Chapter 2 begins two hours before the events of chapter 1.
Nicholas had sworn off secrets. Unfortunately, secrets didn’t feel the same way about him. Instead, they seemed bound and determined to waft their way out of his friends’ lips and into his ears whether he kept his nose stuck in a tablet or not. And, inevitably, those same secrets ended up with the people he cared about hurting or dead.
Well, not this time. The dragon shifter reached out and attempted to pull the heavy tray away from Charlotte’s burdened hands. “Here, let me take that.”
“Excuse me?” She turned on him with flashing eyes and furrowed brow. “In case you hadn’t noticed, carrying food around is my job. I’m a serving wench, remember?”
“Serving wench? What is this, the Dark Ages?” Nicholas closed his eyes and counted to two. It was meant to be ten, but Charlotte’s heavier-than-usual footsteps were receding rapidly, so he expedited the sub-process before trotting down the hallway in her wake.
His friend didn’t slow down, though. Instead, Nicholas ended up walking backwards in front of her hurried form in an effort to recapture the young woman’s attention. “Look, this isn’t appropriate work given your sensitive condition. You need to tell the baby’s father and let him provide the assistance you deserve. He…”
“Shush!” Now Charlotte did stop and glance in both directions down the empty corridor. “That was a secret. You said you wouldn’t tell anyone….”
“And I didn’t,” Nicholas countered.
Not that he had any choice in the matter. Like every dragon, Nicholas possessed a knack…but his came with a troublesome side effect. Step into his presence and man, woman, and child alike vomited up secrets at the drop of a hat. That aspect of his trait was straightforward enough. The tricky part emerged later, when Nicholas became physically incapable of discussing those secrets with anyone other than their originator.
It was maddening…especially when the secret keeper persisted in allowing pride to outweigh good sense. On at least one memorable occasion, a secret kept had resulted in a life lost. If Nicholas had any say about it, Charlotte wouldn’t fall into the same enticing trap.
“Well, that’s a relief,” his current companion started. But Nicholas cut her off before she could brush past him and return to work.
“I didn’t tell anyone, but you need to. You said you’re already beginning to show, which means you’re probably tired, nauseous, and generally not feeling your best….”
“What are you, a midwife?”
“I prefer the term Ob/Gyn,” Nicholas countered dryly. What he actually was was a data nerd who possessed a cached version of the internet from the Before. A quick image search had turned up a handy pregnancy chart…but then he’d gotten lost down a rabbit hole of terrifying forum posts.
Nicholas shivered. No, none of those nightmares were going to happen to Charlotte on his watch. She’d just have to stop saddling herself with unnecessary burdens and toe the line of good sense….
Then the elevator dinged and two new sets of footsteps turned into the corridor behind him. In response, Charlotte leapt five feet backwards so quickly she nearly spilled the contents of her far-too-heavy tray. Great. Rather than appearing to be a pair interrupted in the midst of a heated debate, they instead looked like lovers startled out of an intimate moment.
Sure enough, when he turned to face the newcomers, both of their faces wore matching expressions of warm amusement. The younger man — a server just like Charlotte — smoothed his expression in reaction to Nicholas’s glare, but the other onlooker was less easily cowed.
“Tch, tch, brother,” Alexander teased. “What have I told you about manhandling serving wenches in the corridors?”
“That’s where you got it from?” Nicholas demanded, turning back to face his original conversational partner. “Please tell me he’s not…”
“He’s not,” she cut him off.
As if Nicholas would have spilled the beans even if he was physically capable of doing so. He flared his nostrils in lieu of rolling his eyes, then turned his glare onto the male server. “Take Charlotte’s tray.”
At least that human was intimidated by a dragon shifter’s curt command. Of course, then Nicholas felt like shit as the male moved to obey so quickly that he tripped over his own two feet and barely refrained from knocking Charlotte down in the process.
By the time trays had traded hands, Alexander was laughing so loudly the entire corridor reverberated with his amusement. Nicholas’s brother continued to chortle as the the male server retraced his footsteps and disappeared back into the elevator from whence he’d come. And Alexander didn’t pause when Charlotte strode off in the opposite direction either, snub nose in the air and annoyance lending metaphorical wings to previously leaden feet.
Only once the hallway was empty save for the two siblings did his trouble-making brother fall silent at last. But then Nicholas flinched because Alexander’s usual easy-going smile faded as quickly as it had come, his eyes darkening with distress instead.
“No, please don’t tell me a secret,” Nicholas ground out.
“It’s not a secret exactly,” Alexander countered. “Half the Aerie will know within the hour. But there is a strange dragon up on the rooftop. We need your knack to figure out who she is.”