Today I get to share an excerpt from a new book, as well as a giveaway, by author H. L. Burke. If that’s not enticing enough, guess what? She writes about dragons!
Cora and the Nurse Dragon is a new middle grade fantasy adventure by author H. L. Burke. It follows the adventures of Cora Harrison in a world where Dragons no longer live in nature but are a resource exploited by humans.
Ages 9 and Up.
The book releases January 31st and is available for pre-order at the special price of 99 cents.
Cora’s a young girl with two dreams: to be a dragon jockey when she grows up and to own a pet dragon now. She constantly buys “egg packs” at the dragon emporium in hopes that one will hatch into a rare pet-sized dragon, but only gets short-lived mayflies. However, when an unexpected egg does develop into something new, Cora may be over her head.
Read on to learn how to enter to win a paperback copy of the book!
The Dragon Emporium
The girls stopped outside the shining windows of the Dragon Emporium. A line of little children had their faces pressed against the glass.
“Do you think they got something new in?” Abry whispered.
Cora eased forward. She was small for her age, an advantage if she did manage to become a jockey. The little kids wouldn’t move out of her way like they would for a full-sized kid, so Abry, all arms and legs, slipped through them, pulling Cora along.
On the other side of the window were cages of hatched dragons, mostly butterfly-sized mayflies. They darted about, fluttering their green wings and hovering over the fresh flowers the shop keepers gave them to feast on. A kid could buy five mayflies for a penny, making them the most popular purchases, even though they only lived for a couple of months.
Cora caught sight of what had drawn the kids’ attention: a red-scaled striker, in a tin-wire cage. It perched on a balance beam, tearing chunks of meat from a chicken leg clutched in its tiny front talons.
“Oh, he’s a beauty.” Abry’s eyes twinkled. “Imagine if you got him, then he and Neptune could play together. A striker and a steamer? So much fun.”
Cora nodded absently. Neptune was a steamer: a blue, cat-sized dragon who breathed hot water vapor. Abry’s parents had saved for months to get it for her on her tenth birthday. Cora’s dad would never be able to afford a steamer or a striker or anything but silly mayflies. Still, Abry was always coming up with schemes to save or make money so Cora could purchase her own pet. Their lemonade stand and dragon walking businesses, though, had both been dismal failures. She’d have to be satisfied with her mayflies and her father’s cat for now.
She stuck her hand in her pocket. She had a few pennies. Maybe she could buy some mayflies.
The bell gave a cheerful ding as she stepped in. The shopkeeper wore a pinstriped vest and crisp white sleeves with red garters. He leaned over the counter, showing a collection of egg boxes to a young man with greased back brown hair wearing a blue sailor suit. Cora winced.
Though close to her age, Xavian didn’t go to her school. Most of the year he was traveling with his mother, private tutors, piano instructors, and bootlickers–all the entourage of a tycoon’s only son. When he was home, however, he loved to follow her around and point out that his father was her father’s boss. She ducked behind a display of dragon eggs and pretended not to see him.
The shop bell rang again. Cora dared to peek out and wave Abry over.
Abry’s nose wrinkled. “What’s Xavian doing here? His daddy buys him everything he wants.”
“Who knows?” Cora shrugged. Do kids like Xavian even have pocket money? Or do they just take what they want and tell people to send the bill to their mansions?
Abry picked a box off the display. Like all the others, it was made of balsa wood with a window on top allowing customers a glimpse of the eggs. All dragon eggs were essentially the same, pearly white and perfectly round, about the size of marbles, the bowler type, not the little ones. However, in these packages they came wrapped in shiny, colored foil, like a box of bonbons. It was both pretty and functional, because it kept the eggs from hatching prematurely. Eggs wouldn’t hatch until exposed to light. In darkness, they could be stored for months.
Cora fingered the price tag: 15 cents. She bit her lip. It was reachable, if she saved up for a month or so, but in her experience, eggs only hatched into mayflies. Every so often, someone found a striker or a sparker egg in their kit, but it was pretty rare. She could buy seventy-five mayflies for the same price as this kit of two dozen eggs.
Slipping the kit back onto the shelf, Cora retreated to the window. A child and his mother were the only observers on this side of the glass. Another salesman lingered at her elbow. The mother had a cameo necklace and glittering rhinestone earrings. Her t-strapped shoes gleamed in the store lights.
For fear of attracting attention, either from Xavian or a salesman, Cora hung back.
“I’m not really sure Geoffrey is old enough for such a demanding pet.” The mother tilted her head to one side. “Do they make much of a mess?”
“Not at all. Less so than birds or puppies. Would you like to hold him, Geoffrey?” The salesman reached for the cage door, and Cora’s stomach tightened in jealousy.
She turned away. Maybe she would buy a kit. The six egg kits were only a nickel. Fishing in her pocket, she found four cents. A penny short.
“If you need a little more, I have a dime.” Abry held up the shiny coin. “I was going to save up for a big kit, but if we raise a small kit together, it’ll be much more fun.”
Cora shook her head. She couldn’t let Abry do that. “I have enough mayflies for now. That’s all they ever hatch into anyway.”
She wandered down the back aisle to where the various dragon-care items were kept: large glass terrariums for mayflies, wire-cages for cat-sized ones, and even harnesses for those lucky kids whose parents could afford to buy them racers–like Xavian.
Abry fingered a leather collar. “I don’t think Neptune likes collars. I used to walk him on a ribbon; he always twisted it and made a fuss.”
Cora eyed the door. “Do you think we can slip out without Xavian noticing?”
“He seems pretty wrapped up in whatever he’s buying … probably the whole store.” Abry sniffed. The girls started forward.
“That’ll be all, Master Algernon?” the clerk asked, handing a white paper package to Xavian. Cora couldn’t help it, she paused to see what he’d bought.
“Yes. Just the collar.” The boy tucked it under his arm and turned. His eyes met Cora’s, and her face burned.
Great, he caught me looking. Next thing he’ll think I’m jealous of his stupid money.
He smirked, taking a step towards her. She made for the door.
“Wait!” the clerk called out.
The girls froze and glanced back.
The clerk stepped around the counter and held out a small box to Xavian. “Free with every purchase. A starter pack of dragon eggs.”
Xavian crossed his arms and sneered. “I don’t need a silly starter pack.”
The clerk cleared his throat then glanced up at the girls. “Well, it’s free. If you don’t want it, maybe the young ladies will.”
Cora’s heart quickened. She tried not to look too eager, not to look at the tiny box in the clerk’s hand at all. How many eggs in a starter pack? Six? Probably all mayflies but always a chance, however small, at something more.
Xavian snatched the pack from the clerk’s hand and pushed his way past the girls. The door clanged shut behind him.
Abry huffed. “Didn’t the little beast’s mother teach him to hold the door for ladies?”
“Who needs manners when you have money?” the clerk said. He returned to his place behind the counter.
Abry sniffed. “Come on, Cor. Let’s get home.”
Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.
An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.
Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.
She is the author of a four part fantasy/romance series entitled “The Scholar and the Dragon”, featuring the books Dragon’s Curse, Dragon’s Debt, Dragon’s Rival, and Dragon’s Bride as well as the YA/Fantasy Beggar Magic. Her current projects are a young adult steampunk fantasy and an epic fantasy trilogy.
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