Gabriel followed Raven into O’Hare international airport, watching over her protectively as she navigated the crowd. To his surprise, she stopped short in the middle of the bustling walkway, spread her arms wide, and stared up at the ceiling with a smile on her face that would have shamed the sun had they been outdoors. The other travelers flowed around her, rushing like water around a stone.
“What are doing?” He joined her in the middle of the walkway, grinning at the joy he saw on her face. That was the thing about being with Raven. Her moods were contagious. He couldn’t help but feel it too.
She took a deep breath and blinked those damn irresistible blue eyes at him. “I am celebrating having flown,” she said around an adorably quirky grin. “I am now a jetsetter. I am a woman who flies. I am” —she looked around—“in Chicago!” She clasped her hands in front of her chest. “This is my first time here!”
His dragon coiled and stretched under his skin, coming to the surface and basking in the energy she was putting off. The woman wasn’t just magic, she was light and life. “In that case, come. I’ve rented a car. It’s too early to meet my brother anyway. Let me show you a few things.”
“Why is it too early to meet your brother?”
“Because I’ve learned he works late tonight and for what I have planned, it needs to be dark, cold, and too late to find a proper hotel.” He slanted her a mischievous grin.
She laughed and the music of it made fireworks go off inside his soul. “There are literally thousands of hotel rooms in Chicago and it’s the city that never sleeps.”
“That’s New York.” He winked.
“What are you up to, Gabriel?”
“Suffice it to say that I know my brother, and if we are to convince him to help us, I must leverage his weaknesses to our advantage.”
“Tobias strikes me as highly intelligent. Don’t you think he’ll see right through that?”
“He will, and yet it will work.” He took her by the elbow. “Come. I want to introduce you to one of my favorite things about Chicago.” He pointed to a nearby kiosk.
“Garrett’s popcorn?” That incredulous laugh again—a sparkle in his soul. “Popcorn is one of your favorite things about Chicago?”
He winked. “Just wait.”
Moments later, he had her wrapped snuggly in a Canada goose parka and seat belted into the SUV he’d rented, while she shoveled a mix of caramel and cheddar into her mouth. “I was wrong for doubting you. This is the popcorn of the gods.”
“Wait until you try the deep dish pizza.”
“I thought Chicago was known for its hot dogs.”
“Absolutely, but that particular delicacy is best consumed in Wrigley Field while watching a Cubs game and unfortunately, it’s the wrong season.”
He slowed as they entered traffic. She put the lid back on the tin and dusted off her hands. “Tell me more about Tobias. Why is he the way he is?”
He snorted. “That question would take more time than we have to answer.”
She sighed. “He was kind to me, but it’s clear he has a chip on his shoulder.”
“This may surprise you, but dragons, in general, aren’t the warm, fuzzy personalities you might assume them to be.”
She snort-laughed. “Fair. But there’s something else about him. I get the sense that he rejects his dragon nature, for the most part, yet holds tightly to the rules your mother put in place for you. It’s a strange dichotomy.”
Gabriel frowned. “Tobias resented Marius and I growing up. Marius was trained to ascend to the crown. No one was allowed to beat him at pit fighting because it was family policy that he couldn’t be seen in public losing. As the second oldest, I was trained equally. All the same warrior training. All the same education. I had to be ready to take his place in case one of our enemies ever got to him, which of course, in a way, they did.” He simply never thought that enemy would come from within. “But Tobias, he was always the most intellectual of all of us. He didn’t want to learn how to be a warrior, but as the third in line, he had no choice but to serve as our sparring partner.”
He glanced over to see she’d grown serious, her arms folded. “So, he was forced to take the same classes as you but was never allowed to win and was basically used as a training dummy in your lessons?”
He growled softly. “It’s hard to explain to a human but any other dragon would have killed for the opportunity. Only Tobias wasn’t any other dragon.”
“No, he wasn’t. He isn’t.” She rubbed her jaw. “I bet it’s important to him to be seen as an individual and to be appreciated for what he’s best at, which it seems is healing.”
She really was the most intuitive person he’d ever met. Not just a powerful witch, but thoughtful in ways humans rarely were. “He always had a penchant for it, you know. Healing. He was trained initially by the indigenous guide who gave me the amulet that healed you. That’s how he knew about it and why he knows how to use it. After she died, he went on to practice over the centuries. I’ve never understood his obsession with fixing humans. It’s not as if he’s ever been sick himself.”
“You don’t? It’s so clear to me.”
Inching forward in traffic, he glanced her way expectantly.
“He spent his entire life being used as a tool to train you and Marius, never being appreciated fully for his gifts, being overlooked and probably neglected. I imagine that feeling of helplessness developed in him a strong sense of empathy that allows him to see the person behind the patient even though he’s never felt the physical ills they feel.”
The light changed and he turned the corner. “I think you might be right about that, little witch.”
“I am, and the key to earning his trust will be helping him in his quest to heal. He wanted that amulet for a reason. He cares deeply about someone, and we have to care too.”
Gabriel nodded. “Then that is what we will do.”
She leaned back in her seat with a satisfied smile as if she’d just solved a complicated puzzle. “Where are we headed now?”
He slanted her a playful grin. “I’m taking you somewhere with the best view of the city.”
“I can’t wait. Can you believe this snow? It’s like being inside a snow globe.” She stared through the windshield. Thick flakes as big as goose feathers floated down around them.
“Do you like the snow?” They didn’t get much in New Orleans. As a dragon, he was ambivalent to it. His higher core temperature meant the cold wasn’t dangerous to him in any way and he could tolerate extremes far better than humans. But Paragon was a volcanic and tropical kingdom. Dragons were born at the heart of the mountain where it was hot enough to incubate dragon eggs. He’d always preferred the heat.
“I don’t remember. I’m sure I experienced it in Michigan before we moved, but it’s been so long. I think I lost a few memories when I was sick too.” She turned introspective for a beat. “Actually, that’s not true. I made it snow in your library not so long ago.”
A thrill went through him at the memory of spinning her through the library as her magic came alive. His heart had come alive with it. There was the hope that she could save him, and she did, but that day meant so much more. Her joy was infectious. It changed him. She resurrected his soul.
He parked in a Lasalle Street garage and helped her from the vehicle, although he knew she didn’t need him to. She humored him. Once they were on the sidewalk, he had the chance to return the favor. Stopping in her tracks she turned her face to the sky and closed her eyes against the falling snow. The picture of pure serenity, she smiled as snowflakes caught on her lashes.
He took her waist and spun her on the sidewalk, ignoring the strangers who passed by, some laughing, some casting judgmental looks in their direction. They danced to music only they could hear, and then he dipped her as he’d done in the library, placing a light kiss against her snow-tinged lips.
“Damn, Gabriel, I do love snow,” she said, staring up at him, her face flushed either from cold or passion—he hoped it was the latter.
“Good. Let’s give you a close up look. He threaded his fingers in hers and tugged her toward S. Wacker. Twenty minutes later they stood in front of one of the glass ledges of the Willis Tower Skydeck, Raven’s face white enough to rival the snow.
He stepped out onto the 4-foot-long, 1.5-inch-thick glass ledge and extended his hand to her, inviting her to join him. But she shook her head, her complexion taking on a hint of green.
“What happened to your love of flying?” He stifled a laugh.
“I do love flying. I hate falling!” Her eyes widened at the view below him. At 1,353 feet above the city, the cars looked like toys and the city stretched out like a map below them.
He crooked his fingers. “If it can hold me, it can hold you.”
“Not so. It’s possible that my added weight will exceed the total amount the box can hold, and we will both tumble to our deaths.”
A couple of teenagers pushed Raven out of the way to join him in the box, leapt into the air while a third teenager snapped their picture, then landed hard and ran back to the elevators.
“Did you see how he pushed me?” Raven said through a laugh.
“Would you like me to kill him for you?” Gabriel asked darkly.
“Oh, but I am enraged. You’d best distract me by joining me in this glass box, or there may be bloodshed.” He crooked his fingers again.
She narrowed her eyes on him. “Well played, Dragon.” Closing her eyes, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to guide her to the glass wall.
Wrapping his arm around her waist, he pulled her tightly against his chest, relishing the scent of her hair. He lowered his lips to her ear and whispered, “Open your eyes.”
She blinked them open and gasped, pressing her hands to the glass. “Oh Gabriel, I feel like a bird… a bird in snowstorm.” She beamed, her gaze darting up, down and around her, the glass box affording them an unobstructed view.
A flash of light caught Gabriel’s attention and his gaze locked on her arm. They’d checked their coats when they’d come in and her arms were exposed from her elbows down. Tiny purple lightning bolts wormed under her skin as if her veins had gone radioactive.
“Raven? Your skin.”
She looked down at her arms and pulled down the sleeves of her sweater, pivoting to face him. “That’s weird. Do you think it’s like what happened before? Am I reacting to your presence?”
“I thought that stopped happening once you used your blood to resurrect me?”
She looked over both his shoulders. They were alone. He’d hear if someone was near. “It did stop. I haven’t had anything like this happen since before.”
At the worried look on her face, he offered her a gentle smile and brushed her hair out of her face. “Nothing to worry about. You have a library of magic spells inside you. I’m sure it’s just nerves. Let’s find something to eat and then we can find Tobias.”
She smiled up at him, then squealed as she leaped off the glass and into the building like the observatory might crack off at any moment. He watched her stride toward the elevator, allowing himself to frown when he knew she wasn’t looking. Raven was his light, but he worried there was darkness inside her, and he couldn’t help but think, whatever it was, he was responsible for putting it there.
Find out more about Raven, Gabriel and Tobias in Windy City Dragon, book 2 in the Treasure of Paragon series.