What do you get when you gather an immortal second-generation Iraqi immigrant, an ancient Mesopotamian demon, and the hottest new movie star of the season, and set them up in the most expensive hotel in London? Obviously, the best vacation ever!
But before Sik gets too excited about his trip, he should know that a few more unexpected travelers are on their way . . .
Check out this exclusive chapter excerpt from Fury of the Dragon Goddess by Sarwat Chadda, and be sure to pick up your copy right here!
“ASSALAMU ALAIKUM, SIK!”
“Waa alai— Ooof!”
Daoud grabbed me at the door of the hotel suite when I arrived and literally hugged me off my feet. Ya salam! The guy gave super-strength hugs. But just as I was starting to suffocate, he dropped me to give me a good once-over. He grinned as he rubbed my cheek with the back of his hand. “Mashallah! Is that stubble?”
“I am fourteen, Daoud,” I muttered. That said, I was a little proud of the few hairs I was cultivating. My English teacher thought they gave me a “bad-boy intensity,” and don’t tell anyone, but I was also practicing the “slow squint,” a total alpha-male move. When you get it right, your enemies tremble and the girls swoon.
I dropped my suitcase and took in the view. “A big change from the deli, isn’t it?”
The ceiling had to be the height of our apartment building back home, and the chandeliers reflected a constellation of light over the enormous living room. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over Green Park, with golden sunlight streaming in and the ivory gauze curtains shifting in the warm breeze. The wall paintings sat in ornate gilt frames, and the Ming vase beside the door was overflowing with wild orchids. The scent off those flowers lifted me into a dream. It felt otherworldly, which, I suppose, it was. I was a long, long way from my home in Manhattan.
“You like? The agency insisted I stay at the Ritz.” Daoud turned his head so I could get a good look at his profile.
“Cosmopolitan called me ‘the hottest thing to come out of the desert since the racehorse.’”
Weird as that comparison was, the more I thought about it, the more it fit. Daoud’s mane—very black, very shiny— was wild and loose, and he had soft, light brown eyes. There was a long-limbed sleekness to him, coupled with a natural grace. Back when he worked for my parents, no one had chopped cabbage with as much elegance.
I tested out the armchair. Very comfortable. “Fame and fortune at last, eh?”
“The good times are to be shared, cuz! Just wait till you check out your room. The bathtub’s so huge you could swim laps in it! And you can hear Big Ben chiming from your balcony!”
“I have a balcony?”
Hey, don’t judge! All I had back home was a cracked windowsill with a few miserable-looking plants lined along it.
“Sorry I missed your birthday. Did you get my presents? Wait . . .” Daoud sniffed deeply. “Hugo Boss body lotion. Lancôme shampoo, and is that . . . the sandalwood underarm deodorant? Always keep that close. It’s a teen boy’s best friend.”
“There’s no way you can tell all that with a sniff,” I replied, resisting the urge to check my armpits. “Can you?”
He tapped his nose. “This doesn’t lie, Sik. How are your parents?”
“Good. They send their salaams.”
“I sent tickets for them, too, y’know. They could have come with.” He gestured to the rest of the suite. “Room for everyone.”
I shrugged. “When was the last time Baba and Mama took a break from the deli? Summer’s their busiest time.”
“Yeah, poor workaholics.” Daoud slung his arm over my shoulder. “Anyway, I’m gonna show you the sights, cuz. There’s no place like London!”
London! In England! Land of kings and queens, afternoon tea, and driving on the wrong side of the street. I’d almost been run over twice, and I’d only been here an hour.
It was a shame Mama and Baba hadn’t been able to make it, but I hadn’t come alone. I looked over my shoulder. “She was just here.”
Then I heard yapping down the hallway, and all my alarm bells went off. “Just a second, Daoud.”
I ran back into the marble-clad corridor and found her by the elevator bank, next to an old woman and her poodle. Rabisu was squatting down and tickling the dog’s ears. Her turban—pure 1940s Hollywood—was partially unraveled, revealing a pair of stubby horns. Fortunately, her floor-length kaftan covered the rest of her demon form.
“What a tasty little animal,” said Rabisu.
The old woman tittered. “She is, isn’t she? Say hello, Fifi.”
The dog yapped, and Rabisu licked her lips. “She looks good enough to eat.”
I reached them and looped my arm through Rabisu’s. “Say good-bye to the sweet lady and her pet.”
Rabisu huffed with indignation. “I wasn’t going to eat it!”
The elevator door pinged open, and the woman hurried in with Fifi. Looking a little scared, she punched the buttons until the doors closed.
Phew. That was a close one. “You remember what I said about lying?”
“Fine. I was going to eat it,” snapped Rabisu. “You have such strange rules about eating creatures. Chickens, good. People, bad. Cows, yes. Horses, no. Dogs . . . depending on if they have a name or not.”
“And that dog has a name, so it’s off the menu.” I took her by the claw. “Come on. Daoud’s waiting.”
Rabisu tried to straighten her disheveled turban, and a moment later, we were back in Daoud’s suite, where he was pouring out iced tea. “Rabisu, this is Daoud. Daoud, this is Rabisu.”
Rabisu cleared her throat loudly.
“Really?” I asked her. “Fine. Daoud, this is Rabisu, the terror of Nimrud. The battlefield stalker whose very name makes . . .”
“Makes the udders of cows shrivel,” Rabisu prompted.
“Yeah, the udder shriveler. And there was that thing about the camels losing their humps in fright, and something about how the Chaldeans built a mountain of skulls in your honor. That’s all of it, right?”
Rabisu held out a claw to Daoud, just like I’d taught her. “Rabisu, the demon of deformities. Not that you have any. Unless you’d like some?”
To Daoud’s total credit, he didn’t bat an eye. His smile just switched to full charm as he shook her claw. “Assalamu alaikum, Rabisu. I love the horns.”
Rabisu’s tail twitched under her kaftan. “You are very perfect-looking. For a mortal.”
You may ask what I was doing vacationing with a real spawn-of-the-netherworld demon. First, I hadn’t exactly planned it this way. I’d sort of ended up with Rabisu after I’d killed her boss, Nergal, the ancient god of plagues. It had made things a little awkward between Rabisu and me at the beginning, but we were good now. Second, she wasn’t quite as monstrous as Nergal’s other minions. Everyone thought her claws were just very expensive snakeskin gloves, and her horns usually remained hidden under her turban. Her tail was easily covered by her kaftan, and though her tusks still drew attention, people were usually too polite to mention them. Not everyone can afford good dental work. She was barely five feet in height, but don’t let that fool you. She still had a demon’s strength and was as tough as a mountain.
So, here we all were. Me, the son of deli-owning Iraqi immigrants; one ancient Mesopotamian demon; and Daoud, longtime friend of my brother and currently the hottest face of the season, enjoying the most expensive suite in the Ritz. It was going to be a great vacation.
And I couldn’t wait to get started. I pulled a brochure out of my pocket and waved it around. “I definitely want to go here first—the Tower of London. The most haunted place in Britain. Maybe we’ll see Anne Boleyn wandering around with her head missing.”
Gruesome, I know. But the Tower is a castle’s castle. William the Conqueror had it built as soon as he became king, and there’s nothing that tells the cowering population that you’re here to stay more than a massive stone fortress in the heart of your capital. There was even a place nicknamed “the Bloody Keep.”
Daoud peered over my shoulder. “Yeah, and we can check out the Crown Jewels—if they’re still allowing that. Security must have been upped after the break-in at the Louvre last week.”
I frowned. “That’s the museum in Paris, right?”
Daoud nodded. “Did a shoot there. Me with the Mona Lisa. I think the theme was Beauty Through the Ages,” he said. “Anyway, the Tower of London isn’t far from here. And you never know, I might get invited to the next coronation. I’d look amazing in an ermine cape. And a crown or two.”
“The king’s still very much alive,” I said. “And he’s still got plenty of years ahead of him.”
Daoud laughed. “Maybe. Or maybe not now that you’re here.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s just . . . you bring the party with you, don’t you?”
I slapped him with the leaflet. “Nothing like Nergal is ever going to happen again. This is going to be a drama-free vacation. Got it?”
“If you say so, cuz.” He caught his reflection in a nearby mirror. “Look at that. A wrinkle already. Thank Allah for Photoshop.”
Rabisu leaned over the sofa, chin resting on her fists, and sighed. “You’re so beautiful. I could eat you up.”
I peered at her.
“What?” she exclaimed. “That was a figure of speech!”
“Just checking.” With Rabisu, it was always worth making sure. “Should we buy tickets for tomorrow?” I asked Daoud.
He waved his hand. “I can charge it to the agency. I have a per diem allowance.”
“For how much?”
He pointed at his face. “Excuse me? You’re looking at the cover of this month’s Vogue.”
Typical Daoud. He went through life floating on a cloud of being idiotically handsome. I know we should value what’s on the inside, but that doesn’t sell, well, anything.
Daoud was in the business of selling dreams, and people would give everything they had for their dreams. And why not? Sometimes they were the only things that kept us going.
“Hogwarts!” shouted Rabisu. “Let’s go to Hogwarts!”
“It’s not a real place,” I said.
Her eyes narrowed. “That’s what they want you to think. Last year I found this camp off Long Island, along the North Shore. It had all these kids who—”
There was a loud knock at the door.
Daoud darted to answer it. “Got a surprise for you, Sik. She arrived this morning.”
Who was he talking about? I didn’t know anyone who traveled except . . .