Vengeful Dragon by Kendal Davis

1

Bonnie

Itrudged through the rain, wishing I could have counted on another last dry day of autumn, if I had to meet for this nerve wracking job interview. But no, apparently the weather did not bend to my will, even when I really needed that to happen. Nor did the sun, which had set impossibly early since the weekend’s time change.

The rain was no longer coming down in sheets as it had been this morning while I was dressing, but it had been drizzling all day since then. Every damned thing I owned was getting wet. I tried to stuff my long, dark curls under the hood of my jacket, but it was a lost cause. I was going to look like crap, just on the very day I needed to appear to be the most put-together person ever. I’d chosen the black pants and leather jacket in an attempt to appear resilient, maybe a little tough. Now I looked more bedraggled than professional.

Swearing under my breath, I leaned against a lamppost to try to fish the heels of my socks out from my favorite black leather ankle boots. I’d been pleased with the overall look when I left my apartment, but out here in the constant rain, I wished I had gone with real galoshes. The wet, bunchy cotton of my socks was inching down my feet toward my toes as I walked, driving me crazy.

As I tried to balance on one foot, knowing I was getting even wetter standing out there, I felt an elbow dig into my side. Hard. I stamped my foot down, whirling around. It could have been any of the forty people tramping around on the sidewalk behind me. Downtown Seattle was a busy place, no matter how wet it was, or how early it got dark as winter came.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” I snapped at the person behind me before I even saw him. Then I shook my head at myself. That was the sort of loudmouthed rudeness that ended up in a viral tweet, after it turned out that I was yelling at the person I desperately hoped was about to offer me a job.

I had to remember that adults weren’t supposed to get mad at this kind of stuff.

I wasn’t supposed to lose my temper at all, not without the written permission of all my childhood therapists. No, that wasn’t true, but it sometimes felt like it.

Whoever had been pushing past me stopped in his tracks. When he turned around, I couldn’t help but step forward, ready to finish what I’d started. There was no point in feeling shy now. I’d spent all day preparing for my meeting. I’d practiced my answers in the mirror. And now I was wet and frustrated and on the edge of totally losing it.

The face that stared back at me was not at all like the calm, older woman who was about to interview me for my dream job as a social worker. This was a huge, burly man whose intense stare made me suddenly very nervous.

“Did I run into you?” He wasn’t apologizing. His urgent growl sounded more like he was trying to pick a fight with me. The man was tall, wearing an obscenely expensive coat that looked like it cost more than every single piece of clothing I had ever owned in my life, added all together. He would have been a hot guy in normal circumstances, with his strong jaw and powerful build. But as I squared my stance in front of him, something about his eyes was like steel glazed in fire and then dipped in angry fire ants.

Was that my fault?

Yeah, he was about the last person on earth that I wanted to flirt with.

“Yes, you did run into me,” I surprised myself with an honest answer. “You should look where you’re going.” What was I thinking? I was late, I looked like a drowned cat, and I still had to get to Angie’s Amazing Coffee before my interviewer gave up on me and left.

The man squinted at me, apparently unsure if I was real. “You’re standing in the way.” His tone was clipped and abrupt. “Move.”

I felt my eyebrows lift up, through absolutely no instruction of my own. “Are you serious? You just about knocked me over. That is not ok!” I wasn’t crazy about the fact that I sounded like an elementary school teacher.

He raised a hand as if to touch my arm, but I stepped back. I wasn’t in the habit of allowing random men to lay a finger on me. We might be standing on a busy street, filled with other people, but in my past experience, strangers were always ready to walk past right when you needed help.

For whatever reason, my retreat made him smile. His face went from craggy and forbidding to almost, well...handsome. Like panty-melting hot. His eyes were definitely unusual, but I couldn’t make out what color they were. It was the dim light, of course. It was only November, but the days were so short that I hated to think that we weren’t even to the solstice yet.

The man lifted his massive hand, running it through his hair. “Are you ok?” His lips curved upwards in a grin that somehow rubbed me the wrong way. Why should he get to smile and act like we were suddenly buddies when he’d almost knocked me into the street? The weird flash of attraction I’d felt faded and was gone.

“No, I’m not,” I snapped at him. “You don’t get to take up the entire street just because you can. Show some courtesy to others, you know?” With that, I abandoned any hope of getting my socks to fit right. I was wasting time here. I stuck my nose in the air and stalked off in the direction of the coffee shop. I still had three more blocks to go, and I was already late.

By the time I made it to Angie’s Amazing Coffee, I was in a foul mood. This day had been anything but amazing. My final exam had been the high point, which was a pretty pathetic statement. Now that I was finished with my degree, everything else about my life was looking about as low as the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There was nobody left to come to my graduation.

“Welcome, Bonnie,” smiled my interviewer tightly as I slid into a seat across from her. There was nothing at all friendly about the way she looked at me. I’d gotten my hopes up that since she sounded nice on the phone, she’d be kind, or even just willing to overlook my flaws. Neither looked like it was about to happen.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I said in a rush. “The rain, you know.” It sounded lamer than it had in my head.

“Yes, the rain. In Seattle.” She was deadpan to the point of being hostile.

“I’m not at all scattered like this, I promise,” I went on. “I want you to know that I finished my last exam this morning, so there’s just the formality of graduation. I’m ready to buckle down and really give my all to this job. Social work is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

“Are you mature enough?” The interviewer looked skeptical. “The only reason we ever hire folks right out of school is that our retention rates are so poor. We need fresh recruits constantly.” She wasn’t even trying to sugarcoat it.

“I can do the job, absolutely.” I resisted the urge to look across the room at the list of enticing coffee drinks that I couldn’t afford. That was one good thing about arriving late. I could pretend that I was too focused on the meeting to order anything.

The pale woman whose clothes were uniformly beige looked me up and down. Then, with a heavy sigh, she opened a folder in front of me and began to grill me on the typical questions. I’d studied in advance, but that didn’t mean I was excited about trying to make up something that was supposed to be my biggest weakness when it came to my career.

As we talked, I felt a hollowness developing in the pit of my stomach. She hated me. It was obvious. She had once been a social worker in the field, but now that she was a pusher of papers on a desk, she wasn’t going to take a chance on a young person.

“Bonnie, please listen to me,” she said. “If your mind is wandering now, how will you stay focused when you are taking notes on a domestic violence situation, or figuring out how to save a child whose parents won’t feed him? There’s no room for not paying attention, not when people’s lives are at stake.” Her lips were pursed as she watched me, judging my every move.

I tried to gather my wits. “I hope you’ve been able to read the recommendations of my professors. Dr. Thetford was my thesis advisor. Have you read his work? He told me I was one of the best students he’s ever had.” It wasn’t bragging if it was in an interview, right?

She looked down her nose at me. “So you’re that sort. Men like you?”

I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. “I’m not sure I understand.” I did, but I was going to make the bitch say it.

She didn’t need any more encouragement than that. “Well, Bonnie, I’m looking at you, and what I see is a very pretty college student who has no idea how anything works.” She narrowed her eyes. “If you can’t handle yourself any better than this, then I don’t think you’re ready for the real working world.”

“That’s not fair,” I said. “And are you aware that your Human Resources department may not like the fact that you are making personal comments about my appearance?” I couldn’t believe things were heading downhill so quickly. Damn. I’d been counting on this interview going well.

She smoothed her beige hair, despite the fact that not a strand was out of place. “I’m afraid you haven’t presented yourself very well today. I will need to write up my notes and run them by my team.” She closed her folder with a gesture of finality. Then, unwilling to leave any insult un-thrown at me, she added, “Human Resources is for people who already work for us. Not you.”

“I’m not actually sure that’s the case,” I sputtered. Just as I was about to say something incisive and clever, I felt somebody push against the back of my chair. Somehow, a man walking past me had managed to get his foot tangled against the metal leg of my retro styled chair, almost dumping me out onto the floor. I grabbed the edge of the table, painfully aware that I looked like a total fool.

All the frustrations of the day gathered up inside me and bubbled over. I stood up, ready to tackle whoever had just knocked me out of my seat. My hand shaped itself into the angry pointing finger I’d used to scare off foxes from my Gran’s chicken coop back in my childhood. They were attractive animals, but really they were nothing but crafty agents of destruction.

“Hey!” I meant to put my pointing hand right in the face of the man behind me, standing up so quickly that it took me a moment to realize that his expensive black coat was familiar to me.

He was so tall that my hand never made it to his face. It was more that I was jabbing his chest, or beating my fists against it like I was a damsel in distress. Only this guy didn’t want to save me from anything. He was an entitled, rich asshole, like so many of his type in this city. He was clearly loaded with money and absolutely full of himself.

He didn’t even bother to answer me. Or even truly focus on me. He just looked past me with those strangely colored eyes and shrugged. Then he moved on, his huge shoulders allowing him to push past everybody else in the coffee shop before he left.

Had he followed me in here?

I had only a split second to consider the question, because it turned out that my job interview had just gone up in flames. Cranky Beige Woman was now glaring at me. “That’s enough. Bonnie, I only took this interview with you because your grades were so good. But now that I’ve seen you, I have a few guesses why that might have been. It certainly was not because you are professional, or mature, or pleasant to be around, because you are none of those things.”

She made a small huffing sound, then stood, picked up her folder, and left.

That was it?

I’d bombed my only interview because some hulking dude kept ramming into me? That was so not fair. I felt tears starting in my eyes, and I looked up at the ceiling to hold them back. Not that there was any purpose to trying to look good now. I was sitting at a table by myself, wishing I had enough in my bank account for a large mocha that would warm me up. My toes were so cold that I wasn’t even sure they were still there.

A few choice swear words popped into my brain. If I was the kind of person who could get a job like this, I probably wouldn’t be a person who knew those words. As it was, I was trying hard to pick between muttering them to release some tension, or just standing up and shouting them while I banged my fist into the table.

Anger issues.

Gran had put me into therapy several times, starting when I was about thirteen. I was so mad about my brother moving out that my counselor said she wasn’t even sure I’d finish high school. Well, the joke was on her, since I’d just finished college. And on my ne’er do well drug addict brother, who still only called me when he needed money.

Since I didn’t have any money, he didn’t call.

And ever since she’d succumbed to cancer, neither did Gran.

It took everything I had for me to calm myself. Long, low breaths. My heart rate subsided. I reached for the charm on my necklace, holding it as I whispered. “I miss you, Gran.”

She didn’t answer, but I was used to that now.

I’d been on my own for four years of college, and that was just fine with me.

As I left Angie’s Amazing Coffee, I averted my eyes from the glass case of pastries. I could make those myself, just as soon as I had any money for fancy ingredients. For now, I only wanted to get home and cry into my pillow.

But just outside the door, as I shivered at the wintry evening, I encountered something that stopped me in my tracks.

It was the same man who had already run into me twice. He’d probably stalked me into the coffee shop, and then he’d targeted me again. And now? He was standing there, pretending to be on the phone, while he waited for me.

I felt my face freeze into a mask of anger.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” I shouted at him. This was a public place. He couldn’t grab me and run off with me here.

Right?

Judging by the expression on his face, he was thinking about it. I knew how I looked. I was well aware that guys ran their eyes over my curves every time I got on a city bus, how they practically lost their minds wanting to get into my pants. But that didn’t make it ok.

I was going to shout at this particular man, with all the force of my anger at every one of them. I stepped forward, ignoring the annoyed glances from the other people passing in and out of the coffee shop.

“I said, what the hell is wrong with you?” All my fury at the day went into my words. It felt great.

Until he looked at me with eyes that glowed red in the dim Seattle evening.