Scott looked between them with interest. “Something going on between you two?”
“No.” Daisy frowned. “Don’t be stubborn.”
His eyes narrowed. “If Luke will agree to remain in dragon form, ready to snatch you away, you may go. I’ll accompany you. Between the two of us, you should be able to survive an hour.”
Getting a dragon to do anything he didn’t want to was a big deal, so she didn’t try to negotiate. She could do that later. “Great!” She turned to Scott. “Tell me which weeds were a concern.”
He waved a hand. “All of them. I’m no gardener. In fact, I toyed with the idea of paving the whole area, but Juniper talked me out of it. She says grass and trees will deflect the summer heat, and she suggested edible landscaping.” He grimaced. “I don’t want to deal with dropped fruit, but she had a point about the need to hire landscapers anyway.”
“Definitely,” Daisy agreed fervently. “Food security is a big thing.” The Convergence had disrupted transportation and the food supply, and the world was still recovering. Although rationing had mostly ended, there were shortages, and home gardens were important. “You know, with your skills, you could make an amazing greenhouse.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t look thrilled. “Maybe later. Anyway, the weeds tend to disintegrate when they leave the Quarry, so you’ll have to take pictures or video if you want to show Juniper. Let me know which ones I can smother.”
“Sure. I’ll work up a written report. I also brought some special sample bottles that might preserve the plants. I’ll let you know how that works.”
“Great. I appreciate your trouble.” He slid a gold coin across the counter. Pre-payment. Have fun.”
Daisy waited until they were on the roof, safely out of earshot, before commenting, “He doesn’t have many social skills, does he?”
“No, but he’s excellent at what he does. Are you ready?” Breaker waited until she climbed onto Luke’s dragon form before he spiraled around the tower, the sun glinted on his emerald scales as he checked for danger. He landed in the barren park and signaled for them to join him.
“This place has so much potential,” Daisy murmured as her feet hit the dirt. She took pictures for reference. “Remind me to get shots from the top of the tower. It will help with the planning. Imagine what a row of cherry trees would look like in bloom here.”
Her brother snorted at the mention of fruit.
“Hush.” She took samples of the dirt before turning her attention to the plants. “These look like black coral,” she said, carefully examining a plant from a distance. “Do you know anything about these, Breaker?”
“They crunch underfoot and they’re not carnivorous,” he offered, his massive head up, alert for danger.
“That’s a plus.” Wearing gloves and using pruning shearers, she snapped off a piece and put it in her sample baggie. Using her phone, she took a picture and used the voice recorder to save time as she gave details of the sample.
“Now this is interesting,” she said as she noticed a silver tumbleweed rolling across the dirt. Shaped like a sphere, it seemed to be made of silver wire, and was obviously light if the wind could move it.
Breaker trapped it with his taloned foot. “I can’t tell if it’s sharp, but it rusts away if it leaves the Quarry.”
“Maybe Scott could coat it with something and sell it as an ornament. It’s pretty,” she said, used to Juniper finding a use for everything.
A curl of smoke escaped Breaker’s nose when he quietly laughed. “Geiger doesn’t need that sort of thing, love. He’s a metal mage. If he wants money, he pulls gold from the ground. It might be something a tenant could do, however.”
She scowled. “It’s part of my job to find uses for plants.” She’d never had to be thrifty with Malcolm as a father, but she’d known plenty of poor students who did. His dismissal felt arrogant.
“Why are you angry? I wasn’t insulting you.” One great eye focused on her, the slit-pupil as big as a large sunflower.
She scanned the ground for her next sample, moving closer to a neon, yellow-green spike sticking out of the ground. It was fat like a hotdog and about as big, but smooth like a broom handle. She fetched her tongs and prepared a sample bag. “Making money isn’t a crime. Some of my favorite people don’t have any.”
“What has that to do with you?”
“No. I want to hear this. You’re the daughter of a dragon and want for nothing. Do you wish that to change?”
“Guilt,” Luke said succinctly. “She always had to hide her diamonds in school, even though it would shame our family, because others were jealous. She put them on when she went back home, but I visited her at school.” He’d thrown a fit, too. Diamonds were a sign of pride in a daughter, a symbol of love. It was taboo to go without, as it implied lack of love.
“It’s better to blend in,” she said, jaw tight.
“They bullied you because they thought you had money,” Luke said bluntly. “How is that better than tormenting someone because they’re poor? Or human?” Their father couldn’t abide bullies and had taught them the same. Trouble was, he didn’t have to deal with them.
“If it makes you feel better, I’d like you even if you were naked and poor,” Breaker said generously.
“Hey! My brother,” she said, blushing furiously.
“Is finding this very interesting,” Luke teased.
“Shut up,” she growled, jabbing the tongs at the plant…which quickly disappeared into the ground. Suddenly she was snatched, the tongs falling from her hand as Luke’s clawed paw scooped her up, smashing her sample bag against her ribs. The ground fell away, along with her stomach, and she was grateful when her feet settled firmly on the top of the tower.
Breaker joined them, shifting to human form as he landed seconds later. “Are you hurt?”
She settled her clothes. “No, but Luke scared the crap out of me!” Her heart was still hammering.
He looked at Luke. “Excellent reflexes.”
Suddenly worried, she asked, “Why? Do you know what that was?”
“No, but anything that moves is suspect. For all we know, it could be a flesh eating worm. The ground is crawling with them now.”
She looked over the low wall on the edge of the balcony, but even squinting, couldn’t see a thing.
Luke glanced over, “Ugh! Maybe we should flame them.”
“Not without a sample,” she protested. “It could be something useful, and it’s irresponsible to destroy a creature without knowing anything about it.”
The men exchanged looks of disgust. Clearly, they had other thoughts on the matter, but they were also the first line of defense against aggressors.
“I’m not saying let it eat anyone,” she protested. “I’m not stupid. It’s just…”
“If you need one, I’ll collect it,” Breaker said firmly. “It’s time for you to go home.”
That stung. “Like a child?”
He stepped closer. “Like a woman I don’t want injured.” He looked at her chest where the medallion was hidden under her clothes. “You don’t want me injured, either, do you?”
It was pure manipulation, she thought rebelliously, but admitting she didn’t want him harmed would be a slippery slope. “Fine. We may as well see if these samples survive before I waste time collecting more. Ready, Luke?” She fished out her goggles and zipped her coat.
“Say hello to Juniper for me,” Breaker said in farewell.
She shot him a look. “You just want to tweak her husband’s nose.”
He smiled and didn’t deny it. “I’ll see you later.”
There was no point in telling him no. It’s not like he was a stray dog she could spray with the garden hose. However, she was going to keep Luke close.
She didn’t want Breaker getting any romantic ideas, because she wasn’t sure she’d be able to resist.