Time of the Dragon Book 1: Dragon's Code
Kels is desperate to meet her deadline but ends up stumbling into a situation that might be more than she bargained for.
Time of the Dragon 01 snippet –
She moved through the streets, looking for the right alleyway. The high heels she wore clacked on the sidewalk and rubbed at her toes, but she ignored the pain and increased her pace. She was running out of time.
She glanced again at the address scrawled underneath a single name. Grey. She doubted it was the man's real name. It was likely a stage name to lend a sense of mystery and class—the un-American spelling called to mind an English lord or middle-aged gentleman. Whoever he was, Grey was her only hope of salvaging tomorrow's gala.
Another glance ahead, and her destination became clear. A small table stood at the head of an alley, and a young guy with a shock of white hair was draping a gaudy red and black checkered tablecloth over it.
Kels sighed from sheer relief to find her salvation preparing for his day's performance at the street corner. After her scheduled act had pulled out of her gala at the last minute, she was in desperate need of a replacement. The man ahead of her was all she had. Her Hail Mary.
Grey. His stage name suited him. His white hair was styled into windswept spikes and matched the pinstripes of his gray trousers and jacket. The clothes were tailored to hug his frame perfectly. They added an extra degree of class and sophistication to the man, while his unbuttoned white polo shirt underneath the jacket gave him a hint of casualness and prevented him from appearing too stiff.
It was an unremarkable setup: a man doing tricks on a pop-out table in an alley. But Grey had a style and presence that made up for the humble quaintness of his operation. Heads were already turning to watch the man as he set up for his performance, and Kels was no less intrigued. Now that she’d found her hoped-for savior, she could relax a little. Some of the tension in her body left her, and she forgot about the soreness in her feet.
Moving closer, she watched Grey smooth out the cloth with care. He was particular, searching out every crease and wrinkle, then smoothing out his jacket afterward. She liked his attention to detail.
He was a thin man, bordering on gaunt. His skin had a deathly white pallor that Kels suspected to be a kind of albinism. He didn't look well, but the way he held himself and the confidence of his movements and aura suggested he owned his look entirely, a pride that was admirable, attractive even. Despite his rakish quality, he turned more than a few girls' heads as he set up for his show.
When the cloth and his suit were perfectly in place, Grey pulled out a deck of cards. Very quickly, he was shuffling and spreading the cards over the table as if someone stood on the other side.
His hands moved so much faster than Kels could keep up with. It was an almost direct contradiction to his earlier slow, deliberate spread of the cloth. He shuffled and moved the cards so fast they made an electric crackle between his fingers.
Grey’s lightning reflexes and fast shuffling drew his audience in closer, forcing Kels to get nearer to ensure she’d be able to see what was happening. Despite the urgency that had brought her out in search of the performer, she was excited to see him in action. Her contact had promised good things, and Kels liked what she was seeing. Grey had style, and now she would see if he had substance to match.
Kels purposefully hung back in the gathering crowd, remembering that she needed to appraise the man's act. As fun as it might have been, she could not let herself be chosen as an assistant in Grey's trick. She found a place to the side where she could observe the performer without being observed, and kept her eyes on the man’s hands as he continued to cut, shuffle, and manipulate his deck of cards with ease and confidence.
The speed alone seemed magic as Grey moved cards around and asked a woman in the audience to help him. She seemed an easy and obvious choice as she rocked excitedly on her heels in front of the magician. Grey held out the pack to her, the woman picked a card, and he let her put it back after she showed it to everyone in the crowd but him. Without shuffling, he laid the deck on the table and put his hands behind his back.
“Take the deck,” he instructed the woman as she withdrew. His voice was easy, almost bored, as if he were doing the most mundane and ordinary thing in the world.
The assistant hesitated, and the crowd leaned in closer upon hearing the magician's strange request. Normally, the magician kept control of as much as possible. Letting his ‘assistant’ handle the deck, giving her power over the trick, was bold. Kels nodded, a faint smile spreading over her lips as she waited in anticipation of the magic.
Much to Kels’ and the audience's surprise, Grey reached into a pocket in his gray pinstripe pants and withdrew a black silk bandanna.
“Keep hold of the deck.” Grey didn’t hesitate as he folded up the bandanna and wrapped it around his head.
Most of the crowd, including Kels, reacted to this. She leaned forward, keeping a close eye on the deck of cards in the woman's hands while also studying the way Grey covered his face.
Several people waved hands in front of his eyes and moved around close to him to verify the bandanna was in the right place. Grey only reacted when someone bumped into him, raising his hands to express a desire for everyone to back up.
Kels noticed his hands shook a little. Nerves, or something else?
She couldn’t be sure what was going through the man's mind. With his thin frame, it looked like the slightest jostle would knock him over. He held his own, though, straightening his jacket and the cloth tie about his eyes before speaking to the woman holding his cards.
“Shuffle the cards, please, any way you like. When you're done, could you fan them out across the table, face down?” He made a sweeping motion with his hand to indicate where he meant.
The woman took her time shuffling the deck. A man next to her, perhaps her boyfriend, goaded her to take her time and shuffle the cards as much as possible.
Kels had wondered if the woman was a plant, an accomplice aiding Grey in his trick, but the man by her side with his arm around her waist suggested she really was just a member of the public. After almost a minute, the boyfriend took over, shuffling the deck and riffling the cards together.
Kels regarded Grey once more. He had a distinctive stage look, as if he had stepped out of a black and white photograph. His black leather shoes were polished to a mirror shine. The light gray pinstripe trousers, matching jacket, and pristine white top looked so clean and unblemished that they had to be freshly bought.
“You still shuffling the deck there? Do I have time to grab a cup of coffee?”
Grey's words earned a chuckle from the crowd, and his assistant finally put the deck down on the table, fanning the cards out as her eyes watched the cloth covering Grey's eyes.
“To satisfy any doubters in the crowd, you can assure everyone that we have never met before, can't you? I'm sure it would set your boyfriend's mind at ease to know you aren't acquainted with such a handsome and captivating gentleman as myself.”
A few more laughs came from the audience, and Kels smirked as she noticed the boyfriend folding his arms in apparent displeasure at Grey's jibe.
“I can promise I've never seen you before in my life.”
“Now, although I have not touched the deck or had any chance to manipulate it, I can sense your card. It carries your mark, a part of the beautiful essence your soul is made of.”
He did a little hand waving and theatrics for show. Kels bit her lip, so caught up in the performance she nearly forgot why she was there.
Grey settled his hand above a card, lowering his finger until it hovered over a card to the far right of the pack.
“This one,” he predicted.
The woman raised her eyebrows and glanced at her boyfriend excitedly. He seemed to have lost his enthusiasm for the performance since Grey's little joke, but that did not dampen her spirits as she reached for the card.
Kels held her breath. Grey hadn’t touched the cards, and the crowd had checked that he couldn’t see. If this worked, he could be just what she was looking for.
As the woman picked up the card and turned it over, her eyes went wide and she almost dropped it. Within seconds, everyone was clapping. Kels applauded with the others with a relieved laugh—Grey might be better than the performer who had let her down. She had no idea how he had pulled the trick off with no manipulation of the deck. He had to be good enough for the guests at her gala. She would reserve judgment until the magician had completed his set, though.
Over the next twenty minutes, Grey performed more magic tricks, most of them using the cards, but one or two involving some pyrotechnics that appeared to come from nowhere. The whole time, cash piled high in the hat sitting front and center on the table. Most crucially of all, Grey sought a new assistant for each trick, dispelling any suspicions that he was using an accomplice.
Kels soon found herself part of a larger crowd, having to get closer to see each subsequent trick. She looked about the sea of smiling, intrigued expressions, and imagined the faces of her guests at the gala when she introduced Grey. As she studied the faces in this crowd, she saw someone who wasn’t so impressed with the tricks Grey was performing.
While Kels and the others grew ever more impressed with Grey, a tall, athletic-looking guy in his midthirties was looking more and more surly. It made Kels wary. Whoever he was, he was the only one unimpressed by Grey, and Kels resolved not to let his sour reaction sway her. She wanted Grey for her gala, and she moved to snap him up the moment he was done with his set.
She wasted no time with preliminaries. “Hi. I want to hire you if you’re available tomorrow evening?”
Grey’s eyes went wide, but before he could respond, his gaze traveled to someone beside her. Kels looked up to her left and saw the stern man staring at Grey.
Kels swore internally. It was her luck that right when she took the plunge to try to nab Grey for her gala, someone else would show up and take over the whole thing.
“We need to talk, Grey,” the guy stated.
“Could you wait just a moment?” Kels broke in. “I wanted to talk to this talented young man first, and I don’t have long.” Kels felt confident when she started talking, but it was clear the man didn’t care what she thought.
“I think you’d best go back to whatever workplace you came from,” the newcomer suggested. His arms folded a bit tighter. “Grey and I need to have a chat that you don’t want to be involved in.”
The man had a bodybuilder’s physique, and his strong musculature showed through a tight-fitting shirt Kels could only assume was worn for precisely that effect. He had tan skin like he spent a lot of time out in the sun, and long chestnut hair tied back into a ponytail. A coarse, square-shaped beard completed his rugged appearance and gave him the look of a lumberjack or mountain man.
“Run along, miss,” the man repeated his command, his voice low and gruff.
The intimidation had the opposite impact on Kels’ demeanor. She had already lost one act for her gala and she wasn't going to lose another, not to some rude man trying to frighten her with his muscles. Kels straightened up as tall as she could muster and fixed a stern look on her face that complimented her short fiery red hair.
“Listen, I don’t know what your beef is with this magician. But he’s damn good and I want him for an event. Whatever you have to say to him, I am sure it can wait till—”
Grey raised his hand and motioned for Kels to stop.
“I’ll take your job. Write the details on a card or something. Wherever it is, I’ll be there. We can worry about the rest of the details tomorrow. You should probably go now, though.”
Kels frowned, eyes moving between the two men squaring up on opposite sides of the table. She didn't like the muscle man, didn't like his tone or the aggressive way he held himself as he looked at Grey. What could she do, though? She pulled out a business card and scribbled a note on the back with the venue address.
“We'll need you at ten in the morning.” Kels handed over the card, looking at the tall man scowling at Grey. “If you need anything, please call me on the number on the card.” Grey didn't seem to want her involved with whatever he had going on with the mountain man, but Kels wanted him to know she was there if he needed her for something.
Once Grey had the card and placed it reverently in his jacket pocket, Kels walked away. Whatever beef the other guy had with Grey, it was none of her business. Still, the threatening way he had spoken to her, and the way he had looked at Grey… Worry prevented Kels from retreating entirely.
She made it only a few yards down the street before she stopped. Looking back, she saw the muscle man leaning heavily on Grey’s table. She didn’t hear what was said between them in their hushed conversation, but the muscular guy carried a bad vibe as his hands clenched into fists. She tried to persuade herself this wasn’t her fight, but she couldn’t help but step closer again.
Kels balled her own hands into fists to calm her nerves and make herself feel stronger, and watched and waited.
The other man suddenly raised his voice to a shout as his anger bubbled over. “You know this has to stop!”
Grey smoothed his jacket and straightened up as though trying to intimidate the man on the opposite side of the table. It was a near-impossible feat, given how scrawny Grey looked. “Really? And who’s going to stop me exactly, you? I don’t think you have it in you to make a spectacle of yourself like that.”
“I’ll do what I must, Grey.”
Seems like a bad idea to get involved in the affairs of a random street magician, but something tells me Kels is going to do exactly that. Find out what happens next on September 20, when Time of the Dragon Book 1: Dragon's Code is released. Until then head over to Amazon and pre-order today.