Juliet picked up the phone on the fourth ring, juggling it between her ear and her shoulder just in time to keep the pot of spaghetti sauce from boiling over on the stove. “Hi Mom. Now’s not a good time.”
“Why?” her mother asked dryly, voice crackling down the phone line. “Are you saving the world again?”
“No, I’m cooking dinner.”
“Say no more. I’ll call back in a few hours. Gives the fire department time to clean up.” The phone clicked in Juliet’s ear and she dropped it on the table, lunging to keep an inquisitive draconic nose out of the salad bowl.
“How did you even get in here?” she asked, scooping the tiny dragon up and taking it back to join the others in their playroom at the back of the house.
She had to unlock the door in order to put the red dragon back in with its blue and green sisters. Muttering under her breath, she locked the door again when she left and added a ward to keep it shut, and got back to the kitchen in time to see a whip-thin blue tail disappear behind the fridge. A quick check revealed that one of the plates she’d set out for dinner now contained only 5 of Dmitri’s homemade meatballs instead of 6.
“If you puke back there, I’m not cleaning up,” she told the shadows behind the fridge, and went back to trying to put dinner together.
Dmitri came inside as she was setting the table, bringing in a warm breeze and the smell of fresh-cut grass from the backyard. He slung an arm around her waist and kissed the fine skin underneath her ear, distracting her enough that she nearly dropped the glass she was holding. She set it down carefully and turned to kiss his lips, sliding her hands under his shirt and across the damp skin of his back.
“You smell,” she murmured against his mouth. “Go wash up or the dragons are going to eat all our food.”
“You’re such a romantic.” He squeezed her hip and jogged into the little bathroom off the dining room to wash.
By the time they sat down to eat, all three pygmy dragons were out of their playroom and wrestling beneath the table, growling and crooning at each other. Juliet pushed Aramis, the red one, out of the way with her foot and concentrated on eating, half-listening to Dmitri talk about the farm. He was so animated describing the affectionate greeting from their horses, Mojo and Geneva, that she couldn’t help smiling fondly at him. Even seven years after their first meeting—when he literally knocked her off her feet during a college-sponsored snowboarding trip—she still couldn’t get over how adorable he was when he was talking about something he loved.
“You’re staring at me,” he said, giving her the grin that crinkled up the corners of his hazel eyes. “Something on my face?”
“Nope.” She stuffed the last mouthful of spaghetti in her mouth and spoke around it. “How’s Bessie’s eye?”
“Clearing up. A few more treatments and she should be as good as new.” Dmitri cut a meatball into thirds and slipped the pieces under the table. “That was awesome, Jules. I’m stuffed full.”
“Good. You’re doing the dishes.” Juliet ducked down to look under the table at the pygmy dragons, who gave her identical innocent looks. “Stop begging for scraps, you three. You’re getting fat.”
She pushed her chair back to a series of indignant squawks, got to her feet and kissed Dmitri on the cheek, and went into the living room to put her feet up. The past week had been quieter than she was used to; no rogue denizens from the lower world coming up to cause havoc, no supernatural phenomena, not even a telemarketer. Hoping that just thinking that wouldn’t bring trouble down on her head, she sprawled out on the couch and found a terrible TV movie to watch while Dmitri washed the dishes.
He came to join her half an hour later, picking her legs up and settling them on his lap when he sat down. His strong fingers worked a knotted muscle in her calf and she sighed happily, content where she was even when Porthos—the blue dragon and the biggest of the trio—flapped up and landed on her chest, curling into a scaled ball. The other two pygmy dragons took over the armchair in the corner, squabbling over position for a few minutes before finally tangling themselves into a knot and falling asleep.
“What are you watching?” Dmitri asked after a few minutes, raising an eyebrow at the screen, where a badly CGI’d tornado appeared to be attacking New York City. “I’m pretty sure weather doesn’t work like that.”
“Don’t use logic on TV movies,” Juliet said. “A little bit higher.”
“My hands or whoever wrote this dialogue?”
“Your hands. No drug in the world would cause dialogue this bad.”
He slid his hands up over her knee and stroked her thigh. “Higher?”
Juliet looked at the TV, decided she didn’t really care if the group of pseudo-scientists actually solved the mystery of the bad CGI storms, and pushed Porthos off her chest. She threw a leg over Dmitri, straddling his lap, and caught his face in both hands, kissing him soundly. His mouth opened under hers and he pushed her tank top up, running his fingers along the bare skin over her spine. She arched and shifted back a little to give herself room to reach down with one hand and unbutton his jeans.
The phone rang, its shrill tone drowning out even the screams of the pretty blonde pseudo-scientist on the TV. Juliet grunted in annoyance and turned the TV off with a flick of one hand, then leaned over to pick up the phone from the small table beside the couch. “Hi Mom.”
“How was dinner?” her mother asked.
“Good.” Juliet caught sight of Dmitri’s grin just before he leaned in to kiss her neck and managed to keep her voice steady enough to ask, “Is this important?”
“A mother wanting to talk to her daughter isn’t important?” Even without her mother there, Juliet could still see her arch one eyebrow just from hearing the tone in her voice.
“Not what I meant, Mom.” Juliet swallowed a squeak when Dmitri bit at her collarbone and covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “I swear to god, Dmitri, I will end you.”
“End your phone call instead.”
“Is that Dmitri?” her mother asked brightly in her ear. “Say hello and ask him when he’s going to give me grandbabies.”
“What, I don’t have a part in that? We’re not ready yet, Mom. I’m still too busy saving the world.”
“The world can wait a few years. You’re 27 already. Time’s running out.”
“It is not.”
“I meant for me. You want me to be too old to play with my grandkids?”
“What about Jesse?” Juliet asked, trying to ignore Dmitri’s fingers sliding up her back to undo the catch on her bra.
“Yes, speaking of Jesse. Your father and I are going on a cruise this summer, leaving next week. Your brother has been on the couch essentially since he graduated, and we’re a little afraid if we leave him on his own all summer, he’ll put down roots. You’ll take him for a few months, won’t you?”
“He’s 18, not 8. You really can’t trust him on his own?”
Her mother sighed. “I really would like him to actually get out somewhere. He’s not putting much effort into finding a job and at least if he was out there with you, he could help with both the farm and the whole Magia thing.”
“He doesn’t want to be Magia.”
“He doesn’t want much of anything, it seems. I’m asking this as a favour, Juliet. It’ll be good for both of you.”
“Let me ask Dmitri.” Juliet covered the mouthpiece again and put a hand on Dmitri’s chest, pushing him back against the cushions. “How do you feel about babysitting my brother for the summer?”
Dark brows drew down. “He needs babysitting?”
“Apparently. He’s being a lazy slob so my mom thinks he needs a change of scenery.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say no to the extra help. I have that fencing to put in and the horse stalls could use some repairs. And you wanted me to build that pen so you can get a couple of chickens.”
Juliet dropped her hand from the mouthpiece. “When does he arrive?”
“I knew you’d say yes. I put him on the train yesterday, so he should be there by tomorrow evening. Thanks, Jules, we appreciate it. Call us when he arrives. Talk to you later, hugs and kisses to Dmitri.” The phone clicked in Juliet’s ear.
“Am I a pushover?” Juliet asked, hanging up the phone.
Dmitri paused a moment. “There are a lot of things I’d call you, but pushover isn’t one of them. At least, not if I wanted to keep my balls.”
“My mom put Jesse on a train before she even called to ask me.”
“Well, parents.” Dmitri shrugged and rested his hands on her hips. “Is he arriving in the next two hours?”
“Then how about we take this upstairs, unless you want to catch the gripping conclusion of Attack of the CGI Tornado?”
“I think I can live without knowing.” Juliet pushed herself to her feet and caught Dmitri’s hand, pulling him to his feet and up the stairs to their bedroom.
Ten minutes later she opened the door again and shoved all three dragons back out into the hall.