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The Incredible Tale of the Lock-Scaled Dragon

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Chapter One

It didn’t take a genius for Miranda Priestly—a world-renown celebrity, the final word of all that was beautiful, and one of the most powerful women in the world—to deduce she was in trouble. Huge trouble. The type of trouble which made last year’s Paris debacle seem like a walk in Central Park.

After coming close to losing Runway to Jacqueline Follet, who emulated a skunk in more ways than her hairstyle, she’d reevaluated her life. After making several changes with the way she treated others, she thought she’d banked some goodwill from whatever entity kept track of such things. Exhibit A—her latest junior assistant still had a job, even though before last year’s Paris disaster, the vapid blonde wouldn’t have lasted two days. Exhibit B—she’d explained to Nigel how she’d saved him from working in a new venture destined to fail by outmaneuvering Irv from his attempted coup during that same Paris Fashion Week, the key words being “she explained.” Exhibit C—she faxed over a recommendation for Andrea even though the now former assistant had left her without a backward glance during said Paris Fashion Week. (It seemed clear all things led back to last year’s Paris Fashion Week.) And Exhibit D—she allowed the twins’ father to spend more time with them, even though she remained convinced she could provide for their needs much better than he ever would. That included this week, their first week of summer vacation.

None of that mattered now. No, right now, what mattered was the strange woman with an evil glint in her eye looking like a linebacker as she straightened her shoulders and filled out the space in front of her. Miranda tilted her head, raising an eyebrow in silent inquiry.

“You need to be taught a lesson.” The woman was tall, at least six feet, with ropey ebony hair reaching down to her waist. Although her hair was as black as night, her face was wizened, deep lines cutting across her forehead and framing her mouth. Her thin nose had a hook on the end, and as the woman’s nostrils flared, Miranda swore she saw wisps of smoke escape.

Blinking, Miranda decided she was hallucinating. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a busy woman. Is it too much to ask that you stop dilly-dallying so I can finish my transaction? Really, not everyone can while away the hours discussing, oh, I don’t know,” Miranda fluttered her fingers, “the difference in witches’ hats over the last millennia.”

This was a perfect example of why she preferred having her assistants make her purchases. What an astounding waste of time. She’d tried to be patient. Truly. She stood behind the chatty woman, waiting for her turn to purchase the two cute ceramics depicting red-headed girls dressed as black cats. The figures had a likeness to Caroline and Cassidy, her eleven-year-old girls, particularly their mischievous facial expressions.

Perhaps she should have exercised more control by not uttering the caustic words bubbling up inside her, but for the last ten minutes she’d had to listen to the uninteresting nuances of the proper way to wear a witch’s hat. She may be in Salem, Massachusetts, for a photoshoot, but it was months before Halloween. She’d be glad when she could return to Manhattan at the end of the day.

Deciding she would have an assistant track down the gifts, she placed the ceramics on the counter and stepped away from it. She stopped when the woman sidestepped to block her from the exit. Pressing her lips together, Miranda inhaled through her nose, doing her best to not lose her temper. “Excuse me.”

She didn’t expect the warm smile she received. In fact, that tone of voice had scared hulking men to near tears in the past. Evidently, it doesn’t work on hulking women.

“I don’t think I will. You, Miranda Priestly, need to learn patience, the type one must have when cultivating important relationships. The type of patience one learns with loved ones. For only when you have patience do you realize the petty irritations of a passing moment mean nothing in the passage of one’s life. No doubt if I were an ordinary woman in an ordinary store, you would walk out that door and forget meeting me with a flick of your fingers.” The woman leaned forward, and Miranda steeled herself not to flinch. “You will remember me and this day, though. I am Laine Bain, and today you will learn what it feels like to breathe fire but have no power.”

Miranda felt dizziness sweep through her, and she reached out to grab the counter. She must have miscalculated, though, since her hand touched nothing. She flailed her arms, a gasp escaping her lips, as the floor rose up to meet her at a staggering speed. She took a few deep breaths to stave off the urge to vomit, and once she felt more settled, she opened her eyes. And promptly closed them. That didn’t keep Laine’s voice from pommeling her.

“Wanting to be yourself once more? You’ll have to find your inner coeur. No one will see you as you are—only your true heart is the bar. She can help you to keep your cool, and help you stop playing the fool. Find your true love and you will find—the key releasing this spell’s bind.”

Miranda opened her eyes and stared at the woman. She was kneeling, her massive face mere inches from Miranda. Looking down, Miranda saw she was no longer human. What the actual fuck? Miranda spread her arms while resting on her haunches, trying to figure out what the hell was happening. Her body was covered with cobalt-blue scales, her fingers elongated. Her torso was a lighter blue, like the color of the ridiculous, droopy sweater Andrea wore on her first day as her assistant. Cerulean.

She lifted her hand and touched her face, horrified to feel scales instead of skin, long pointy ears, and a flat, broad nose. She breathed in and felt her shoulders flex, a heavy weight pulling at her muscles. “What did you do to me?” came out as a roar, but instead of cowering in abject fear, Laine smiled.

“No one can hear you. No one can see you. Only your true love will notice you, but you’ll have to communicate using smoke signals. Good luck, Miranda. And remember to be patient.” With that the woman turned away, and Miranda growled.

She followed the woman, but someone stepped toward her and, before she could fathom what was occurring, she was booted across the room. With a groan, Miranda sat up in a bin full of stuffed animals, horrified when she saw a little boy running her way. Sticky fingers grabbed at a stuffed pumpkin to her left, and Miranda rolled to the edge of the display case and looked down. It was a long drop.

Taking a deep breath, she felt her shoulder blades twitch, and a current of air made her pause. She turned her head to the left, surprised by her range of motion, and saw two wings attached to her back. Breathing in again, she willed them to spread out and nearly sobbed when they extended. Taking her life in her hands, she leapt off the display case, tilting her head toward the ceiling. Wonder of all wonders, her body lifted, and she let out a whoop. It was then she saw the long, scaly tail below her body and stared at it in horror. Her flight path took a swift nosedive toward the grubby concrete floor, and before she could course-correct, she hit the ground. Hard.

Miranda shook her head and blinked several times. She jumped out of the way of a man walking toward the register and stumbled toward the corner so she could get her bearings. She spied a stand with sunglasses and ran over to them. Little mirrors were situated on the rotating display, but they were too high for her to reach. With a sigh, Miranda sat on her haunches, feeling the tail act as a stool. Focusing on the tail, she tried to move it, happy to feel how responsive it was to her desire. She took stock in her little body, concentrating on her wings, her hands, her feet, and her ears to make them move. Satisfied, she decided it was time to see what she looked like. Using her tail as a launchpad, Miranda jumped straight up, overjoyed when her wings flapped enough to take her higher. She leaned to the left to round the display, stopping in front of a mirror. Her eyes widened when she saw her body floating in the air.

Not her body. A dragon. A fucking blue dragon. Rage poured through her, and she opened her mouth to let it spew out, focusing all her energy on torching the place. A round puff of smoke came out. Frustrated, Miranda tried again. Another puff of smoke appeared—the shape more oval. Tilting her head as the anger drained from her, Miranda sighed. Well, that’s disappointing.

With a shake of her head, Miranda stared at her image. She wasn’t a bad-looking dragon. Her neck was long and sleek, and the blues of her scales and belly were complementary to her dark blue, stormy eyes. Staring into those eyes, she could see bolts of silver threaded throughout them. That’s different. Her face retained some of her features, only they were elongated. And was that—yes, the scales on the top of her head were white, like her normal hair color.

The face of a girl appeared behind her, and Miranda veered to the right. Turning, she flew toward the door, hovering until it opened so she could follow the customers out of the store. She flew past the brick, pedestrian walkway to where Essex Street and Washington Street met, knowing her driver was waiting for her. Not Roy, who was in Manhattan, but someone named Harry or Johnny or Frankie. As she passed a restaurant, she slowed, landing on the sidewalk. The aromas were amazing.

She peered in the window, her stomach grumbling as she watched people eat their food. Flying must expend a lot of energy. She swallowed her saliva, grimacing. She wondered whether she would become like her St. Bernard, Patricia, who drooled over everything. It didn’t matter what she was wearing, Patricia slobbered non-stop on any material, fabric, or toy, regardless of the ineffectual threats Miranda levied against her. She loved that brutish dog.

A dull ache suffused her chest as sadness stole over her. She missed her dog. Her girls. Her life. And it had only been, what—less than an hour since she was changed into an invisible, powerless dragon. Shaking off her melancholy, Miranda decided it was time to determine whether she could eat. She needed sustenance before devising a plan to get out of this mess.

Flying inside the restaurant on the heels of some well-dressed people, she listened as they discussed work. It became clear they were attorneys, no doubt on their lunch break before going back to court. Miranda circled the room, thrilled her eyesight was sharp enough for her to see what everyone was eating without her having to get too close.

Watching someone clear a table, Miranda followed the young woman into the kitchen area. She felt slightly sick at the thought of eating the remains of someone’s lunch, but her stomach’s loud growls made her dismiss such reservations. As soon as no one was in the immediate vicinity, Miranda swooped down and landed next to the dirty plates. One held the remains of half a steak, medium rare from the look of it, a salad, and a baked potato. Leaning forward, Miranda picked up a piece of lettuce, elated she was able to grip it. Without any further hesitance, Miranda grabbed the steak and brought it to her mouth, as she would a sandwich. Her teeth chomped through it as if it were rice paper, but it was much tastier. Moaning, Miranda ate the steak while looking around, not wanting to deal with any wayward restaurant employees. Once the steak was gone, she gobbled down the salad and potato within seconds. Still hungry, she spotted leftovers of what looked like white fish. She ate it before moving on to another plate, this one with baked scallops.

Finally feeling full, Miranda looked for something to drink. She flew up enough to hover on the edge of a cup and dipped her tongue inside, her long snout helpful. Still thirsty, she spied some cups filled with red wine and trumpeted, joy flowing through her. Although she preferred to drink in the evening, at this point, all bets were off. She drank the nearly full glass, and spying another, repeated her action. Two glasses later, and Miranda was feeling good. Maybe too good.

She flew in a crooked line, bouncing off the kitchen door. Sprawled on the floor, Miranda pushed herself up and with some effort, became airborne once more. She spied an open back door and with another trumpet and a less-than-straight flightpath, she escaped the restaurant. Victorious, Miranda looped the loop, barely missing a seagull. She didn’t care. Her belly was full, and her fears were dulled. Although not an advocate of drinking away one’s problems, right now she was all for it.

The street was busy with pedestrians, and Miranda did her best to stay above them while making her way toward the car. She knew she was late, but Nigel would wait for as long as possible before returning to the shoot. The passenger door was open, Nigel leaning against the car as he spoke to someone on the phone.

“I don’t know where she is. She mentioned something about finding a gift for the girls.” He rubbed the back of his neck before continuing. “I told you, she’s changed. She does more for them instead of having her assistants do it. And if I were a gambling man, I’d bet that has to do with the impression you left. You may be gone, but you’re not forgotten. I told you she’s much better with her assistants, and even Emily’s no longer chanting how much she loves her job while tears run down her face.” He laughed, and Miranda cocked her head, trying to make sense of what she was hearing. “You’re right. That might have something to do with Serena’s influence. Listen, Six, I need to figure out where she is and get back to the photoshoot. Think about what I said. She wouldn’t have sent that recommendation if she hated you, and she perks up at the mention of your name like Emily does when there’s a cheese board in front of her. Maybe it’s time you reached out.” He laughed again. “Well, I get the impression you wouldn’t mind being eaten alive by her. Ciao.” He dropped his arm down, grin on his face.

Having a good idea of whom he was talking to, Miranda felt her body heat up. That was Andrea. Talking about her. About contacting her. Miranda felt a sense of anticipation mixed with fear. She wanted to see Andrea again, but she couldn’t deny she was still smarting from her desertion. From her defiance. From her rejection. Mere moments after she complimented Andrea, included her as part of her inner circle, Andrea rejected it and her. Oh, she might not have understood what Miranda was offering, but in the end, that didn’t matter. She’d made it clear she didn’t want to be a part of Miranda’s life. Didn’t want Miranda’s life. Didn’t want her. Or so she thought.

Overhearing Nigel’s conversation made her wonder. He entered the car, and Miranda darted inside before he closed the door. She landed on the back ledge next to the rear windshield, sighing when she felt the sun’s rays on her wings. She spread them out, relishing the warmth, and she lay down on her stomach, legs curled and arms acting as a pillow for her head.

This mess wasn’t going to sort itself out right away. That woman—she’s a witch, her mind suppled—claimed only her true love would be able to help her. It didn’t escape Miranda that her true love was a “her.” Andrea’s face came to mind—her brunette locks, dark eyes, and pouty lips easy to remember. Feeling lethargic, she closed her eyes. I’ll rest a few moments. She could hear Nigel flipping pages, and she sank into the feeling of familiarity. Her head felt fuzzy and her body heavy. Miranda exhaled through her nose, allowing herself the luxury of rest. If only for a few minutes.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Andy Sachs felt like she was living in a nightmare. She thought walking away from Miranda would help her escape her feelings. She thought working at a newspaper would soothe her soul. She thought not having the infuriating woman in her life would be healing. It was none of those things. She thought of Miranda every day. And okay, it had been over a year since she left, but she still felt the loss of her presence like a hole in her gut. Miranda had imprinted on her, and Andy was destined to fail all attempts to evict her from her soul.

And now Miranda was missing. Disappeared without a trace. Nigel’s blasé attitude infuriated her. He wasn’t worried at all, while Andy gnashed her teeth at the lack of information about Miranda’s whereabouts. Everything about this situation screamed danger. Miranda might change her mind at the drop of a hat, she might be impulsive and temperamental, but she would never walk away in the middle of a photoshoot, in another state, no less. No, something was wrong. Very wrong.

She listened to Nigel, shaking her head as if he could see her. “She wouldn’t just leave, Nigel. She’s in danger. I know it.”

“I know you’re a hotshot investigative journalist, but there’s no smoking gun, no devious plot to kidnap her or even worse, steal the Book.”

“Nigel!”

“I’m just kidding, Six. Try to lighten it up. Look. I know two eyewitnesses placed her at that store, and they returned her purse, but come on. Who would kidnap her? And why haven’t we been contacted? No, it’s more likely she got something in her head and went with it. She probably made her own way back to Manhattan. Contrary to what you and every other assistant she’s ever had may think, she can take care of herself.”

“Are you at Runway?”

“Yes, and I’m very busy. I have to meet our deadline, so I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait! Did anyone check her house? I mean, won’t her girls notice her missing?”

“Her girls are with their dad this week, and I did not go to her house. Come on, Six. I’m pretty sure she’d have my hide if I showed up unannounced. I tried the landline, and I left a message, just as I did on her cell phone. There’s nothing else I can do for now. The Salem police said they’d call with any updates.”

“The first forty-eight hours are crucial in these situations.”

“There is no situation. Stop worrying. I’ll let you know when she turns up.”

Before Andy could say anything else, Nigel hung up. Andy placed her phone on her desk with a sigh. She didn’t need to be at work, but she felt less helpless than she would sitting in her apartment. She couldn’t believe no one was looking for Miranda. I’m an investigative journalist. Maybe I can dig up some clues.

With something to focus on, Andy got to work. She had some connections to gain access to the traffic and surveillance cameras in Manhattan, and she was hoping to find a way to access them in Salem, too. That was a long shot, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. As the hours passed, she became more concerned. There was no proof Miranda ever left that small shop in Salem, yet the police searched the place several times. It wasn’t adding up. Nor had she seen any indication of Miranda returning to Runway or to her home. As tempting as it was for Andy to travel to Salem, she knew that would be a waste of time. Better to see if she could find something a bit nearer. She cleared her desk and locked it before logging off the newspaper network and standing. Arching her back, she stretched out her arms and twisted left and right to loosen her muscles.

“Leaving, Andy?” Darian shot her a smile while continuing to type.

“Yup. See you tomorrow.” Andy grabbed her messenger bag and slid her laptop into it before pocketing her cell. With a small wave, she strode through the bullpen, a new plan in mind. She may not be at the point of going to Salem, but she could do some legwork around Manhattan.

Surprised to find it dark, Andy glanced at her phone to see what time it was. Her eyebrows rose. Nine seventeen. Good thing she didn’t have anyone to worry about her whereabouts. She slowed down as that thought echoed in her mind. If she disappeared, would anyone even notice? She had no significant other, no roommate, no one who would notice, at least not for a while. Her parents would think she was too busy to answer the phone or reply to their emails, but no alarm bells would ring. Her friends, including Lily and Doug, wouldn’t realize she was missing right away since they spoke sporadically. Even her colleagues wouldn’t notice at first. Although she accepted this harsh reality—this knowledge she wouldn’t be missed in any immediate sense, it confounded her that no one seemed distressed by Miranda’s disappearance. Except her.

With a new sense of urgency, Andy made her way to Runway, flashing a smile at the security guard. “Hi, George. How’s the family?”

“Good.” His brows were furrowed as he stared at Andy. “I thought you no longer worked here, Andy.”

“Oh, that. Miranda loaned me out to The Mirror to learn how to research big news events. And I thought a year with Miranda was hell.” She giggled and batted her eyes. “Anyway, I’m back, and,” she looked at her cell phone, “about to be late.” She smiled and waited. “Okay. Well, you’ll have to get a new badge. If they’re not used for too long, they get deactivated.”

“I promise. Let me just check in with the boss first. You can call Nigel if need someone to vouch for me.”

“Nah. That’s okay.” George opened the gate. “Glad to see you. Have a good night.”

“You, too. I want to see pictures of your son next time.” She waved, holding her breath until the elevator door cut off her view of the main lobby. She slumped against the back railing, not straightening until the elevator reached the seventeenth floor. Straightening up, she marched toward Miranda’s office, glad to see no one around. As she got closer, she saw a light on and stalled. Steeling herself, she decided she was going to see this through, and if she had to lie, cajole, argue, or arm-wrestle whoever was in Miranda’s office, so be it.

Entering the office, she looked around. It looked pretty much the same as the last time she was in it, over a year ago. No one was around, and she took advantage of the reprieve by moving to Miranda’s desk and sifting through the various messages stacked near the telephone. She knew the junior assistant would have typed them up and emailed them, too, but Miranda liked to have the original messages on her desk. Nothing indicated where Miranda might be. She noticed the laptop and opened the lid while looking into the outer office. Surprised the password she used to log in still worked, Andy ignored the bolt of fear she felt at so blatantly invading Miranda’s privacy. Desperate times.

She pulled up the latest schedule, studying it. It didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. Miranda was supposed to arrive back in Manhattan tonight. Tomorrow afternoon she had a video conference with some investors. Maybe she was taking some time for herself. Maybe she didn’t want to be bothered until tomorrow. Maybe she didn’t realize no one knew where she was. It didn’t sit right with her, though. Everything within her insisted Miranda was in trouble.

“Six? What are you doing here?”

Looking up, Andy saw her friend enter the office. She looked back at the computer screen, staring at the schedule. “Hey, Nigel. I was hoping to figure out where Miranda is.”

“Well, you’re lucky she isn’t here. She’d have your head on a pike for looking at her computer without her permission. Now, shoo. Get out of here. I’m telling you, she’s okay.” Nigel was dressed in tan slacks and a black Oxford shirt under a plaid vest. He looked as dapper as ever. Andy tried not to feel self-conscious in her black Levi’s jeans and red Eddie Bauer T-shirt.

“Did you find out anything?” Andy felt hope rise in her as she stared at Nigel. Which was promptly dashed when he shook his head. She looked at the screen again and gasped. What the hell? She blinked. I must be going crazy. She could have sworn, just for a moment, she saw something behind her. Like a huge hummingbird. I really need to get some sleep.

“Andy?”

“I promise I’ll leave in one minute. Let me log out.” She looked at Nigel. “Has anyone gone to her home?”

“Are you nuts? Show up at her house unannounced?”

“Then call her.” Andy watched Nigel sink into a chair and, after crossing his legs, he folded his hands over his knee.

“Six, what’s this about? The woman is fine. Nothing indicates foul play. The last thing I want to do is show up at her house when she clearly wants time alone. Why else would she not be in contact with anyone? You know if she wanted something, she’d call Emily or her junior assistant. The fact she hasn’t indicates she wants some time to herself, and this is the perfect time with her girls away for the week. Relax.”

Nodding, Andy recognized she might be overreacting. Movement behind Nigel caught her eye, and her mouth fell open. “Is that…Nigel, do you see that?” Andy stood, swiveling to catch sight of…something. “Is that a bat?”

“What are you talking about? There’s nothing here. You must be tired. Finish up and we’ll go for a late dinner. I’m going to grab something from my office. Be ready in five.” Nigel gave her a hard stare. “And don’t do anything stupid. Or rather, more stupid.”

“Nothing stupid. Got it.” Andy remained on her feet. She looked around once more, but she didn’t see anything. Sinking into the desk chair with a loud sigh, Andy logged off the Runway platform. She had no idea what to do next. Even though Nigel wasn’t worried, Andy was. She needed to find Miranda—it was that simple. She’d gladly withstand a verbal flaying for daring to contact Miranda, if only to reassure herself she was okay.

Well, then, she’d make a trip to Miranda’s home after dining with Nigel. She’d go now, but she thought she might be able to gain more information from Nigel while they shared a meal. Andy lowered the laptop lid, feeling a bit better having a plan in mind. Even if she found no clues to Miranda’s whereabouts in her home, Andy could say with a clear conscience that she tried her best. Goosebumps rose on her arms, and Andy looked up quickly, wondering why her body was reacting as if she were being watched. Her mouth dropped open.

In front of her hovered a beautiful blue dragon. Its wings flapped lazily, just enough to keep it afloat. She stared into dark blue eyes veined with silver. Those eyes pulled at her, demanded she believe what she was seeing.

“Holy shit.” She watched as its neck tilted, as if she were studying Andy. She landed on the computer, puffing out a ring of smoke through its lips. Andy got the feeling the dragon was female, although she had no idea why. Maybe it was the regal bearing. Or the long eyelashes. Her eyes ran over the dragon, stalling on the white scales on the dragon’s head. They looked like a familiar forelock. Her eyes connected with the dragon’s turbulent ones, and she gasped. Shaking her head, she reached a shaking hand toward the dragon, disappointed when she felt only air where the dragon sat.

“Awesome. I’m losing my mind.” The dragon stepped closer, and although she had no eyebrows, Andy could swear the dragon was raising one at her like Miranda used to do. “If you’re a hallucination, of course you’ll respond to whatever I say.” She examined the dragon. “I seem to have a great attention to detail. Your coloring, your expressions, even the way you hold yourself. You remind me so much of…”

The dragon nodded several times, and Andy’s heart sped up.

“Are you…” Andy knew this was ludicrous, but she forced herself to say the word. “Miranda?” She stared at the dragon, hope and despair warring within her. Time slowed down, as she watched the blue dragon nod once more, her wings fluttering before folding back into place on her back.

“Oh, my God. I knew something happened to you. I just knew it.” She bent forward to study Miranda. “It shouldn’t be a surprise your dragon form is as gorgeous as your human form.” Miranda cocked her head. “I mean, well, you know you’re beautiful, so I won’t bore you with details.” Andy smiled as Miranda chuffed out several small smoke balls. “I’m assuming this is a new development, and perhaps a bit too on the nose to be your choice.” Miranda nodded again.

Nigel bustled into the room. “Ready?”

Andy’s eyes tracked Miranda as she flew up around Nigel’s head. He didn’t react in any way. Why am I the only one who can see her? Is it like believing in ghosts? Is she dead? Oh, my God!

Nigel shifted in place, reminding Andy she needed to act normal, even though she was pretty sure her sense of reality was a bit too fluid.

“Um, yeah. Sure.” She rose, realizing Nigel wouldn’t be able to help. Who am I kidding? Who says I’ll be able to help? She’s a ghost. A dragon-ghost.

Still, at least she could see the dragon, who understood what Andy was saying. There must be a reason for that. She’d have to figure out. She would figure it out. After all, she could do anything. Even Miranda knew that.

Nigel walked out of the office as Andy flicked off the light switch. She followed him down the hallway to the elevator banks, lost in thought. Glancing at the elevator’s reflective surface, she noticed Miranda sitting on her right shoulder. She turned her head, eyes locking with Miranda’s, and whispered, “I’ll find a way to help you, Miranda. I promise.” Miranda opened her mouth, and a smoke ring formed before morphing into a heart. To Andy, it felt like the best thank you she’d ever received.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Miranda sat on Andrea’s shoulder blowing rings of smoke into different shapes and wondering if she could get away with eating some of Andrea’s food. Every so often, Andrea would turn her neck to catch sight of her, as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Miranda couldn’t blame her. This entire situation was absurd.

Questions flowed through her mind in a constant loop. Why is Andrea the only one who can see me? Will she be able to help me turn back into my human form? Is she my true love? That last question made her heart speed up. If that were true, they’d wasted the past year by not talking to each other. Miranda could admit to herself she’d missed Andrea. If it weren’t for the tidbits of information Nigel fed her, she’d have found another way to keep track of Andrea. And yet now she was perched on her shoulder, puffing out heart-shaped smoke rings and hoping one would somehow fit on Andrea’s finger. Pure foolishness.

“Six? You okay, kid?” Nigel frowned, his hand covering Andrea’s to get her attention.

“I’m sorry, Nige. I’m just worried about Miranda. I know you think she’s fine, but has she ever disappeared like this before?”

Nigel patted her hand before he focused on twisting the stem of his wine glass with his fingers back and forth. “She did once, long ago. It was after her first divorce.” He looked up. “Her divorce from Stephen finalized last week. I thought maybe it hit her full-force today and she decided to get away for a bit. I wouldn’t blame her.” He shrugged, eyes slipping away. “Back then we were closer. She told me when she was taking some time away, but…” He shrugged.

Miranda’s heart squeezed. It was true they weren’t as close. Last year’s machinations hadn’t helped. She’d made a point of seeking him out and spending personal time with him since the failed coup, but he was right—they weren’t as close as they used to be. She’d pulled away as the stressors of an unhappy marriage, demanding children, and work burdens had overwhelmed her. For the longest time she’d felt as if she were treading water, afraid a large wave would come and sweep her away. That had nearly come to pass.

Since her life had fallen around her ears, she’d worked hard to rebuild her relationships with her daughters, with Nigel, with her small circle of friends, knowing that was the only way she could make her life more manageable. If only she’d reached out to Andrea, too. God knows she’d wanted to.

“Didn’t you tell me you went to dinner with Miranda last week and didn’t discuss anything work-related?”

The soft smile that flittered across Nigel’s face reassured Miranda. “Yeah, that’s true. We had a great time.” He chuckled. “We got into a debate about the newest art installation at MoMA. She thinks it’s hideous, but I think the artist has potential.” His smile brightened. “We haven’t laughed that much in years.”

“That’s great. I’m glad you stuck with her, Nige, and I’m sure she is, too. She needs friends like you. I can tell you from the implosion of all my relationships last year that good friends are hard to find.”

Perking up her ears, Miranda wondered what Andrea meant. Was she referring to when she quit?

“Aw, Six, you deserve better than how they treated you. As soon as you got good at your job, your friends gave you a hard time and your boyfriend dumped you.” He stared at Andrea, a gleam in his eyes. “You know, I can still make that call to my friend in Boston—”

“No way. Nate deserves that job.” She leaned toward Nigel. “Plus, if he loses that job, he might get the bright idea of returning to New York and trying to resurrect our dead relationship.”

Nodding, Nigel grinned. “Right. We wouldn’t want that.” His cell phone flashed, and he picked it up to read the incoming text. “Looks like it’s time for me to get back to the office. The Book is ready, and with Miranda missing, I’ll have to review it.” He gestured toward the server, who hurried over. “The check, please.” He looked at Andrea. “This one’s on me, no arguments.”

“Thank you, Nigel.” When she rose to exchange air-kisses with Nigel, Miranda flew up and circled around to land on the table. She gobbled down some bruschetta and hopped over toward the remains of Nigel’s swordfish. Glancing up, she caught Andrea’s eye and froze. Andrea sat down and whispered, “Not a ghost, then. That’s…that’s encouraging.” She glanced around her. “It’s okay. No one’s watching.”

Although she felt self-conscious, Miranda hesitated only long enough to look around once more before leaning down to devour the fish. Once finished, she turned toward Andrea, who signified with a wave of her hand that Miranda should eat the leftover porterhouse steak and sautéed mushrooms on her plate. She was pleased to see Andrea had cut the steak into small pieces for her.

Stepping forward, Miranda leaned toward the first piece of steak, her eyes closing in anticipation as the savory aroma tickled her senses. As her teeth chomped down, she was unhappy to discover she’d somehow missed, and she lost her balance. She fell forward, landing on her nose. She rolled to the side, embarrassed. Her eyes sprang open, and she watched with dismay as the server turned away with the dinner plates. She pushed herself up and glared, wishing she could spout fire at the incompetent restaurant employee.

The look of horror on Andrea’s face was priceless. She whipped her head around, hand reaching toward the retreating waiter. “Oh, no. I’m still working on those. My companion had to leave before I could finish.” Andrea’s look of chagrin changed to pleading. “I’m still a bit hungry.”

The waiter returned, a frown on his face. “My apologies. Of course, please take your time.” He lowered Andrea’s plate down in front of her as Miranda rolled out of the way and fell off the table. Groaning, Miranda sat up, seeing Andrea’s worried face before she turned back to continue her conversation with the server.

“Would you like some more bread?” The server flicked his wrist before Andrea could answer, and another server hurried over with a new basket of warm bread. As soon as she left, a third server stepped forward to refill Andrea’s water. “Please let me know if you need anything else.”

Once everyone left the table, Andrea exhaled loudly and pretended to drop her cloth napkin. Her features loomed close to Miranda. “That was close. I’m sorry, Miranda. Are you okay? Here.” She extended her hand. “Let me help you.”

Under normal circumstances, Miranda would show disdain at the proffered help and make her own way back to the table, but her little body was taking a beating today, and she was tired. Flying, climbing, falling—they took their tolls. She hopped on Andrea’s hand, and a moment later she was deposited on the table.

“Please, take what you want.”

Taking stock of the transient aches and pains she felt, Miranda decided only her pride was bruised, and she hopped forward again. She inhaled the steak, mushrooms, and several pieces of bread while Andrea pretended to eat. Once she was full, Miranda flew over to the water glass, leaning forward to consume the water. She saw Andrea’s fingers surrounding the crystal and felt secure with landing on the rim, allowing her tail to act as a counterbalance as she leaned forward to lap at the liquid. This was much easier than when she drank at the Salem restaurant. Once done, she sat back on the rim and gazed at Andrea, who had propped her chin on her palm as she waited. Miranda jumped up and hovered in front of her nose, puffing out a heart, the best thanks she could think of giving. Gratitude flowed through her, and she felt certain that somehow Andrea would help her get out of this mess.

The surprised chuckle Andrea emitted was music to Miranda’s ears. She’d missed how pure and genuine Andrea’s reactions were. She wanted to make Andrea smile and chuckle more. She wanted to be a part of her life again. Not as her boss. No, certainly not. If the past year taught her anything, it was how to work at personal relationships. She may not be the best, as evidenced by Nigel’s words earlier, but at least she was trying. She knew if she tried with Andrea, she would be met at least halfway.

Settling back on Andrea’s shoulder, they left the restaurant. She weathered the various smells of the subway, knowing she had no choice, and was unsurprised when Andrea made her way to the townhouse. After a perfunctory knock, Andrea produced a key.

“Sorry. I never did give it back, but I swear I haven’t used it since before Paris. I’ll give it back once this is all over, if you want. Of course, you’ll want that. How stupid.” Andrea pulled the door open and walked directly to the beeping alarm panel, inputting the code. “Funny how some things stick in your head, like alarm codes. Good thing, too, in this case.”

As Andrea crossed over to the kitchen, turning on lights as she made her way further through the house, it struck Miranda how right it felt to have her in her home. It was as if her spirit energized each room, filling up each space and transforming it. Miranda had always felt pulled toward Andrea, regardless of what occurred in her life, regardless of how hard she tried to maintain a professional distance. Somehow Andrea had wormed her way into Miranda’s heart, and no amount of denying it would erase the truth: she’d fallen in love without ever knowing it.

The realization took Miranda’s breath away. She floated onto the breakfast bar, watching Andrea flop on a stool. It wasn’t enough to know she loved Andrea, though. She needed Andrea to want her, too. She wouldn’t be able to see me if she wasn’t my true love, would she? She must love me. Or maybe there’s the potential of her falling in love with me. Whatever Andrea felt, it was enough for now. It gave her hope.

“So, we need to figure out how to change you back. And why I’m the only one who can see you. Well, that doesn’t really matter right now. I’m glad I can see you. I wish you could speak to me, but we’ll deal with it. I’m guessing this happened in Salem.”

Nodding, Miranda stepped closer to Andrea.

“Let me guess. You pissed off the wrong person.”

Miranda puffed out an exclamation point. Andrea sniggered.

“Right. Well, this is a hell of a spell, and you can’t even tell me how to break it. Wait, do you know how?”

Miranda shook her head and slouching down in a good imitation of her daughters, wrapping her arms around her torso and tail around her body. This was quite a mess.

“Damn. You know, if this were a fairy tale, I could kiss you and you’d turn back.” Andrea’s frowned. “Of course, you’d have to be in love with me, too, or that wouldn’t work. Then again, I doubt Sleeping Beauty was in love with Prince Charming when he kissed her awake. Not that you’re asleep or defenseless. Come to think of it, that might not be the best example, although I can’t think of any that showcase empowered women. Fairytales suck.”

It was hard for Miranda to focus on anything Andrea was saying, her mind fixated on the idea of Andrea kissing her. Did she say she’s in love with me? Her heart skipped a beat, and Miranda jumped up, stopping Andrea mid-sentence. She puffed out a heart, an A, a plus sign, an M, another heart, and a question mark. She held her breath, waiting for Andrea to respond.

“Are you asking whether I love you?”

Miranda nodded, puffing out another heart for good measure.

“I do, so much.” Tears glistened in her chocolate eyes, and all Miranda wanted to do was kiss them away. “Do you, do you love me?” Her lower lip trembled, and she shook her head. “Don’t answer that. What a stupid question. Of course, you don’t. There’s no possible way—”

Miranda interrupted Andrea the only way she knew how, by darting forward and kissing her, melting into the feeling of warmth spreading through her once their lips connected. She felt her body grow heavy even as she felt weightless. Her eyes sprang open when she felt her body land on top of Andrea, who grunted.

Miranda started to roll away, but strong arms wrapped around her, holding her still. “You’re back. Holy Scaly Forelocks. The kiss worked.” Andrea’s eyes were black and shiny as they jumped over Miranda’s face. “You’re a sight for sore eyes. Kiss me. Please.”

Moaning, Miranda showed she could, in fact, take orders when motivated. She tasted wine on Andrea’s breath, her senses overloading when soft lips parted and a tongue darted forward to brush against hers. Miranda made a desperate noise in the back of her throat, as she chased after that bewitching tongue, eager to explore every inch of Andrea’s mouth. She lost herself in the different textures and tastes, loving the moans and sighs and breathless groans. She felt Andrea’s fingers grasping her back, sifting through her hair, and it was only when she realized she was grinding into Andrea’s thigh that she realized she might be getting carried away.

Heart pounding in her ears, Miranda pulled back. She took stock of their position, eyes widening. She had one hand wrapped in the front of Andrea’s shirt while the other one was snaked around her lower back. Miranda was straddling Andrea’s leg, their bodies flush against each other. Their breasts brushed together as they fought to catch their breath, sending bolts of arousal through her. When Andrea opened her eyes, Miranda felt tenderness steal through her, and she smiled. “I do love you, Andrea, and if you give me the chance, I promise to prove it.”

Andrea’s tremulous smile pulled at her heartstrings. “I know you will. I’ve waited so long for you. Nigel kept telling me to be patient, that the right time to contact you would present itself. And then last week, he told me the divorce was final and it was time to take a chance. I was planning to contact you once you came back from Salem.” She bit her lower lip. “And here we are.”

“Probably not quite what you imagined, but I won’t complain.” Miranda went to get up, but Andrea held her fast. She raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not ready to let you go.” Andrea’s eyes welled up.

Cupping Andrea’s cheek, Miranda delivered a kiss on each eyelid. “I have no intention of letting you go. We’re merely relocating. I have an extremely comfortable bed, and I want to hold you.” She extricated herself from Andrea’s curves and righted the stool Andrea was sitting on before the kiss. Andrea sat up, looking breathless and breath-taking. Miranda extended a hand.

“No pressure, darling. I can be patient when it counts, and I want you to be comfortable. I know we must talk about all this, but can we start that conversation in the morning? I’d like to hold you.”

“The morning’s fine with me.” Andrea intertwined their fingers as she stood up, and she pulled Miranda into a tight hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I don’t know what I would have done if you’d been hurt or couldn’t turn back from being the cutest dragon I’ve ever seen or disappeared.”

“Just how many cute dragons have you seen?”

“Oh, right.” Andrea chuckled. “Good point. It was the forelock that gave you away.” She brushed back Miranda’s signature lock with gently fingers.

“I knew as soon as I saw you it would all work out. But we can discuss all that,” Miranda waved her hand in the air, “tomorrow.” She tugged at Andrea’s hand, pulling her toward the back staircase next to the pantry. “Let’s go to bed, darling.”

“What if I’m not tired?” The coquettish tenor of her voice made Miranda pause.

She looked at Andrea, noting her flushed cheeks and glistening lips. “Well, I can think of some ways to tire you out.” She took her time raking her eyes over Andrea’s body before allowing their eyes to reconnect. Her lips quirked upward when she saw how she was affecting Andrea. Stepping closer, Miranda whispered, “I can assure you I desire nothing less than losing myself in the pleasure of your body. Your taste, your scent, the sounds you make—I want to explore every inch of you with my fingers, my lips, my tongue.” She stared into dark eyes. “Do you want that, too?”

“You have no idea how much.” Andrea swayed toward her, and Miranda captured her lips in a heated kiss. When it broke, Andrea whimpered. Her eyes were heavy with want. “Please, Miranda. I don’t want to wait another moment.”

Humming, Miranda pulled her up the stairs. Patience is overrated anyway. Or maybe she’d proven her restraint by allowing Andrea to decide what would happen between them. It no longer mattered. As she pulled off Andrea’s shirt and jeans and bra and panties, all that mattered to her was proving to her true love that she needn’t ever fear the dragon. No, this dragon’s heart belonged to the beauty in her arms.

The End