“Lord Draea,” Roehn halted him, before he could even attempt to maneuver her.
“Do I need to make a law declaring you’ll be fined every time you call me that?” He asked.
She wanted to laugh, but he didn’t appear to be joking. Squaring her mental shoulders, she faced him down the same way she’d faced Lady Turvo down in the restroom, because this Dragon did intimate her and she couldn’t afford to let that show.
“Let me know when that goes into effect,” she replied. “Until then, I repeat, I do not need your help when it comes to my reputation. I can speak for myself quite clearly.”
“Yes, I know Leandra, you’ve been speaking to me all night,” he countered. “And believe it or not, I’ve been listening. Not just to your words, but your increasing determination to stave off my attempts at further conversation, which I see as a challenge. But this isn’t about you denying the interest you have for me, this is about protecting my own reputation. I won’t tolerate being the unwitting instrument wielded to produce your displeasure, when that is the last thing on Cauldex I want.”
Speechless, Roehn stared at him. That angle had never occurred to her, but Arcylaen had been used by Eleqwyn without his knowledge for a purpose he obviously would never consent to. He had every right to be upset and though Roehn felt she’d handled it well enough, she obviously hadn’t settled with it completely. Otherwise, the bitterness wouldn’t have seeped into her tone. It just wasn’t about her reputation the way he assumed. She could care less what that redheaded viper thought about her. It had been the act, not the words.
Yet in and amongst all that, were Arcylaen’s allusions to a budding relationship and that struck her the hardest. The warning alarms were going off in her mind with increasing volume, and it didn’t matter that he was right, she needed to put a stop to it immediately. The certainty of his tone when he’d declared the ‘whole of his intentions’ before the unveiling, had reverberated right through her core like a divine decree. Roehn needed to show him that she was pretty much impervious to the divine. Hadn’t even been touched by it at birth.
With a lifted hand, she gestured for him to lead the way and barely gave Lady Turvo two thoughts as she followed. Her priorities had shifted. Arcylaen couldn’t continue thinking there was a chance at something more with her, but him being the Dragon’s Head complicated things. Lonnex was the Heart City of Skaulling and he was its leader–official or not. Offending him would be the equivalent of offending a President or King and she was nothing more than a foreigner in his lands, without a single ally. A foreigner that he already suspected of being a thief.
Fine, she was a thief, but that was besides the point. Moreover, it was the very thing she needed to keep him from ever finding out, which meant a relationship with him–or anyone else in Skaulling–was about the stupidest move she could possibly make. Relationships required letting your guard down, opening yourself up to being vulnerable and trusting your lover never to use it against you. She couldn’t even give a man her real name, let alone all of that.
Arcylaen led her down the same corridor the restrooms were located in, but passed them and turned right into a dead end. Grey smoked marble was shadowed by the crisscrossing pattern of brass security gates closing off that area of the museum. The part of her that was very much the Conservationist she was pretending to be, couldn’t wait to see what stood on the other side. There were just more pressing matters to think about at the moment.
The Dragon faced her, his hands sliding into the pockets of his tux. “Leandra?” He prompted with an expectant look.
Inhaling, she shook her head slightly. “What do you want me to say?”
“Just repeat what was said to you,” he suggested.
“You want me to tattle, like a child?” She scoffed.
He didn’t laugh. In fact, he didn’t appear amused at all. “I’ve the right to know what I’m up against.”
“There’s nothing for you to be up against about, Lord Draea,” Roehn stated firmly.
A small knot started forming in her throat, when he lifted his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose. Anxiety over who he was, the kind of power and influence he held, clashed with the part of her that really did find him appealing. The combination didn’t make for a pleasant cocktail in her system.
“Just tell me what was said, Leandra,” he repeated in exasperation.
Wary about pushing him too far, she sighed with reluctant concession. “I was merely informed of how things work in Skaulling, particularly in the tradition of expected unions between certain Dragon Houses.”
Lowering his hand, his eyes were just as shadowed as the the corridor. “And?”
“And nothing,” she answered stubbornly. Like she would really repeat all the other nonsense. Please.
He smirked humorlessly. “Please, don’t insult me. I’ve known Eleqwyn her entire life, I know exactly what kind of woman she is and the conversation didn’t end that way. I doubt it even started that way, otherwise you wouldn’t have been so sensitive with the idea of people already forming opinions about you.”
“First, that is not what I was being sensitive about. Second, aren’t you the one who just led me halfway across the building being sensitive over someone possibly tarnishing your reputation?” Roehn countered. “Finding the act deplorable is not the same as being effected by it, Arcylaen-”
The moment his name fell from her lips, she regretted it. Arcylaen paused. An expression of awe crept over his face and quickly morphed into delight. The grin that spread across his mouth took the man from handsome to downright sexy in a heartbeat, doing nothing to diminish the return of all that smoldering desire in his eyes. Roehn retreated when he stepped forward, her back meeting the wall all too soon, because he wasn’t stopping.
His hand hesitated a brief second, before lightly caressing over the curve of her cheek, almost like he feared his touch might be rejected. Roehn felt like she couldn’t breathe under the weight of all that hope shimmering in his eyes. The undeniable chemistry churning between them.
“Say it again.”
She shook her head. Uh-huh. No fucking way.
“Oh, Leandra,” he hummed quietly. “The ways you challenge me.”
His head lowered and alarms screamed inside of her. He was going to kiss her!
“Arcylaen-” she panicked.
His face lit up all over again and Roehn knew she was doomed. She’d just sealed her own fate.
His lips brushed across hers so softly, she could almost believe she’d imagined it. That all the fantasies she’d been shoving into a dark closet all night had finally broke free. A tumbling avalanche of inappropriateness from an overfilled space. Then his mouth covered hers, searing deep and she knew without a doubt. Definitely not a fantasy, just all the things they were made from. Someone was purring loudly in her mind.
Arcylaen’s palm cradled her cheek tighter, his kiss growing hungrier and the texture of his lips moving against hers was like nothing she’d ever felt before. Not that she was innocent, but this man had a style all his own and it threatened to intoxicate her. Vowed to make her forget–for one blissful moment–that she couldn’t have this.
Roehn finally returned to her senses and jerked back, but Arcylaen’s gaze remained locked on her mouth, as if he’d been anticipating that reaction. Regret rushed through her so fast it was dizzying, and for the span of a heartbeat, she resented everything about her position. The lack of freedom to just be a woman enjoying the affections of an intelligent, highly attractive man. Then she remembered what her sacrifice was for and all of her previous resolve fell back into place. This had to stop.
Just when she opened her mouth to say as much, her Echelonite rose up and rubbed her head against Arcylaen’s knuckles affectionately. A jolt of potent lust surged right through Roehn and she gasped, jumping out of the Dragon’s reach like he’d been the one to cause it. Arcylaen had gone completely still. His mouth gaping, eyes wide and unblinking. Roehn wasn’t even sure if he was breathing. Had he felt the same thing?
Horrified, Roehn looked at the panther. “Shursja!” She reprimanded in utter disbelief and dismay.
The embarrassment washed over her so strongly she couldn’t bring herself to look at Arcylaen directly. “I’m so sorry,” she choked out. “I don’t even… I don’t know what came over her.”
Confused and mortified, Roehn hurried away from him. At the end of the corridor, she turned right instead of left, because she couldn’t return to the Gala. The artifacts would still be there in the morning. Right now, she needed to escape before anything else could happen to completely destroy all she’d worked so hard to put into place.
Most importantly, she needed to recapture the determining mindset she’d somehow lost. The one where all Dragons fell under the category of enemy!
© A.C. Melody
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