New Kitty in Town
Roehn was light years away from where she’d been five years ago, in more ways than one. Climbing the steps to the Museum of Cauldexian Antiquities in the heart city of Lonnex, she lifted the silk skirt of her gown to keep from tripping on the hem. The shimmering gold looked amazing against her tanned skin and lustrous curls of jet. Both were natural, of course, but spending most of her time in the tropical climates of Meive had granted the former.
Her Echelonite, Shursja was comfortably wrapped around her neck. It was the panther’s favorite place to sleep, so Roehn hadn’t bothered with a necklace. The earrings dripping from her lobes cast a rainbow of fiery colors from the diamond prisms and could feed an entire space station of outcasts for six months. Knowing that killed her. If only appearances weren’t so crucial.
In the grand entrance of the museum, Roehn approached the giant board announcing the Gala’s honored guests. She couldn’t even pronounce half their names. Despite how hard she’d been trying to acclimate to the Cauldexian dialects, it didn’t change the fact that she’d grown up in a cesspool of diversity and her borrowed identity had ensured she would sound exactly like a native to Meive, not Skaulling. Sighing in resignation, she rejoined the crowd slowly moving toward the Bears working as security.
This night had been five years in the making. Playing the same role, establishing a history and a handful of the right people to claim her as family, friend, student and employee. Half a decade to learn all she could about her real blood relatives. Everything they’d done, and what had been done to stop them. Their cruelty hadn’t been selective, it seemed. Hadn’t begun or ended with their shameful daughter. Did that mean she shouldn’t take it personally anymore?
Their crimes made up a very long, sordid list. It didn’t dull the grief of never knowing them, but it had turned the tables. Now she was the one ashamed of them. Ashamed to know their blood ran through her veins, that their name kept her trapped in a lie, imprisoned in another’s identity just to have the freedom to live.
After the initial shock had worn off, Roehn had been very grateful that Reiter had caught her in the loading bay before she’d climbed aboard that supply ship projecting the Echelonite of the Black Dogs of Cayen. She could only imagine what her homecoming would’ve been like then. Undoubtedly, a sword separating her head from her shoulders before she could even utter a word in her own defense. Not that anyone would trust the word of a Black Dog after all her family had done. Every single one of them had been rotten to the core, so why would anyone believe her different?
That didn’t mean her plans had changed a single bit. Roehn still wanted what was rightfully hers. She wanted at least a portion of the things that had been stolen from her. She couldn’t get her family back. Couldn’t get closure from them, so she would take the things she could. The money, relics, family heirlooms, estates. Everything that had once belonged to a Black Dog was hers by birthright. Unfortunately, she couldn’t exactly stake that claim legally without forfeiting her own life. Besides, there was something cathartic about stealing from those who’d stolen from her first. She had seven more Dragon Houses to go, but she’d never expected them to actually dedicate a memorial exhibit to the one family responsible for the destruction of so many others.
Of course, it was a trap. Roehn wasn’t that stupid and neither were the Dragons. She’d learned enough about them over the years to know they’d sacrificed a lot to rid their planet of the scourge that was Roehn’s blood. The once mighty Kings were not only ruthless and highly intelligent, but strategical geniuses who were infallibly loyal to one another and Cauldex. One could say they were the ultimate Guardians of Skaulling. The people sang their praises, the heroes that had freed them from the oppressive tyranny of her family. Roehn could care less. She would never thank a single Dragon, for all they’d taken from her. She couldn’t feel the awe of their victories, when she’d been victimized by every last one of them.
More Bears were guarding the only entrance to the main floor of the museum, checking each invitation carefully. Once it was Roehn’s turn, she found herself standing atop another set of wide, gilded steps overlooking a thousand square feet of polished marble filled with display cases, mounted artifacts and no less than three hundred elite citizens. Waiters kept drinks in their hands and the cavernous ceiling kept their voices at a murmuring din.
“This invitation is for a Mr. Mantao Leontle,” the Bear pointed out.
“Yes, if you’ll check your list, you’ll see that my brother already turned the invite over to me, since he’s currently out of the country and unable to attend,” she replied.
Glancing at her napping Echelonite, the guard sifted through his list and then nodded. “Do you have your identification, Miss Leontle?”
Roehn dug it out of her clutch and presented it with a courteous smile she didn’t feel. He ran it through a scanner, but she wasn’t worried. While her identity might be borrowed, the card was very real.
“Thank you, please enjoy the Gala, Miss Leontle,” he bowed slightly and nodded at the other Bear to unhook the rope blocking her path.
Lifting her skirts once more, Roehn descended the stairs with all the confident grace one would expect of a Cat. Some of that was learned, the rest was granted by her own magic. As long as her blood believed her to be of the Leontle bloodline, it would award her all of the natural attributes belonging to the Cats. It had taken time to adjust to having feline vision and senses. Her eyes had taken on the reflective, gold-green irises with pupils that dilated and contracted vertically, allowing her to see at much greater distances.
What she saw was a building full of Dragons, Griffins, Bears, Eagles, Stags and every other kind of Noble authority. She couldn’t fight the increase in anxiety, though she wasn’t afraid of getting caught. She had no plans to take a single item from the museum, but this was her first time attending a public event since her return to Cauldex. Since she’d paid far too much to be smuggled to her home world in a cramped supply ship by a jackass named Fyggs. She wondered if his hand had ever healed properly, after he’d tried to send it up her shirt while she slept. Amateur.
Since her unannounced arrival to the planet, she’d been mostly in Meive, focusing on establishing her identity there. The few times she’d traveled to Skaulling, it had been under the radar and solely for the purpose of taking back what was hers from the Dragons. It was difficult to be among them now. To look at the men and women responsible for her current situation without revealing all of the animosity burning inside. The injustice of their actions, even though they had no clue they’d wronged her in any way.
Reining it back under control, Roehn tried to blend with the throng of citizens pretending to admire the artifacts, when they were obviously enjoying the socializing and champagne more. Unfortunately, her chosen cover stood out like a sore thumb among Lonnex’s high society. She was the only Cat there. Heads turned her way, as she stalked directly toward the Black Dog exhibit. Eyes drank her and her Echelonite in as if they were alien, rather than foreign.
Roehn turned to find herself face to face with a very handsome Griffin. He wore an elitist’s tux, his dark brown hair cut and feathered to perfection. His coppery brown eyes were fractured in the way only a bird of prey’s could be. His perusal of her body and features was noticeable, yet subtle enough not to detract from his debonair charm. This was why Griffins ruled the corporate world. No one could say no to them. Even his Echelonite was poised proudly on his shoulder, noble and genuine. It eyed Shursja curiously, but she remained sleeping, unintentionally snubbing the hybrid beast.
“Forgive me for being so forward, but I fear you may be in danger of getting mobbed rather quickly,” he smiled suavely. “Surely, you’re not here alone?”
“I am,” she smiled, letting him flirt with her, because that was normal. What she really felt, how she really wanted to react would be considered downright scandalous and rude. Nineteen years of avoiding the worst scum of the universe in crowded space stations had fine-tuned her gut instincts and those were screaming that noble or not, the Griffin’s intentions were anything but. “My date stood me up for a skiing expedition in Dargesbi.”
“He should be imprisoned for his foolishness, before it gets out of hand,” the Griffin jested, laying it on so thick, Roehn had to struggle to keep from rolling her eyes. “Lord Haraj of House Havirace.”
Accepting his hand and giving him a brilliant smile for his joke, she curtsied slightly. “Leandra Leontle of Meive, where Houses are no longer kept track of.”
Grinning brightly, he chuckled. “Yes, it seems to remain a curse of Skaulling, alone, these days. I’m very honored to meet you, Leandra of Meive. What brings you across the Vorejian Sea?”
“Work, actually,” she answered honestly. “But I’m not allowed to discuss it at this time.”
“Secret work?” He asked skeptically, arching a brow in a way most females probably found sexy, yet did nothing for Roehn.
His gaze ran over her again, as if he doubted she’d ever worked a day in her life. Which meant all of her training had paid off. Class; the ability to come across as wealthy by blood was extremely difficult to pull off for someone who wasn’t. It had been vitally important to master for her role, for all Leontle descendants were raised in wealth and privilege, despite their lack of titles. Roehn opened her mouth to respond, but was saved the trouble by his ringing cellphone.
“My apologies, I must take this,” he said, after glancing at the screen.
“Of course,” she accepted.
Pretending to check out the nearest artifact, she waited and wished she could escape. Lord Haraj hadn’t stepped far away, though, continuing to keep an eye on her in a way that warned she’d been considered blatantly rude if she just left. Though she strained to hear what he was saying, the only thing she managed to catch were his last few words: Of course, Lord Draea, right away.
“Sorry, some important business,” he apologized, returning to her. “I’m afraid I have to tend to it right away, but I do hope to meet up with you again before the unveiling.”
“No worries, Lord Haraj, I understand duty must come first,” she smiled and thanked the Divine for the intervention.
Lifting her hand, he kissed the back of it and flashed another charming smile. Roehn watched as he dashed away, but the moment he was out of sight, she pivoted on her heels and started toward her family’s exhibit once again.
She wasn’t surprised to see that it was still completely shielded behind a wall of curtains, nor did it matter. It was the plaques mounted on posts outside the roped area she was really interested in. Each one announced the name and House of those who’d contributed an artifact for the event. The exhibit would be running for a week, then those items would be returned and Roehn wanted to know exactly which Dragon House she’d be able to find them in.
The name on the first plaque caught her attention, because it had also been listed on the board of honored guests. Arcylaen Draea. Wasn’t that the House name Lord Haraj had just addressed during his call? He’d pronounced it Dreya. Roehn could kick herself in hindsight for not taking the proper steps to learn the Lonnexian dialect before tonight. Now, she was going to have to fumble her way through it.
“Ar-kigh-lay-en,” she sounded out slowly, frustrated over her ignorance.
“It’s pronounced Ar’killian, actually,” a deep, male voice spoke from just behind her.
Straightening, Roehn turned to face the speaker and forgot how to swallow. Or blink…breathe.
Dragon. Big, golden, unbelievably attractive Dragon.
Oh, hell no.
© A.C. Melody
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