***Sneak Peek*** of Rebecca Demarest’s UNDELIVERABLE

Celine and Byron slammed into the warehouse, closely followed by Jillian. Whatever they were chasing skittered across the floor and threw itself under the shelves of the closest bay. Sylvia and Ben hurried over to see what was going on, Ben grateful for the distraction. The three readers had surrounded the shelving unit on its three free sides on their hands and knees to try and figure out where their prey had gone to.

“What is it?” Sylvia crouched down herself, all the reprimand in her voice having been replaced by excitement.

Celine was panting. “Some kind of lizard. I opened the box and it just leapt right out. Who mails a lizard?”

“Idiots. That’s who.” Byron had gotten all the way down on his stomach trying to see into the gloom.

Sylvia got up and disappeared into the next bay, coming back with a flashlight. “Lizards can go days without food. That’s probably what someone was thinking when they stuffed him in there. Why’d we get the package?”

Celine gave up and sat back. “The address was fake, no return.”

“Poor guy.” Sylvia took Celine’s place and laid down on her stomach. “Ben? I think there is a terrarium in 2007, can you go get it?”

He went to retrieve the container, trying to picture what kind of person had so little regard for the animal’s life that they sent it through the U.S. post. The glass rectangle didn’t have a lid, so he grabbed a roll of mosquito netting from the next bay over and brought it all back. “Here it is.” He placed the glass box next to Sylvia and stood back to unroll the sheeting.

Sylvia flicked on her light and spotted the critter backed up against the wall. “Got him.” She wiggled forward and stretched out her hand towards it. A muffled hissing reached their ears.

“Careful, it’s probably poisonous!” Jillian was still crouched down, trying to see what was going on.

“Hardly. I do believe that we have been graced with a dragon, folks.” The scrabbling of claws and more hissing came from under the shelf and Sylvia yelped. “Just a claw, don’t worry.” After a bit more scrabbling she managed to haul out her prize. She dropped the flashlight and used both hands to pin the critter’s front legs to his sides. The brownish spiky lizard had a huge bristling beard that glowed in bright shades of red and orange. “Well, aren’t you pretty.”

Ben nudged the terrarium forward and Sylvia carefully lowered him into it. Ben spread the fabric over the top and around her arms, which she then removed quickly. “I got it.”

“Jillian, could we have some packing tape, please?” Sylvia poked at the scratches on her hand, but none of them looked like they had actually broken the surface.

Byron was studying the lizard. “A bearded dragon, right?”

“I think so. I’ve always wanted one.” Sylvia left off studying her hands and leaned down to the cage. “But they usually have black beards. This one is different.”

Ben cleared his throat, almost unwilling to bring her attention back to him, but he felt he would be safe from her recriminations now that she had something small and scared to take care of. “A sunburst beardy.”

Sylvia jumped, almost as if she had forgotten he was there. “A what?”

“A sunburst bearded dragon. My college roommate had one. They’re rare.” Sylvia smiled up at him, and Ben hoped that she might be forgiving him a little bit, but then her face clouded up again. It was apparently going to take more than an assist on a rescue to get back into her good graces and keep her from haranguing him about his search methodologies.

“Look, I’ll take care of this little guy. You should go do something useful.” She turned back to the terrarium. She sprawled on her stomach, feet in the air, and smiled at the runty lizard. The dragon had let its beard collapse and was now trying to hide in the corner of his tank. “Valiant, that’s your name. Proper name for a dragon, don’t you think?”

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