring at her in shock. Trin leaned back her scaled neck, and she roared to the heavens. A burn of fire and ice shot from her throat, and it formed a pillar above her that speared through the sky. She looked back at the small topaz dragon, and it bowed low, placing its head down and belly to the ground. The signs of surrender were unmistakable. Trin reached out and flicked the smaller dragon aside. She had made her point.

Niida’s voice came to her from a distance. “Trin? Is that you?” Trin looked over and walked slowly and carefully through the gardens. She looked at her friend and inclined her head. Her dragon wanted to fly, but there was no way that Trin was up for that. “Did you know about this?” Niida waved at her body. Trin slowly shook her head. “Can you shift back?” Trin shook her head again. There was more of a commotion from inside the house, and constables poured out, stopping short when they saw her. She stepped back and looked at them. Her dragon wanted to snack on them, but Trin said no.

One of the constables looked at her and told her to shift. She shook her head. The piezoelectric charge struck her in the chest, so she swatted the constable that had the nerve to shoot her. She felt the spines on her back lifting and dropping in agitation. More men came. Trin’s dragon scowled. They should not be there. They did not belong there. The men were wearing dark suits, and they sent the constables away. Trin looked at the men, and her dragon was happy.

They were dragons. Each of them. All four of them were dragons, and they were staring. The first to walk up to her spoke in soothing tones. “Hello, miss. We are just going to take care of your catalyst, and then, we will be back to deal with you.” Trin sat down on her haunches, and then, she lay down with her forelegs folded and her head stretched along the grass. She took up a lot of space. Creata walked up, against her mother-in-law’s orders, and stroked Trin’s nose. “I guess this was lurking behind those mad skills.

” Trin snorted softly. She wasn’t ready to commit to the reality of being a dragon. Her pregnant friend was an excellent way to calm down. She couldn’t be irritated with Creata there. The other dragoness was escorted off the premises. Only two of the dragon males returned to her. One of the males was quite nice. He came up to her and murmured, “This must have been very confusing for you. Changing so suddenly. You are a beauty.

” She blinked slowly. A beauty was not something she would classify herself as. Not in human form anyway. She was blissfully normal in human form. He stroked her scales, and she could feel his energy along her skin. It made her all warm and tingly inside. The other dragon was just acting as supervisor. She was guessing if she got out of hand, he would shift and put her down. The man touching her stroked his way down her neck and over to her flank. She felt a sharp pinch, which made her head whip toward him.

He was standing there with a long tube in his hand. He had dosed her with something. Trin tried to remain conscious, but her head spun, and a fog rolled across her thoughts. When she had a thought, it was that she had been knocked out by the pretty one. Damnit.

.

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