Arcylaen absently rubbed his knuckles, as he sat behind the desk in his office. If he were to cross the span of bold red carpeting to the windows, he’d be able to see the roof line of the museum across the city. He knew, because he’d already stood there for an hour following sunrise.
There had been no surprise to find Leandra gone after their shocking encounter the night before. Disappointing, yes. A distraction when he’d been forced to return to the Gala and keep up appearances, definitely–but not surprising. In truth, Cylaen didn’t know what he would’ve done had she still been there. The moment her Echelonite had brushed against his knuckles, sending volts of erotic energy through his entire body, he’d lost all ability to think. All he’d felt, smelled and craved had been the woman at his fingertips and everything decent inside of him had vanished.
Had Leandra stayed one more second within reach…
He was a brute. That’s what she’d reduced him to. Even his behavior leading up to the best moment in his entire existence had been utterly brutish, bordering on bullying. Cylean should be ashamed of himself, kissing her like that, but he wasn’t. He was enchanted. Captivated by her astounding beauty, inside and out. Her passionate stand on turning all the bad things left behind by the Cayens into something good, on believing that hope could grow from so much hate, was inspiring.
It made sense that it would take someone who hadn’t been there to see all the silver linings. To point out all the opportunities they now had to make something positive for future generations. Had Cylaen never met her, listened to her perspective, he may never have realized it and that would’ve been such a regretful loss in the end.
Leandra had given him renewed hope. Even in light of their recent issues with the thieves, she’d given him something to look forward to again. Well…aside from the plans he’d already warned her about, of course. The whole of his intentions, the grand sum of them, had taken on an entirely different meaning and trajectory the moment her Echelonite had touched him with affection. Cylaen had already planned on seducing his way into her life, despite his suspicions. Keep your enemies close and all that.
He didn’t want her to be his enemy, and he understood that was mostly selfish, for it would never lessen his desire for her. The sad, raw truth is that he would still want her just as fervently as he did now. He would still find a way to have her. So yes, he prayed she was innocent of any and all connections to the robberies, just as much as he feared she wasn’t.
Did Leandra even know what it meant for her Echelonite to touch him in such a way? To show him affection and acceptance? She must, otherwise she wouldn’t have looked so horrified.
A light knock on the door quickly followed Jesper’s announcement, and Brejeir entered the office without waiting for a response. He looked surprisingly rejuvenated for the number of drinks he’d knocked back at the Gala.
“Ready to catch a thief?” Brej grinned, rubbing his hands together excitedly.
Cylaen snorted. “If only we were that lucky,” he replied, rising from his chair. “So far, our thieves have not proven foolish, Brej, otherwise we would’ve caught them by now.”
“Yeah, but I bet they weren’t expecting to see the Black Ruby of Cayen on display, either,” his brother pointed out. “That rock is priceless and as big as my skull.”
“Nothing’s as big as your skull,” Cylaen chuckled. “Maybe your fist.”
“That’s still a damn big rock.” He formed a fist with his right hand to prove it.
“That it is.”
“And mounted in canine jaws made out of pure platinum,” Brej added.
Cylaen eyed him suspiciously. “You started a pool, didn’t you?”
“Um…yes,” Brej grinned shamelessly. “And if Daelyn loses today, the pot’s up to two grand. You want in?”
“No,” Cylaen laughed with a shake of his head. “Come on, let’s go see if you’re still winning.”
He grabbed his suit jacket on their way out, and paused at his secretary’s desk. “Forward all my calls to voicemail, unless it’s important. We’re headed to the museum to authenticate the relics.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Draea,” Amrya smiled.
One of Arcylaen’s personal body guards, Rynd, was already waiting for them at the private elevator, calling it the moment he spotted them approaching. The doors slid open immediately, since Brejeir had been the last to use it. The Hawk didn’t hesitate to step inside after them and select the parking garage.
The moment the doors enclosed them in privacy, Brej glanced at Arcylaen. Neither of them were concerned with Rynd’s presence. The Hawk was one of the select few at the top of the ‘need to know’ list.
“By the way, all the information you requested on your sexy Cat came in this morning. You want the good or bad news first?” Brej announced.
Cylaen tensed, unsure if he was prepared for it, after what had happened the night before. His mind ran in circles for a moment, before he took a steadying breath to brace himself. “Bad first.”
“Okay, the bad news is: she’s only twenty-four years old,” Brejeir informed him. “Which almost makes her jail bait for your perverted designs. Congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a true politician.”
Twenty-four! For the love of the cosmos, how in the world was that even possible? She was so confident, so clever and far too… woman…to be twenty-four! Hex all, she was ten years his junior. Brej was right, Arcylaen was pushing all the political limits with that one.
“And?” He managed, after having to clear his throat.
“And the good news is: she’s exactly the bookworm she claims to be,” his brother continued. “Child prodigy, graduated with honors from Meive Prep Academy at age seventeen via private tutoring and went on to earn her degree through the internship program at Meive’s Museum of History and Anthropology exactly one month before applying for the position here in Lonnex. I’m assuming an Exhibit Coordinator is just an entry level position and not her actual dream job.”
“Unless it puts her exactly where she wants to be, with full access to all the artifacts of the Black Dogs of Cayen exhibit,” Cylaen pointed out.
“I thought this news would be a relief,” Brej frowned at him in confusion. “You’re still looking for reasons to suspect her?”
“I have to,” he admitted, something close to panic rising inside of him. “Because I’m missing something. The connection to Meive, the House of Cayen, her exact position at the museum–it’s all too coincidental to ignore, Brej–and now you’re telling me that she’s barely a legal adult, and…”
His throat attempted to close up on him, as the final piece tumbled through his mind like a pebble into the abyss. His knuckles warmed, tingling with the memory of all that erotic electricity.
“And what?” Brej prompted.
Rubbing a hand over his knuckles, the muscles in his chest tightened when he looked his brother dead in the eye. “Her Echelonite touched me last night.”
“Whoa, what?!” Brejeir stepped back, turning to face him fully. “Are you shitting me?”
“Does that really sound like something I’d jest about, brother?” Cylaen countered darkly. Running a hand through his hair roughly, he was at a complete loss. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do?” Brej laughed humorlessly. “There’s nothing you can do, Arcylaen. Her Echelonite chose you! If Jesper chooses her in return…”
“I know how it works, Brejeir,” he cut him off out of desperation or denial…both.
Brej shook his head, mouth working silently for a moment. “There’s only one way to guarantee that never happens, Cylaen,” he said grimly. “Stay far, far away from her.”
He couldn’t do that. Arcylaen could blame it on professional responsibility, but he didn’t have to be the Dragon accompanying his brother to the museum where Leandra worked. They had a very big family. He chose to, because he wanted to see her. He would never be able to stay away.
“Or invoke the Rites,” Brej added as an afterthought.
“Are you insane?” Cylaen snapped, taken aback.
“I know it’s a bit archaic, brother, but your Echelonite can’t chose a Matebond under the Rites. It would give you the time you needed to figure out if she’s trustworthy or not and, honestly, how long do you think she’ll last in Skaulling before someone else tries? Not a single man at the Gala last night would pass up the opportunity to have the sexy minx under their complete control. Especially, Lord Haraj.”
“It’s barely eight in the morning, Brejeir, please don’t make me kill you,” Cylaen snarled, before shaking his head confidently. “No one is going to attempt such a thing in this day and age, for the love of the Divine, the Rites haven’t been invoked in decades!”
Brej merely shrugged. “Requests are granted by order of submission, brother, so you might want to sort that out quickly or let your suspicions of her go and see if Jesper chooses her. The Rites can’t be invoked on someone who’s already Matebonded for life.”
© A.C. Melody
♥ Released a little early per request of an avid reader! Who am I to say no? 😀 If you’re just tuning in, you’ll find all previous episodes located under the Wicked Web link on the menu above. Continue reading with Episode 10