Book 1: Silent
The day started like any other. Almost.
Nonali couldn’t seem to shake a sense of dread. It lurked as she got dressed and made her breakfast.Her bread popped out of the toaster completely blackened, smoke curling off it like a foul omen.
The feeling followed her to work, and then to lunch, where she met her best friend Vanessa Vereno, or Vee, as she’d been dubbed by Nonali a week into kindergarten.
Over two steaming cups, Nonali struggled to follow Vee’s prattling account of her latest drama.She clung to her coffee, willing the drink’s warmth to usher away the chill creeping up her spine.
“…But it’s not like he isn’t still incredibly attractive just because he can be a jerk sometimes!” Vee stopped to take a breath and a sip of her almost untouched hot chocolate. Nonali wanted to cry.
More boy talk.
“We’ve been dating on and off for a few weeks, it’s just that he not only has trust issues, but he’s afraid of any type of intimacy and has a tendency to lash out when pushed,” Vee fumed, an identical tirade to their last lunch.
“Why not just dump him? Sounds like a lot of trouble,” Nonali grumbled, picking up her cup once more as if it would hide her from Vee’s flaming glare.
Vee’s gasp caused the heads of the other café dwellers to swivel their way.
“Dump him? I think not! I must help him get through his issues and open up! Otherwise, what good am I as a therapist?” She ended with a wink.
“I’m not sure dating is the best venue for getting your money’s worth out of that psychology degree,” Nonali said.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” Vee flipped her long blonde hair. “I’m not obsessed with dating broken people, I’m just good at fixing them!”
“Fixing,” Nonali snorted. “Right.”
Just as Nonali was about to let out a sigh, Vee’s green eyes glinted with mischief. No good could come from that.
“I made reservations at Vixen’s!”
Nonali’s stomach flip-flopped.
“Oh, do we have to go to…that particular restaurant?”
“Of course!” Vee exclaimed. “Vixen’s Kiss is one of the most upscale restaurants in the city! The food is fantastic, and the service is always above and beyond!”
“It’s just…” Nonali swallowed hard. “The owner—”
In her mind’s eye, she remembered the tall, stunning woman who was standing on the balcony above the dining floor. Nonali could see through the woman’s false human exterior down to her true form: a six-tailed demon fox known as a kitsune.
Knowing that the restaurant was owned and operated by demons ruined her appetite.
“The owner is gorgeous, what are you talking about?” Vee laughed.
The forbidding feeling hanging over Nonali’s head started to descend like a weight on her chest.
“Be there tonight at nine, if you would!” Vee said, glancing down at her watch and scrambling out of the booth. She chugged the rest of her drink and waved on her way out.
Nonali looked at her own watch and realized she was already late getting back to the office.
For as long as Nonali could remember, she could see into the world of the Unseen.
Even as she walked down the street to her office, she spotted a man passing by with horns sticking out of his forehead. A woman with a pointed tail brushed to her left.
Standing at the bus stop, a child with feathers coming out of his shirt held the hand of a smiling lady with teeth too sharp to be normal.
Nonali tried relentlessly not to see the Other. Her gaze never lingered too long, she never commented on the things she saw. Ignorance was bliss and she was determined to be blissful, dammit!
She ignored her coworker in the cubicle across from her with his lizard tail, purple scales, and slitted, ice-colored eyes underneath his attractive human persona. She greeted him quickly and quietly, before sitting at her desk, resuming the accounting book she’d been half finished with before taking her lunch break.
She could feel the weight of his eyes on her as the clicking of keys became a balm on her soul. The simple equations for calculating this quarter’s earnings made the rest of the world melt away.
She genuinely enjoyed her work as this department’s secretary and bookkeeper, despite the fact that her boss was an incubus and her cubicle neighbor was a dragon. Most of the rest of the staff were human, and no one bothered her. She assumed a less-than-friendly countenance to keep her workplace undisturbed.
At least, no one usually disturbed her.
A gruff clearing of a throat didn’t give her pause in her calculations. Nonali hoped if she just ignored the sound, he would go away, much like she hoped with everything else. For a moment, the intruder hesitated, but he gathered his courage and shuffled a little further into her personal space.
Nonali sighed and put her books aside.
Callum was a tall man, though she supposed a dragon couldn’t be anything less. His human body was well built, and easy on the eyes, what with his spiked brown hair, olive skin, and rippling muscles. He did not look as though he belonged in an office.
He was almost bashful, reaching his hand up to run through his hair in a nervous kind of way she had recognized from her many days seated across from him.
“Hey, uh, I was wondering if maybe you’d be interested in going out tonight?” he questioned with a slight blush bridging his cheeks.
If Nonali had been normal, and he’d been human, she might have been more inclined to agree with his shy declaration of his interest. However, she could see the hunger and blood lust in his serpentine gaze. If she were to go out with him, she was unlikely to return.
She tried to control her fight-or-flight instinct as fear hammered her heart in her ribs. Swallowing, she replied with the truth.
“I have plans tonight.”
His human facade frowned in disappointment, while the one underneath boiled with rage.
“How about tomorrow?” he tried.
The lean form of her boss Everett, or, Mr. Norse, peeked around the cubicle opening with a charming smile, though the smile underneath his human mask was angry and strained.
“Office relationships are prohibited, Mr. Bennett. That’s a rule we take quite seriously here. This is your first and only warning.”
Nonali had never been so happy to see the bastard before.
The dragon underneath Callum’s skin rumbled and bared his teeth at her savior, even as on the outside he laughed it off and clapped Mr. Norse on the shoulder before returning to his own desk.
“Is everything okay, Miss Beauchamp?” Mr. Norse’s velvety voice questioned, though his eyes were drawn to her heaving chest.
Nonali struggled to get her panicked breathing under control and smiled up at him politely. Everett had never been anything but professional with her in the workplace, and while she didn’t like demons, she respected him as her employer.
“Thank you for the intervention,” she said in a low tone, aware that the pissed-off dragon next door didn’t take kindly to her rejection or the interference of their boss.
“Of course, I’d hate to have to fire the only secretary in this building that’s worth a damn.” He grinned at her, eyes still locked onto the cleavage her button-up shirt provided, though her fearful heaving had since ceased.
“I’ll have the reports you need and your scheduled meetings on your desk before the day is out,” she toned, trying to distract him.
He groaned and nodded, trudging away from her desk and back into his dark-tinted office. When the day finally let out, she found the drive back to her empty apartment to be a slow one, caught up in afternoon traffic and her thoughts. Hopefully she didn’t see Mr. Norse in her dreams again tonight.
Everett’s visitations began not long after she started this job. After a few weeks, she’d caught him staring at her over the papers handed to him along with his morning coffee in quite the same way he’d been staring at her today.
He had two faces, but they so closely mirrored one another, she thought perhaps she was just imagining it. It was his cow-like tail that sold him out, but she was still unsure of what kind of Other he was. At least until she woke up drenched in sweat after the naughtiest dream she’d ever had. She knew he had to be an incubus then and there because there was just no way she was that creative, having only ever slept with two people in her twenty-five years of existence.
Nonali had a few dreams about him here and there for a month or so after the first one, but they quickly died off when, and that the quality of her work was lacking on the days after his visits.
Every once in a while, however, Mr. Norse would show up in her dreams, using her like an energy drink.
Nonali unlocked her door and threw her bag onto the couch as she kicked off the heels, undressing the further into her apartment she went.
The clock on the wall gave her around two hours to get ready to meet Vee, but she really just wanted to lie in bed in her underwear and binge TV.
The sweet relief of removing her bra was only momentary as she reluctantly plugged in her curling iron and dug out her makeup bag. It took her the better part of an hour just to find a decent dress, settling on a knee-length, deep-red number with long sleeves and generous cleavage.
She wrangled her inky tresses into manageable curls and smeared on lipstick the same crimson as her dress.
The intense feeling of unease she’d felt this morning returned and magnified upon her arrival at Vixen’s, only getting worse as she was led to one of the balcony tables overlooking the restaurant garden.
She had to admit the kitsune had a fine eye for beauty. Already seated, Vee squealed to get her attention, excitedly standing, causing the metal chair to screech violently across the floor. Nonali grinned and hugged her before taking the seat across from her.
The server was quick to swoop in, setting a menu before her and a glass for the bottle of wine at the center of the table, recommending that she take her time.
“You know this is your treat right?” Nonali remarked casually as she filled her glass with the sweet-smelling red. Truthfully, she never cared for wine, but her day had been long, and it would take the edge off the bad feeling she couldn’t get away from.
“Naturally.” Vee rolled her eyes. “I wanted you to meet Ezra, and I knew the only way to get you to come was to lure you out with expensive food.”
Nonali’s stomach soured at the thought of meeting another one of Vanessa’s unfortunate pastimes, and she wanted nothing more than to get up and leave. Sensing her distaste, Vee quickly put a hand over hers to stop her from standing. “Anything you want. You can get anything you want from the menu. No matter the cost,” she bargained.
Nonali leaned back in her seat.
“Well, it would be awfully rude not to give him a chance, besides, I did get dressed up and everything,” she acquiesced slyly.
“Nonali!” Vee gasped, dismayed at how easily she’d been played.
“So where is this mystery man anyway?” Nonali cut her off.
“He had to take a call, but he should be back in a minute. Oh! There he is now!” Her friend pointed.
The moment Nonali pivoted in her seat, her heart dropped into her stomach and fluttered in fear.
On the outside, he was breathtaking: a thick, messy bun of red hair, broad and heavily muscled, and green eyes reminiscent of spring, but she could see him. The real him.
The man had smoldering, broken black wings and ram horns adorning each side of his skull. Scars covered every inch of that pale skin, and his eyes were darker than pitch from corner to corner.
Terror froze her blood.
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