Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 6

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Just Between Us Girls

Roehn found the Ladies’ room, managing to walk at a normal pace when all she wanted to do was run. The distance from Arcylaen didn’t help nearly as much as she needed it to, because his words followed her, replaying in her mind.

“…there will never be any descendants of the Black Dogs…”

It wasn’t that he was wrong. There was a chance Roehn would never have any children of her own. It was the fact that he’d sounded so damn grateful about it. Proud to have had a hand in ensuring there would never be another Cayen on Cauldex. Ever. It merely reinforced her belief in what she was doing; that it was the only way. No one would ever look at her without seeing all the crimes of her family. They wouldn’t care that she’d been one of their victims. They’d never accept she could be different. Arcylaen had just confirmed that.

He felt strongly in his convictions and probably had every right to, but Roehn couldn’t feel that. She couldn’t sympathize with him, because she hadn’t been on Cauldex. All she’d ever learned since returning home, was one side of the story. All the evidence of her family’s crimes had already been wiped clean, so how could she possibly feel for any of them? She only knew the facts. The Dragons had everything that rightfully belonged to her and the only way to get it back–to make something right out of all her family’s wrong–was to take it without anyone knowing.

Roehn had to follow through with her plans. Now more than ever, she knew what had to be done. She needed to turn her inheritance into something positive. Something more than just a temporary museum exhibit or a relic to boast a victory over. Even if Arcylaen never knew of it, or any of the other citizens of Cauldex, for that matter. She didn’t need to validate a theory or prove that good choices could be made, she merely needed to make them. Starting with the House of Cayen.

If she could smuggle the other Cauldexian outcasts to the planet, even just one at a time, she could teach them the Forbidden Art of tricking their blood into casting any Echelonite of their choosing. Coming up with borrowed identities would be the tricky part, but there had to be a way. Too many innocent people were crammed into space stations, exiled and forgotten, struggling to survive with no home to call their own all because they’d been born different. It wasn’t right!

Her other problem was Arcylaen, himself. The Dragon was irritatingly gorgeous, funny and straightforward. She didn’t like it. Fine, she did like it, that was the problem. Roehn didn’t want to like anyone, least of all a Dragon. She wasn’t keen on the distraction nor the idea of him keeping close tabs on her. He was bound to do that anyway, thanks to her recent real estate investment, but that’s why she’d taken the position at the museum. She’d been hoping it would clear her of any suspicion.

Roehn would just have to make sure the Dragon lost interest. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d been forced to dissuade a man’s unwanted attention–and Arcylaen was far from being a horny mercenary lacking all sense of morals. That should make it easier, right?

After freshening up at the sink, she gave her reflection a determined look and turned to put that plan into action. She was nearly to the door, when it swung open and a female Dragon waltzed in. She was just as physically flawless as the rest of them. Her milky complexion and vibrant red hair was matched with a whole lot of green, rather than gold. Her gown, her eyes and the dragon coiled proudly around her upper arm, resting its body over the slope of her shoulder.

“Well hello,” she smiled with open contempt. “I was wondering if I’d get the chance to meet you tonight.”

Roehn reminded herself that she was on Cauldex, not in a space station and plastered a polite smile on her face.”Hello. Leandra Leontle of Meive.”

“So, I heard,” the Dragon ignored the hand Roehn offered. “It seems you’ve managed to make the grand entrance into Lonnex you were undoubtedly hoping for. The whole room’s abuzz. It must be thrilling for someone like you to have two of the most eligible bachelors in the country squabbling like children over your attention. I’m sure once the novelty wears off, they’ll come back to their senses.”

Ugliness of the soul was an insidious disease that no amount of wealth or privilege could cure. The Dragon was no better than half the misfit girls she’d run across in the first nineteen years of her life, and certainly no worse than the handful of trust-fund snobs she’d encountered in Meive since. That just made it all the more pathetic. As did the clichéd ‘cornering the other girl in a bathroom’ routine.

Roehn smiled coolly. “I suppose I better enjoy it while it lasts, then. Thank you so much for the heads up.”

It was no surprise when the Dragon blocked her path the moment Roehn tried to step around her, but it caught Shursja’s attention. The panther sat straight up, without stretching first, her tail flicking against the back of Roehn’s shoulder.

The Dragon scoffed in amusement. “How cute,” she mocked, her reptilian eyes sliding back to Roehn’s. “Since you’re obviously unaware of how things work here in the civilized world, let me explain. I am Eleqwyn of House Turvo, second only to House Draea, and it has already been written that our Houses are next in line to unite through marriage. You see, Dragons never dilute their blood by mating with other species. So please, do enjoy whatever attention Arcylaen gives you while it lasts, because in the end, you’ll still be nothing more than an untitled, Houseless Cat from the savage jungles of Meive who could never live up to the standards–or needs–of the Dragon’s Head.”

What? Arcylaen was the Dragon’s Head? As in, the leader of the Thirteen Dragon Houses? The ability to hide her shock was too easy, a habit too ingrained, forged in a world Eleqwyn Turvo wouldn’t last two seconds inside of, but this insight definitely changed things. It changed everything.

Roehn stood her full height with her chin lifted confidently and looked the woman dead in the eyes so she could see how unimpressed and unaffected Roehn was by her attempt at intimidation.

“That was quite an eloquent speech, Lady Turvo, which makes me wonder just often you feel obligated to make it,” she began, pleased to watch the arrow hit its mark when fire leapt into the Dragon’s eyes. “You know who I think would really love to hear it the most, though, is your betrothed. He is your betrothed, right? That’s basically what you just outlined for my untitled, savage mind to grasp? What, no engagement party yet?”

Glancing at the woman’s empty ring finger pointedly, she made to step around her again. When the Dragon attempted to grab her, Shursja rose to all fours with a dangerous, hissing growl. It was enough to have the Lady pulling her hand back quickly, even though her own Echelonite had gone into a defensive stance.

“Since you’re obviously unaware of how I work, Lady Turvo, let me give you some advice. No one with half a brain is ever intimidated by someone who’s too afraid to speak their mind outside the four walls of a women’s bathroom, so you might want to rethink your little stake-a-claim campaign. I suggest growing the spine to tell Arcylaen how you feel to his face, rather than cornering every last woman you find threatening,” Roehn let her gaze rake over the woman with just as much disdain as she’d been given. “That’s got to be getting exhausting.”

Roehn opened the door and stalked out with the satisfaction of Lady Turvo’s fuming glare burning into the back of her skull. She swore under her breath, when she saw Arcylaen pacing the end of the corridor fifty feet ahead. For the love of the cosmos, why?!

One hour into her first night with the society of Lonnex and Roehn had already reached her drama limit. Times like these made her appreciate the simplicity of life aboard the space stations, where everyone coming at you wore their intentions proudly, never bothering to hide the scumbags they were. Not that all outcasts were bad, the ratio wasn’t that unbalanced, but compared to the ‘civilized’ world…it was a hell of a lot more honest.

Resigned to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to shake Arcylaen’s presence if he didn’t want to be shaken, Roehn squared her shoulders and headed right for him. The last thing she wanted was to get caught with him in the corridor when Lady Turvo decided to exit the restroom. That would just be all kinds of awkward. Not to mention Roehn didn’t want to give even the slightest impression that she was partaking in the Lady’s fight over the Lord. Eleqwyn could have him.

“Lord Draea,” she greeted shortly, walking past him so he’d be forced to follow her if he wanted to talk. When he pivoted on his heel and came up beside her, she cast him a mildly chastising glance. “Is it normal for men to lurk outside the Ladies’ Room in Lonnex?”

His eyes floated over her from head to toe and back again. “I said something that upset you,” he replied. “I’m sorry for whatever it was.”

“How can you be sorry for something, when you have no idea what it is?” She questioned, heading directly to the nearest waiter.

More alcohol was precisely what she needed to get through the rest of the Gala. Arcylaen held his tongue while they both selected from the tray, but was quick to take Roehn’s elbow and direct her toward the wall for privacy.

“I can be sorry for upsetting you, even if I don’t know the exact reason,” he replied.

Oh sure, be sincere. Taking a healthy drink of her champagne, she eyed the Dragon. The Dragon’s Head. Eleqwyn’s words echoed in her mind, a warning and a temptation. Maybe if she gave him something of the truth, he would finally leave her the hell alone.

“You didn’t upset me, Lord Draea,” she admitted. “I’m upset by the entire situation. I’m sorry for all that happened in Skaulling, but I wasn’t here. I have no idea what you or your people went through under the reign of the Black Dogs. My only interest is in making sure their entire existence isn’t completely obliterated from the history books. I know my stance is difficult for Skaullings to understand, I thought I was more prepared for being on the outside, but apparently I wasn’t. I’m honestly not here to drudge up painful memories or make excuses for all the horrible crimes that were committed. I just want to preserve history so that one day, something good can come from all the bad.”

Arcylaen closed the gap between them, pleasure burning in his eyes. “I think something already has.”

Dammit, she’d made it worse!

“Lord Draea-”

“Cylaen, please,” he insisted.

“Look, I’m flattered-” she tried again.

“No, you’re not,” he laughed. “You’re bothered.”

“Well, if that was your intention, then congratulations,” she snipped, far more irritated over the sting of truth than the words which had delivered it.

He lifted her hand to his mouth, brushed the texture of his lips across her knuckles and gave her a little naughty smirk.

“I like you bothered, Leandra,” he confessed, much to her detriment. “I’d be far more worried if you weren’t.”

© A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! If you need to catch up, you can find all the previous episodes via the Wicked Web link on the menu above. Until next time…

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 5

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Dog House

“That’s not the Cat I thought we’d be seeing tonight,” Brej commented, once they were far enough away. “But it definitely coincides with what Rivyr discovered about the House of Cayen.”

“What?” Arcylaen prompted.

“Even though all the paperwork was drawn up under Mantao Leontle, the money was directly wired from Leandra Leontle’s account–his sister,” Brej shared. “He didn’t contribute a cent, and the neighbors claim they’ve only seen a woman coming and going from the house.”

“I already uncovered their relation, Brej,” Cylaen barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Do you think she forged his signature?”

“No, it turns out the woman’s been sitting on her trust fund, only using it to pay for the necessities and her schooling,” Brej shook his head. “She has no credit history, so had no other choice but to have someone else sign for the loan. Rivyr said that wasn’t rare, though the other person is usually added afterward. So far no requests have been filed for that.”

“Hmm, well I think I just found out why she wanted it,” Cylaen replied. “Turns out she’s our new Exhibit Coordinator and Conservationist.”

“What, her?” Brej questioned skeptically, glancing in Leandra’s direction.

“I know. She didn’t strike me as the bookworm type, either, but if she’s telling the truth then that’s exactly what she is,” Cylaen said. “I want that story checked out, thoroughly. Find out where she went to school and how long she’s been working for the Museum of Meive.”

“Got it,” Brej nodded, then gave the woman another once-over. “I hope for your sake she’s telling the truth, because that is one fine looking pus-”

“I will gouge your eyes out and cram them down your foul throat,” Arcylaen warned darkly.

Brejeir grinned in utter delight, slapped him on the shoulder and stalked away. Releasing a sigh, Cylaen settled with the fact that he’d just walked right into his brother’s ploy like an idiot, then started making his way back to Leandra.

He’d given his orders to the entire staff at the beginning of the night. Anyone bearing the Echelonite of a Cat was a person of interest. When Ordis had contacted him the moment she’d arrived, Cylaen had been both surprised and suspicious to learn it was a woman and not Mantao. It would hardly be the first time a man attempted to use a loyal lover as a distraction against his enemies.

Arcylaen had watched for her, anyway, determined to get the truth of it. The very second he’d laid eyes on her coming down those stairs, he’d been utterly captivated. Desperate to know who she was and exactly how she was connected to Mr. Leontle. The denial that she could already belong to someone else had been instantaneous and alarming.

That’s why he clung to his suspicions so strongly, because he already wanted her that badly. She was the most alluring example of feminine beauty he’d ever seen. Her body was curved so sensually under the thin, golden silk clinging to all the right places. Every man in the room wanted her, watched her lustfully. Every woman had a glint of envy in their eye. Her raven hair tumbled down her back in lazy curls nearly to her waist. With naturally tanned skin, feline eyes and that full mouth, she was an exotic delicacy in a room full of ordinary.

He’d nearly come unglued when he’d seen Haraj make a beeline right for her, not even attempting to disguise his intentions. Once Cylaen had seen the obvious disinterest on Leandra’s face, he’d decided to send the Griffin on an unnecessary errand so he could get the information he wanted while convincing her to remain by his side for the rest of the evening.

Now, thanks to his brother, Cylaen felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite. He may as well have walked right up to her and said: “Me Dragon, you treasure, I keep you now.” The imagery was shamefully barbaric. Scowling at himself, he made his way back to the sexy Cat. He wanted more information, regardless of how he felt about his attraction to her. The timing of her arrival, the purchase of the House of Cayen, it all felt a little too coincidental for his liking.

Unfortunately, he kept getting stopped by his guests and as one of the hosts, there was nothing he could do but stand there and give them the polite conversation they were seeking.

The museum had gone all out for the Gala, making sure the main floor was ripe with new relics the citizens had never seen before. Banners hung and draped along the high ceilings announcing the current or upcoming exhibits taking place in other parts of the building.

“It’s a morbid curiosity, isn’t it?” Lady Krennys commented, nodding toward the veiled Cayen exhibit. “To want to ogle the possessions of a family we all have so many reasons to despise?”

“It is,” he agreed, glancing in the same direction, his eyes landed on Leandra, instead. She was still studying the plaques, but had managed to snag herself a flute of bubbly from a passing waiter. “We’re hoping that will be the very thing drawing more people into the museum. It suffered too much under the reign of those criminals, the least their possessions can do is muster up some much needed donations or an increase in visitors.”

Smiling at him, the older woman patted his arm. “You’ve been spearheading the refurbishment of Skaulling for years, Lord Draea, you should just make it official. I can’t think of anyone who’d run or vote against you. This territory needs a Dragon with your compassion and vision for the betterment of its progress.”

“And it has Thirteen Houses of them, my Lady,” Cylaen pointed out with a wink and charming smile. “Unofficially.”

Chuckling, she gave him a knowing look, then turned back to the group of older dignitaries her husband was conversing with. Cylaen didn’t hesitate to take the offered escape and finally make his way back to Leandra. He was surprised by how much relief he felt to be by her side again and wasn’t exactly sure where it stemmed from. Concern or desire?

“My apologies for keeping you waiting.”

“No worries,” she smiled politely. “You’re one of the hosts, I’m sure that title doesn’t include babysitting foreign appraisers.”

Something was different. Cylaen wasn’t blind or so hopeful that he’d missed her reaction to him the moment she’d turned to face him after completely mangling the pronunciation of his name. It had been just the opposite of her reaction to Haraj, which both his ego and desire had preened over. When she’d mentioned never meeting a Dragon before, he’d wondered if he’d misinterpreted her interest, until Brejeir had arrived. There had been nothing in her eyes for his brother, save for the same closed-off politeness he was witnessing now.

“It doesn’t,” he replied, leaving it at that. “Did you need more help pronouncing names?”

Laughing lightly, she gave him a brief look of appreciation for the tease, then shook her head. “No, thank you. I think one embarrassing moment a night should do it, my Lord.”

“You know Brejeir was only kidding about the title thing, right?” He remarked.

“Are not all Dragons Lords and Ladies?” She asked and Cylaen thought he caught a glimpse of humor dancing in her eyes, so smiled slowly.

“Only to the traditionalists and elitists, which may be one in the same,” he answered. “Otherwise, we’re just regular citizens trying to make our way and leave our mark. Make a difference–and our annual budget projections.”

His smile grew more confident when that earned him another laugh. He was tormenting himself by bringing that rosy hue to her cheeks, he knew, but couldn’t seem to stop.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” He decided to press his luck.

Eying him cautiously, her nod was shallow. “You can ask,” she replied.

Her cleverness pleased him. “Why did your brother purchase the House of Cayen here in Lonnex?”

Her shoulders relaxed slightly, obviously relieved by the question, which piqued his curiosity. What question had she been dreading, perhaps fearing? Then, she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth in thought and Cylaen’s gaze latched onto that simple gesture, the heat of his desire rising before he managed to tear his eyes away.

“He didn’t,” she answered quietly. “I mean, on paper he quite literally did, but Mantao is far more interested in his next adrenaline rush than acquiring real estate. Unfortunately, no matter how good I am at saving money, I’m fairly lousy at spending it properly. I’ve never been through the process of getting a loan before, so I had no idea how important credit was. The bank said it was perfectly legal for Mantao to apply for me-”

“It is,” he cut off her concern. “I was just curious why a Cat from Meive would want to own a Dog House in Lonnex.”

Leandra made a sound that might have been a laugh, yet also came across resigned, which is precisely what her expression suggested. “I suppose it sounds a bit twisted when you look at it that way, but the truth is far less fascinating.”

“I’m listening,” he invited.

Taking a deep breath, her shoulders moved with the exhale. “I was afraid it would get demolished, and good or bad, it’s still a historical landmark. I couldn’t bear the thought of something with historical significance getting destroyed or just allowed to sink into ruin. The bank said no one has made a single offer on it in five years.”

“You can understand why, I’m sure,” Cylaen said.

Her response was intriguing, even if it drudged up  horrible memories. It added weight to her claim as a Conservationist, but that was still a surface detail and he didn’t trust anything at face value. He couldn’t afford to.

“As I’m sure some part of you understands the need to preserve history, otherwise you wouldn’t have contributed to an exhibit dedicated to the same family,” she countered, gesturing to his plaque. “You wouldn’t keep things that belonged to Skaulling’s worst enemies, when you could’ve just as easily destroyed them. Melted down the relics, broke them, burned them, completely eradicated the Black Dogs from the world’s memories, but you didn’t.”

They should have. That was his first thought, the first regret that flashed through him with her words. Then they wouldn’t be dealing with thieves. Arcylaen wouldn’t be sending Phoenixes to prison. They bloody well should have destroyed all of it!

“There are no heroes to celebrate without the deeds of their foes, the world has never only documented one side of the story,” she continued, unaware of his internal struggle. “Our descendants have the right to know the mistakes of their ancestors, so they can choose to be better. To make better choices.”

“I agree, except, there will never be any descendants of the Black Dogs of Cayen to make any of those choices, Leandra,” he countered a bit more harshly than he intended, but dammit, something about her argument sparked his own passionate view on the monstrous family the world was far better off without.

It was hard to keep all the pain and grief they’d caused pushed down, when it threatened to rise up and smother him, as if five years hadn’t already come to pass. The mildly stricken expression on her crestfallen face said it all, though. On this matter, they may never see eye-to-eye.

“Perhaps not,” she replied quietly, peering down at her drink. “But it’s foolish to believe the Black Dogs will be the last enemies Cauldex will ever have to face.”

Cylaen was at a loss for words, still battling through the nasty side affects of so many buried emotions to find his decency fast enough. Polishing off her drink, Leandra set the empty glass aside, but didn’t meet his gaze again.

“If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to freshen up before the unveiling.”

Then she was gone.

© A.C. Melody

If you’re just tuning in, click on the Wicked Web link on the menu above for all the previous episodes & thanks for reading! Comments/suggestions welcome and greatly appreciated!

Save

Save

#MusicMonday

Close to Heaven

by: Breaking Benjamin

Pain
Come alive
I try to breathe
Shade my eyes
Follow the damned
I have lost the way again

Stay
Trust in life
Carried beneath
Dead arise
Sorrow avenged
I will face the weak within

So, I’ll stay unforgiven
And I’ll keep love together
And I’ll be yours forever
I’ll sleep close to Heaven

Hate
Lost inside
I dare to dream
Faithless lies
Caught in the web
I will face the weak within

So, I’ll stay unforgiven
And I’ll keep love together
And I’ll be yours forever
I’ll sleep close to Heaven

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Release me right now

So, I’ll stay unforgiven
And I’ll keep love together
And I’ll be yours forever
I’ll sleep close to Heaven

I’ll sleep close to Heaven
I’ll sleep close to Heaven

I do not own any rights to these words nor the music video. All rights remain solely with the artists and their respective agents.

Just a little taste of inspiration from my Hell on Earth Series.

Avarice Unforgiving ♥ 1 Week Countdown!

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Yay! I’m so excited!! Only one week left before the launch of Avarice Unforgiving, 2nd book to my Hell on Earth series. This event will be hosted by Once Upon an Alpha. If you’d like to participate, please sign up as a host here: https://goo.gl/forms/jlQgyTrNIHWX36dP2

**READERS** This event will have a Rafflecopter Giveaway for eBooks & Gift Card so make sure you stop by any of the participating blogs for your chance to win!

Pre-Order your copy today!

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Thank you to all participating bloggers!

Oops…

I’ve recently been posting new episodes for the Wicked Web and just realized a small gap of missing story in Episode 2. If you haven’t read anything yet, then no worries. If you have I am so, so sorry and I have updated the episode with the missing information (everything after the Phoenix, Talex is hauled back out of Arcylaen’s office).

Here is a link to the amended episode – and again, my apologies!

Episode 2

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 4

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Suspect

He was just as stylishly groomed as Lord Havirace, only less pompously. The dark blond hair waving across his head was thick and he was tall with broad shoulders. The perfect perch for the golden dragon staring down at her, its tail linked possessively around his neck. Rather than posing proudly, as the griffin had been, it appeared just as calm and confident as its host.

“I’m sorry?” She shook her head.

“Arcylaen. A rather old family name I’m afraid, but I’m stuck with it,” he explained, his smile just as easy as his demeanor. His expressive brows lent him an appearance of friendliness, but his eyes belied that. Gold dust with a ruby underlay and pupils she knew would contract just as vertically as her own. In the facets lurked a dangerous kind of interest that had unwanted heat igniting low in her gut. “Most just call me Cylaen for short.”

Remembering how to process thoughts, the reddening of Roehn’s face was both unfortunate and very real. “I…am so embarrassed,” she managed quietly, clearing her throat while trying to reassemble her composure. A difficult feat when he continued to smile at her like that. “My apologies, Lord Draea, my brother’s the true diplomat of the family, but I’m afraid he couldn’t make it.”

“Brother?” He questioned, stepping a little closer.

“Yes, he passed his invite onto me, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind? No, Miss Leontle, I don’t mind at all,” he answered, the interest in his eyes increasing. “When I saw you coming down the stairs, I feared you were here on your husband’s behalf.”

Roehn didn’t know whether to be impressed or put off by his bluntness, though it was a nice change of pace from the Griffin’s transparent pleasantries. Straightforwardness was definitely a different approach for any man she’d ever talked to, Lord or otherwise.

Oh, Divine, I am not flirting with a damn Dragon! She wasn’t really, but she was undeniably effected by his flirting, which was just as bad.

“No, Lord Draea, no husband,” she replied lamely. She didn’t bother asking how he knew who Mantao was. Being one of the hosts and a Dragon, he’d undoubtedly seen to Mantao’s invitation, personally, since he was listed as the new owner of the House of Cayen in Lonnex. It wasn’t like the Dragon had any other Cats in the room to choose from. “So, that was your doing then? Calling Lord Havirace away?”

His smile was shameless. “You appeared to be looking for an escape, so I thought I’d give you one.”

In other words, he’d been watching her the whole time. Letting that sink in, Roehn reminded herself of what and who he was. Something she shouldn’t have to focus on so strongly. Dragon, Dragon, Dragon…

“You must be mistaken, my Lord,” she smiled politely. “I would never be so blatantly rude.”

“Blatant, no,” he countered, moving closer to her. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve no interest in Haraj, Miss Leontle.”

Roehn felt the familiar thump of Shursja’s tail against her chest. The movement caused the Dragon’s gaze to drop to her cleavage and the air between them instantly thinned.

“You’re right, Lord Draea,” she said, breaking the spell and turning back to the exhibit just enough to breathe, and remove her breasts from his line of sight. “The only interest I have is in the artifacts.”

Her Echelonite continued to waken, stretching and yawning. Uncurling everything save her tail from around Roehn’s neck, she climbed onto her shoulder where she proceeded to lick her paws and clean her face. Great timing, Shursja.

All she got back was purring contentment. Fighting once again not to roll her eyes, Roehn was a little startled when Lord Draea stepped up behind her, rather than beside her. As if they already knew each other on a more intimate level. Holy stars, her veins felt hot. How could she possibly feel attraction for a Dragon? It seemed downright cruel, really. Was she supposed to let them take everything from her?

“Everyone’s interested in the artifacts, Miss Leontle,” he countered lowly, his deep voice a weapon against her senses because it wasn’t just heard, it vibrated through her very muscles. “Some are so interested, they’ve been stealing them.”

There was suspicion in his tone, but she’d already been prepared for that. One couldn’t purchase a house right in the midst of the robberies, belonging to the same previous owners as the stolen goods, without rousing suspicion.

“Yes, I heard. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to steal the artifacts.” Turning to face him, she looked him dead in the eyes and smiled confidently. “You’re going to give them to me.”

He went perfectly still. It was quite a sight, actually, reminding her of a coiled snake. Stillness and silence, those abilities were far deadlier than a beast on the warpath, she knew. Even his Echelonite cocked its head and perused her with suspicion. Well, that was fun. Okay, so maybe Roehn had done it on purpose to get that exact reaction out of him, but some vengeful part of her was really enjoying it.

“Excuse me?” He questioned flatly.

Opening her clutch, Roehn produced a business card and held it out to him. He didn’t move to take it right away, merely stood there staring at her. After finally accepting and reading it, he arched a brow at her in surprise–and even more suspicion.

“You’re the appraiser on loan from the Museum of Meive?” He asked skeptically.

“I am,” she smiled. Opening her mouth, she thought better of it and closed it again.

“Do you mind?” He asked, holding up her card. It wasn’t really her choice, apparently, since he tucked it into the breast pocket of his tux before she could reply. “What are you so hesitant to add, Miss Leontle?”

Roehn shook her head. “It’s nothing,” she started to dismiss, then sighed. “It’s not nothing, but it is something I’m not supposed to mention yet. Ask me again after tomorrow.”

His smile wasn’t altogether courteous when he stepped closer, which put them right into the awkwardness of sharing personal space. “Leandra, I assure you I’m allowed to know everything that happens in this city, and all others that make up Skaulling,” he stated, though it sounded more like a warning than arrogance. “Your information is not only safe with me, it’s undoubtedly typed into a memo already sitting on my desk.”

Dragons. They were all so used to getting their way. Despite robbing them blind on occasion, Roehn had kept herself at a very safe distance from the whole lot. That didn’t mean she’d missed their articles in the papers or their interviews on television. Every last one of them were in politics, heading the offices that made up the government, outside of the Council. They were the unofficial leaders of Skaulling, and their power reached to every corner of the globe. In ancient times, they’d been the dominate royal bloodline. Their empires had stretched over every landmass on Cauldex and only after the monarchies had given way to democracies, had they begun venturing into more areas of business. All of which granted them some kind of power over others.

The one thing that had never changed, was their imperial mindset. They weren’t used to being told no, they didn’t stand for being denied and always found a way to win. Strategical geniuses and all that. Roehn wasn’t naïve. She knew how to pick her battles. She was a suspect and rightfully so, but that didn’t mean she had to invite a Dragon to look any closer, dig any deeper. Spending five years ensuring her story didn’t have any holes, didn’t mean he wouldn’t find one if she challenged him to the task. It cost her on a personal level, but she leaned closer to him, to keep her voice down.

“I’ve actually been transferred here, to the Museum of Cauldexian Antiquities as the new Exhibit Coordinator and Conservationist,” she admitted. “I don’t even meet with the curator until morning, so if you would be so kind as not to jinx it, Lord Draea.”

Surprise flashed across his features. “Jinx it?”

“Put in a bad word for me with the curator? Let him know you suspect me on some level, because I’m the new foreigner in town?” She elaborated and then laughed lightly, when his expression turned guarded. “Don’t worry, I’m trying not to take it personally, and I do understand, but you’re…well…very Dragon.”

Brow arching slowly, his lips twitched with reluctant humor. “Very Dragon?”

“Yes,” she chuckled. “The first one I’ve ever met, actually, and you live up to your specie’s reputation.”

He seemed a little stunned by that insight. Her cheeks blushed naturally again, because what she was about to confess was absolutely true. That was the best way to lie big; fill it with countless tiny truths.

“Forgive my blunt observations, my Lord. I tend to do much better with objects than people. I spend all my time with my nose buried in history books, but in Meive, the tradition of recognizing Houses has fallen by the wayside and no one documents their bloodlines the way they used to. I’ve tried petitioning to change that, to get my fellow Meivians to understand how important it is, but no one cares anymore,” glancing around, she gestured vaguely at the opulence of elite citizens and displayed history. “Here, in Skaulling, I feel like I’ve finally found where I belong in that regard, but it’s quite overwhelming to be among all the ancient Houses I’ve only ever read about.”

Tilting his head, he studied her closely. Considered her and her words. Roehn had no expectations that he’d stop suspecting her, even if what she’d said was true, but she did hope it lessened his determination some. Opening his mouth to respond at last, they were interrupted by another Dragon before he could. The newcomer was shorter and stockier than Arcylaen. Broader in the chest and shoulders, his eyes more of a burnished gold without the red. He was ruggedly handsome with a squared jaw and closely cropped hair. The Echelonite lounging on his shoulder looked just as burly.

“Apologies,” he nodded politely.

“It’s alright, Brej this is Miss Leandra Leontle of Meive,” Arcylaen introduced. “Leandra, this is my brother, Brejeir.”

“An honor to meet you, Lord Draea,” Roehn greeted politely, when the Dragon took her hand.

“Please, it’s just Brej. I’m not made for titles like my dear brother, here,” he smiled. “Do you mind if I borrow him for just a moment? I promise I’ll bring him right back.”

“Oh no, take your time,” Roehn smiled, unable to resist. It earned her a knowing, narrowed look from Arcylaen.

Turning back to her, he leaned in much closer than before and the smoldering intrigue in his eyes pinned her to the spot. The heat of interest she’d felt before morphed into something far more dangerous. “I will return, Leandra. Try not to run off with any Griffins while I’m away.”

Staring after him, Roehn had to force a weak smile when he winked at her over his shoulder. Then she caught herself drinking in his gorgeous backside, blushed quickly and turned to face the plaques again. Dammit, all she needed to do was make it through the Gala, then she’d never have to see the Dragon again. Why that left her feeling less confident and more troubled, she couldn’t say.

Rawr?

Looking at her Echelonite, she found Shursja blinking at her with concern.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “We can handle one imposing, arrogant Dragon.”

Shursja just continued to blink at her, unconvinced, before yawning and curling up again for another nap.

© A.C. Melody

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