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.
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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