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Elemental Mates Box Set One by Chant, Zoe (1)

Chapter One: Naomi

Naomi Edwardson stared at her phone, willing it to ring. The only thing that could help her now was a miracle...

Her rent was due in less than a week, and this month they’d cut her hours again at the shitty retail job she’d been forced to accept just to stay afloat.

Long ago, at college, she’d dreamed of the magical life that was waiting for her. Back then, her head had been filled with images of magic and beauty, and she’d spent nights painting and days studying and tutoring. Back then it had felt as if she’d never run out of energy or inspiration.

But that was then. Now she was broke, and most days she ended up so exhausted she wanted to cry. During the nights, her worry of how to pay her rent kept her awake. Now she hadn’t painted in nearly a year.

At first, that was what had hurt the most of all. But these days all she felt was numb.

She’d been young and stupid back then, thinking that her dreams would be enough to find a job she loved. Instead, she’d ended up working retail with a manager who kept staring at her boobs instead of her face, and with hours that continually got cut. Every spare moment, she spent tutoring the children of the rich in art, who’d much rather play with their iPhones than pay attention to Naomi.

It’s over, she thought as she stared tiredly at her phone. It won’t ring, which means that no one bought that painting. But I’ve known all along it wouldn’t sell. Nothing I’ve tried to sell has.

In a last act of desperation, she’d begged a favor from her old acquaintance Jeff who owned a gallery. He’d added the last painting she’d held on to to his current exhibition—only because he liked her, as he’d told her several times. He really didn’t think the painting would sell, because people were so over unicorns and princesses and sparkly fairies.

Naomi hadn’t needed to see his face to know that he was sneering. She’d been so tired it hadn’t even hurt to hear his opinion of her art.

It was art, she thought dimly, a small spark of rebellion still left in her heart. And it wasn’t a unicorn... Her painting showed a dragon, a majestic, powerful beast soaring among storm clouds.

It wasn’t the sort of subject she usually painted. She liked landscapes: the play of light on stone, the green of leaves changing with the seasons, the secrets of light and wind and time that could turn a rock into a fascinating artwork of nature.

Where had the dragon come from? Naomi couldn’t say even now. But she’d painted it in one final, desperate outburst of creativity, before the endless rut of work, work, work killed the final spark in her heart.

Suddenly, her phone’s screen lit up. She stared at it, her heart speeding up, barely daring to believe it.

Even if it’s just a few hundred... I’ll be able to make this month’s rent. Please, please, please, she begged quietly as she answered the call.

“Naomi! Girl, are you in for a surprise!” the voice of her friend Jeff came through the phone.

In the background, she could still hear the soft music and chatter that meant that he was at the gallery’s opening event.

“Has it sold?” Naomi asked anxiously.

Jeff chuckled. “Has it ever! To a mysterious bidder... one of those people buying via phone. You know, I thought those no longer existed. Anyway, he’s bought your little fantasy thing—they say that billionaires often have eccentric tastes, don’t they? Maybe this one is a Harry Potter fan.”

Naomi could hear the sneer in his voice, but even though Jeff seemed personally offended that the mysterious bidder hadn’t bought one of his carefully curated collection, there was a breathlessness in his voice that made her pause.

“How much?” she dared to ask, telling herself firmly that she’d have to be content with three hundred. She’d be able to pay her rent and look for another shitty retail job. She couldn’t demand more.

“Twenty thousand,” Jeff crooned through the phone.

“Fuck,” Naomi said, her vision going black for a moment. She reached out for the wall to hold herself upright.

“You’re joking,” she then said, realizing that there was no way in hell that anyone would pay so much for one of her paintings. “Fuck you, Jeff, if you knew how desperate I am...”

There were tears in her eyes, and she was glad that he couldn’t see her through the phone. She was just so exhausted. She’d worked a twelve hour shift today, and she’d barely slept at night because her mind kept coming up with new horror scenarios of eviction and homelessness.

“Baby,” Jeff purred, “I wish I were joking because I seriously have no idea what he sees in that trite sentimental piece of shit—sorry, sweetheart, but dragons aren’t art. Still, twenty thousand, now that is art. Especially since I’ll get that commission.”

Naomi blinked tiredly. It felt impossible to process all these news. Hadn’t Jeff told her benevolently last week that of course he wouldn’t ask for a cut and he’d take her painting as an act of charity...?

She didn’t have that promise in writing, she realized. She really should have known better. But still... Twenty thousand?

“You’re not kidding?” she asked quietly, her heart pounding in her chest.

“I wish I was.” There was a hint of jealousy in Jeff’s voice. “You might not like this part though: He’ll only pay if he gets to meet the artist. You’ll have to hand over the painting in person.”

Naomi felt faint. She’d never heard of anything like this happening. Everyone she was still in contact with from art school was happy to just make ends meet.

“Twenty thousand?” she asked again, her voice cracking. “For twenty thousand, I’ll wrap it all up with a bow for him.”

“Tomorrow evening, baby. Don’t be late.”


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