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Max: Through the Portal (A Sci-Fi Weredragon Romance) by Celeste Raye (1)

Chapter One

“Oh, come on, Heather, when was the last time you even went on a date?”

Heather shot Christy, her best friend since grade school, a stern look. “I don’t remember, and I don’t care that I don’t remember.” Her blue eyes narrowed, and one hand lifted to pat at her wavy brown hair in the hopes of keeping it from becoming an absolute frizzy mess in the heat and humidity that was pouring down from the June sky. “I also don’t care that you think I’m a weirdo.”

Christy snorted and then jammed the straw that stood up from her glass down deeper into the ice and pink lemonade. “I know you’re a weirdo, and not just because your social life has all the appeal of shit on a cracker.”

Heather burst into laughter. Christy had a way of stringing together words and phrases that had no business being together, and it was always amusing and, oddly enough, apt. “You’re right. It does sort of suck, but honestly, after what Todd did to me, I don’t want any part of dating.”

Christy sipped her lemonade, her green eyes probing at Heather’s face. She finally said, “Todd was the literal son of Satan. I mean, the dude was a jerk and had been a jerk long before you met him. He was a charming jerk, but a jerk.”

Heather sighed. “Not even going to try to argue that one with you. You’re right, and there’s no way to deny it—especially when we both know how it worked out.”

Christy watched Heather reach for the chicken salad sandwich on her plate and nibble at it, but she didn’t say anything. Heather chewed a bite and swallowed then asked, “Oh my God, what? You’re plotting something. I know you, and I know you’re cooking up some insane idea right now.”

Christy reached for her own sandwich. “No. Just thinking.”

Heather’s eyebrows raised. She did know Christy, and really well. She knew damn well that Christy was cooking up some scheme that would probably end badly, because Christy, while incredibly practical and intelligent, was also possessed of a completely impulsive nature. The latter usually got her into a lot of trouble, and not just her, but anyone who was unlucky enough to find themselves near her.

Heather asked, “About what?”

Christy sucked a bit of food off one front tooth. Her smile was coy. “Just stuff. Oh, by the way, what’re you doing tomorrow night?”

“Nada, and I’m happy about that.” Heather’s heart sank. “Please tell me you didn’t set me up on a blind date!”

Christy rolled her eyes, “Of course not. I know how bad your blind dates have been.”

“Bad doesn’t even begin to cover it all.”

Christy said, “I was just thinking about that guy you went out for dinner with…you know the one…he kept texting you, demanding you repay him for the appetizer and soda you had before bailing on his crazy ass.”

Heather groaned, “Don’t remind me. I had to change my number to make him stop, and block him on every social media site, plus my email account!”

“Did you ever pay him back?”

Heather said, “I did. I sent him the eight bucks and change through…I don’t recall. Some pay app, but he insisted I owed a portion of the tip too, and that was just enough as far as I was concerned. I also wish I could say he was the worst but sadly there were worse blind dates before and after him. Which is a big reason I am not interested in dating.”

“Well, that and Todd.” Christy dabbed at her mouth with a crumpled paper napkin. “You do know you can’t just die alone, right?”

“I plan to take you with me.”

They burst into laughter. Christy knew there was nothing at all funny about the state of her dating life though. Aside from that guy, there’d been the guy who’d asked her to meet him at a buffet, of all things. He’d arrived with a large briefcase, into which he’d stuffed a load of crab and other foodstuffs, saying he was buried in debt and so had to make sure his food budget stretched the week—and dating was so expensive too!

There had been the incredibly sincere guy who’d bought two bottles of wine for the meal he’d ordered before she’d even gotten there and she’d been too polite to speak up and tell him that A) she hated beef, and B) she hated rare meat, and C) his constant refilling of her glass after every swallow she took was beyond creepy, so she’d excused herself to go to the bathroom—and climbed right out the window and run pell-mell down an alley to escape him.

The shitty thing was that none of those were even the worst dates she’d been on!

Nope, that title belonged to the man who’d taken her to the ‘theatre for a viewing of Beauty and the Beast. She had been unfamiliar with the theatre and unaware that it was a porn place, so she’d been shocked when the film started to roll and the first thing she saw was a giant male member swinging like a pendulum across the screen, and a pretty woman fleeing in fear from the man (dressed in some kind of crazy-assed outfit that made him look like a cross between a gorilla and a horse) that the swinging male member belonged to.

She’d sat there, sure she was hallucinating and telling herself it was some kind of weird ‘art’ film and that she was overreacting, all up until the ‘knights’ had shown up to save that particular beauty and run the supposed beast off, which had resulted in a quick sex scene between the beast and several knights.

She’d fled, her cheeks burning and so mortified she could barely speak, out of the theatre. Her date, a man named Todd, had chased her through the crowded streets screaming at her that she was a goddam prude and that he was clearly stupid for inviting a frigid bitch on a date and thank God he hadn’t fed her first because that would have been a real waste of his money.

Heather said, “So what’s up tomorrow night?”

Christy said, “Oh, I thought we could hang out at my place.”

Heather relaxed a bit. Christy had just rented a stunning lakefront condo, and she was eager to show it off. “I’d like that. You’re so busy lately, we don’t get to hang much anymore. Not being whiny or clingy, just saying. So yeah, count me in. I’ll bring the wine.”

Christy said, “Great. Hey, I have to get back to the office, so how about you come over at, say, eight?”

“Sure.” Heather waved at a passing server to get their checks. After they’d settled up and paid they scraped their chairs back and stood. The restaurant’s outdoor area was literally on the sidewalk, and Christy got caught up in the flowing tide of big city foot traffic. She called, over her shoulder, “See you tomorrow!”

Heather sighed and headed the other way toward her office. Her workday had already been long, and it would probably be really late before she managed to get back to her apartment that evening. Being a lawyer was not her dream; it had never been her dream, in all honesty. It had been her parent’s dream though. Her dad was a doctor, her mom was a financial advisor, and her brother was a high-powered hedge fund manager. A lawyer was the last piece of the family puzzle as far as they had been concerned.

Since she’d needed help with the crazy cost of tuition and everything else, she’d agreed, thinking she’d take the classes she really wanted to take and then, when it was time for her to go for her graduate degree, she could work a decent job and get her upper degree in something she really wanted.

That hadn’t panned out exactly as she had planned.

Nothing had turned out like she had hoped and planned, least of all her love life.

She’d met Todd during her senior year of college, and his dream had been to become a lawyer. She’d gone into that profession knowing it was the wrong one, and knowing she was just doing it to please her family and him—which was the wrong reason to take on the wrong career path.

It had certainly not ended well. That was for sure. All she had to show for selling out her dreams was a broken engagement and all the heartache and constant embarrassment that came from a groom who’d decided to run off with her bridesmaid the day before the wedding, and a lot of trust issues.

She wandered into the building where her offices were located. She’d no sooner crossed the doorway than Mr. Pilman, the founder of the firm, rushed at her with wide eyes and a seriously pissed-off expression on his paunchy face. He said, “I need the Reynolds’ files, and now. I can’t find them anywhere.”

“I don’t have a case for anyone named Reynolds.”

His hands yanked at his hair. His eyes, the cold color of frozen lakes, narrowed. “I know that; I do. And the files are lost. Get them back.”

Jesus Christ. Her life just kept proving, over and over, how shitty it was. She was not a secretary or an assistant; she was a goddamn lawyer with the student debt and degree on her wall to prove it, but Pilman was forever acting as if it were nineteen fifty-five and she some hapless woman with the misfortune to be his salaried slave. Her teeth clenched. “I would not have the slightest idea of what you did with your files Mr. Pilman.”

His teeth showed between his lips. “Betty’s gone. Probably quit. Why these goddamn millennials can’t stay at a job is beyond me.”

She was a millennial, something he had either overlooked or was willing to say because he knew there was nothing she could say about the word. It was hardly a slur, even if he was using it as one: something that just made her want to kick him right in his fat shin.

Betty had likely quit because she didn’t want to deal with a psychotic misogynistic asshole screaming at her all day, and all so she could earn minimum wage. It was probably better not to say so though—not given how close to the edge Pilman was at the moment, and how rare jobs were at that moment too. She had to have at least six more months of experience before she could hope to move on and out of his firm and into one where she might actually earn a living wage and get some benefits while she was at it.

Heather said, “Okay. Where did Betty keep the files?”

He shot back a belligerent, “How would I know? That’s not my job.”

Not my job either, you bastard, but let’s go with that. Heather fixed a smile on her face and said, “I’ll just see what I can do.”

Never mind that she had clients coming in less than twenty minutes and a long list of papers to file and things to do.

God, maybe a date—a decent one—was just what she needed in her life!