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!
“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, or continue reading with Episode 7