Do you love dragon shifters?
Here’s a special Steel Dragon snippet just for you! I can’t wait for this one to go live! It’s right up my alley! 😉
Kristen Hall stepped out of her car, careful to avoid a puddle slick with oil—no easy task, considering the parking lot was more cracks than concrete. Despite being surrounded by a chain-link fence and a guard seated near the back of the building with a shotgun resting across his lap, she didn’t feel like she was in any danger. On a day like today, her family wouldn’t go anywhere else. Buddy’s Pizza offered the best food in Detroit.
She opened the door to the diminutive building and the smells of perfectly crispy crust and melted cheese washed over her. Her smile was instinctive. She loved this place.
As she stepped inside and savored the aroma, her younger brother blocked her path. “I thought police were supposed to look tough. Shouldn’t you wear a scowl with your hair in a bun or something?” Brian enveloped her in a bear hug.
Although he was taller and wider than her, she still wrapped him up and leaned back to lift his feet off the floor. “I could still wrestle you to the ground and make you eat bugs, Brian,” she whispered sweetly.
Despite being treated like a big doll, he merely grinned as she placed him on his feet. “You always were a terrible bully, but bugs off the floor at Buddy’s would still be better than your cooking.”
“Ha-ha.” She laughed dryly. Everyone in her family seemed to be able to cook except her. Even Brian, as lazy as he was, could roast a chicken and vegetables. She was basically a master of the microwave and nothing more.
Her mom approached from the back of the restaurant and threaded her way through the narrow spaces between tables. “I think you look lovely, honey.” She kissed her daughter on the cheek. “But Brian’s right, if you let that red hair of yours run loose at your new job, you’ll distract the entire force. Now, come on. Let’s go find your father. He’s holding a table like he’s pinned down.”
Kristen followed her through the crowded pizza parlor. Smiling people crammed around tiny tables with red and white tablecloths, argued over the Tigers’ latest loss, or scarfed pizza. The walls were covered with photos of celebrities who’d come to Buddy’s to do the same. Eminem, the Temptations, and even Arethra Franklin had all eaten there, and those were only some of the more famous celebrities. She had been coming here since she was a little girl. It was her family’s go-to celebration venue when her mom didn’t want to cook.
She located Frank Hall at a table in a corner, pouring over the menu as if he hadn’t seen it a million times already.
Her grin wide, she shifted her posture so her feet would fall silently as she approached. “It looks like you need a spotter.” She poked her dad between the ribs with a finger.
He flinched but as soon as he heard her voice, he broke into a smile. “Aw, Kristen, now that you’re an honor grad, I can finally let my guard down.” He studied her affectionately. “You look beautiful, sweetie. The police don’t deserve you.”
Kristen pulled a chair out and sat down beside him. “They didn’t deserve you either.” This wasn’t the first time she’d had this conversation with him. He was proud of her for following in his footsteps—at least on the surface—but he was still an old cop. And he was a dad who didn’t want to see his little girl hurt, even if she was more athletic than he’d ever been.
“Yeah, well, an old baldy who won’t ever shave his mustache is a far cry from the woman you’ve become.” He threw an arm around her shoulder. “I still say you could do anything you want.”
“Being a police officer is what I want.” She raised an eyebrow. “I want to protect people and help this city become even better than it has in the last ten years. Exactly like my old man did.”
His only response was a smile. Despite his misgivings, she could see that what he felt most of all for his daughter was pride.
“Come on, can’t we get a pitcher of beer before we get into all the mushy stuff?” Brian plopped into an empty seat and gestured toward a server.
“We’re proud of you, too,” his mom said to him.
“Yeah, those high scores don’t set themselves,” Kristen quipped, unable to help herself.
He laughed. “Oh, my God, do you have any idea how you two sound? High scores? No one’s cared about a high score since pinball machines were popular.” He scratched his hair and shook his head. Brian took after his mother with brown hair and plain features. Kristen was the only one in the family with red hair or a figure, despite her eating virtually as much pizza as the rest of them.
“From the rumors I’ve heard, Kristen knows more than enough about high scores. Honor grad, huh?” Her dad beamed. “You know I barely scraped through. You’ve already done well for the family name.” He finally put the menu down as the server approached.
“We’ll have two pizzas. One pepperoni mushroom, one ham and pineapple, plus an antipasto salad,” Kristen ordered before he could speak up. “Oh, and a pitcher of something hoppy from Founder’s.”
The server nodded and vanished into the noise and hubbub of the restaurant.
Brian grinned. “At least you know how to order food.”
“It’s not her fault she likes her meat raw on the inside and blackened to a crisp on the outside.”
“Mom!” she exclaimed, shocked that her mother would say that until she remembered it was exactly what had happened the last time she’d cooked chicken.
“Nice one, Mom. Get in on the action before her and dad start going at it.” Her brother chuckled.
“Now that you’re a member of the force, you won’t have to cook ever again if you don’t want to,” her dad stated matter of factly. “Christ knows I don’t.”
He was lying, of course, and could grill a mean burger. Even that was beyond his daughter’s skill in the kitchen.
“I’m not a member yet,” Kristen reminded them. “Only a graduate.”
“A graduate with honors, honey,” her mom added quickly.
“A graduate who was hand-picked by a dragon,” Brian said incredulously. “It’s not like you won’t actually get a job.”
“I was not handpicked,” she protested.
Her parents shared a look that said they thought that was exactly what happened.
“I still think it’s insane that you bumped into one at all. You’d think I’d have seen one by now. After all, enough come through Detroit to perform or whatever.”
“Honey, you have to leave the house if you want to meet people.” Their mother turned to Brian. “Or dragons,” she added after a moment.
Kristen laughed. “Nice one, Mom!”
“But that’s kind of how it happened, right, Krissy?” Her dad leaned closer over the already cramped table. She’d told him the story so many times and yet he always wanted to hear it again.
“No. I mean, yes, I bumped into a dragon at a concert—”
“What did it look like? How big are its wings? Did it buy you a drink?” Brian winked.
“It was in human form, duh, and he was…well, handsome, obviously. We talked for a few minutes at the end of the show and he gave me a card with an address.”
“So what you’re saying is he literally handed you a job.” He had skipped every recounting of the story and preferred to spend his time working his way up leaderboards.
She shook her head. “No, not at all. I arrived there and had to take a number of tests. I still don’t know the point of half of them. There were physical activities like running on a treadmill, an obstacle course, and things like that. I enjoyed that part of it.”
“Yeah, well, no surprises there,” her brother said.
“Brian!” their mom chided. “We should be proud someone in this family is athletic. I don’t know where you get it, honey, but whoever it came from, I’m happy they gave it to you.”
For a moment, she wanted to press her on what that had meant. She sometimes said things like that—like Kristen had history that was different than the rest of them. She certainly looked different. But before she could say anything, the server returned with the salad and a pitcher of beer which broke the moment. Not that she intended to complain. She was starving.
Everyone scooped piles of salad—and didn’t skimp on the cubes of salami or cheese—onto their plates and dug in. For a moment, they simply ate and let the sounds of the cozy little pizza place wash over them. As usual, though, Brian couldn’t stay quiet for long, “So, what parts did you not like?”
“Well, I still don’t really like olives,” Kristen mumbled around a mouthful of salad.
“Not the salad, stupid—the tests. You liked the physical stuff, obviously, so what were the parts you didn’t like? Did you have to play videogames? I told you that you should’ve practiced.”
“No videogames, Brian, sorry.” She shrugged. “I honestly didn’t understand much of it. There was some weird history stuff. Questions about dragons in America during colonialism and the Civil War. All kinds of other odd things too. What was strange is that they hooked me up to monitoring devices to measure my brain waves or whatever.”
“And they were able to find some? I’m impressed, Kristen.” He grinned like a fool.
She put an elbow on the table and flexed her bicep. “Do you want to arm wrestle, or what?”
“Pizza’s here.” He evaded her question neatly because obviously, he’d lose like he did every single time.
Their server put two rectangular pizzas on the table and the Halls wasted no time in digging in. It tasted exactly like it had for her entire life—perfect. Baked on a steel pan, the crust of each square piece of pizza was perfectly crispy. A lake of sauce covered the cheesy bread and toppings and more cheese were sprinkled on top of that. It was heaven on a plate.
“So uh…did they uh…tell you anything else?” her dad asked around bites of food. Kristen shot him a look. That wasn’t really like him. Frank Hall was a direct man and always had been. When he wanted something, he demanded it, whether it was the TV remote or a crook to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
She shrugged, swallowed another cheesy bite, and washed it down with cold beer. “Well, not really. The tests were kind of all over the place.”
“Did they let you ask questions, or did you have to fight your way out of there?” Brian had already wolfed down three slices of ham and pineapple and now reached for a fourth. She snatched it from him before he ate the whole pizza himself.
“That was the weirdest part, actually. They said I could ask anything I wanted to, so I did.”
Her brother lowered his voice. “Did you ask the big one?”
“The big one?” her dad whispered, concern in his voice.
“Yeah. Are they always smoking hot in their human form or can they choose how they look? If I could change shape, I know I wouldn’t keep this.” He slapped his round gut and laughed.
Kristen and her parents all shared a groan.
“No, I didn’t ask them about their glamor. I don’t like it when people ask why my hair’s red and curly instead of brown and straight like Mom’s, so I assumed they wouldn’t appreciate it either.”
Her dad straightened in his chair. “Did you ask to be a cop like your old man?”
“Because if you did, you’ll be in big trouble, Krissy,” her mother huffed. “I spent thirty years staying up late wondering if Frank would come home, and I don’t look forward to spending another thirty worrying about you.”
“No, I didn’t ask about joining the academy. I asked about the tests, mostly, and why they selected me. I…well, this will probably sound stupid, but I asked if they thought I was a mage or something.”
Brian spat out a bite of pizza. “You asked what?”
“Why else would they be so interested in me? Seriously, think about it. I barely bumped into this guy in a concert and suddenly, I’m doing all this crazy stuff and taking these tests. I thought there must be a reason I didn’t know about.”
“Maybe dragons like redheads.” Brian ran a finger through his brown hair and pouted his lips in a poor impersonation of her.
“Brian!” his mother snapped.
“It’s fine, Mom. They answered that question anyway. No. I’m not a mage. They almost laughed in my face when I asked it.”
Her parents shared another look.
“What?” she demanded.
“We worry about you is all, honey.” Her mother dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “I mean, two rebellions, both led by mages—”
“Marty’s right, Kris. One of those wars made Canada, for Christ’s sake. I hope you’re not a damn mage. You’d either have to serve them or… Is it true they can really breathe fire?” Her dad shook his head. Everyone had heard rumors, but dragons were rare and fairly secretive, especially about the extent of their powers, so most rumors remained exactly that—pure conjecture.
“I don’t know, Dad. Like I said, they didn’t answer most of my questions, and it’s not like the one at the concert transformed and took the time to show me his powers. They merely took more notes on what I asked. Honestly, I think that was one of the tests too.”
Brian—having devoured a fifth slice of pizza—rejoined the conversation. “Why would you be a mage, though? Doesn’t that run in families or whatever? Unless mom and dad are holding out on us, the Halls are basically normal.”
“You’re definitely not normal, Brian,” she retorted and drew a look of mock indignation from him.
“Halls aren’t magic,” their dad stated in a tone as frustratingly opaque as the dragons had been.
Kristen nodded. “That’s what the dragon said too.”
“So, then what happened? They popped you off the diodes and you felt compelled to join the police academy?” Brian gestured at the ridiculousness of his sister being selected instead of him. “They do that, right? I’ve read about it on the Internet. Compulsion or whatever.”
“No. No, not at all. They took a few minutes to look at the results, then told me I’d be a great fit for police work. It wasn’t like they forced me or whatever. Dragons aside, you guys know I’ve always wanted to be a cop like Dad.”
“Which is still not okay,” her mother said, but her voice lacked the fervor it had possessed when Kristen first applied to the academy. Marty Hall might not be happy her daughter was following her father into the force, but she’d accepted it.
Her dad reached for another slice of pizza. If they waited, Brian would eat it all. “It’ll be fine, honey. With a pretty face like that? They’ll put her on meter maid duty for a few years before they promote her to detective. Before long, she’ll run the force without so much as a scratch on her.”
As they usually did, her parents fell into their familiar patter about the job. Since she’d joined the police academy, dinner often devolved into the two of them debating her choice. She might have had second thoughts about her decision—she had always loved her parents and wanted to make them proud—but since they weren’t in agreement, she knew she couldn’t please them both. The choice was ultimately hers to make.
She’d always been athletic and wanted to help people, so being a police officer made sense. Still, she hoped her mom didn’t continue to stress eat.
Kristen’s phone buzzed in her purse and she glanced at it. Brian had already tuned out of reality and now played a game on his phone, so she knew her parents wouldn’t say anything.
“Oh, my God—Dad, it’s an email from the force. They’ve given me my first assignment,” she blurted before she’d even read the whole thing.
“That’s great, honey!” Her mom obviously tried to be enthusiastic but sounded like she didn’t think it was great at all.
“Now, Krissy, remember, the force is still a man’s world,” her dad began. She’d heard this speech before too, but beer often made him repeat himself. “I’m sure that once they see what you’re capable of, they’ll get you into more action, but there’s nothing wrong with starting out as a meter reader or a traffic cop. The force has to make money.”
She almost couldn’t hear him. Not because of the noise of the restaurant or because his words were slightly slurred, but because of the four capital letters that glared at her from the screen of her phone.
“I’ve been assigned to SWAT.”
Uh-oh! Kristen’s mom is going to have a heart attack! How in the world did a rookie cop get assigned to SWAT for her first assignment? This is going to be fantastic! Check out the FB page or our Home page to find out exactly when this one goes live!