Closed for Business
Despite attempting to hide in the farthest reaches of the archives, Lord Krennys still managed to find Roehn to announce the dreaded news.
“It’s time for you to take your lunch, Miss Leontle.”
Eating was overrated. At least, that’s what her stubborn mind said. Her empty stomach didn’t quite agree with that assessment. She wanted to offer to work through her lunch, but decided against it and simply nodded. She hadn’t spoken one-on-one with her boss since her verbal battle with Arcylaen that morning, so didn’t want to push her luck.
When he turned to leave the dusty room, though, she couldn’t bear keeping quiet any longer.
“Lord Krennys?” She hesitantly stopped him. He turned to face her with a questioning look. “I-I wanted to apologize for my behavior this morning with the Lords Draea. I didn’t mean to be so disrespectful, and I hope you know how grateful I am for the opportunity you’ve given me here. I never wished to do anything to jeopardize that.”
He laughed lightly, entering the room again and dismissing her concerns with a wave of his hands.
“Miss Leontle, please, you’ve nothing to worry about,” he assured her. “In fact, if it weren’t for ethical protocol, I could kiss you. Lord Draea wasn’t exaggerating, I have been after the Cayen relics for years and though your methods were…unconventional and a bit heart-stopping…they were driven by the sincere passion of a Conservationist, and that is something you should never apologize for.”
If that had been the only driving force, she would agree. Unfortunately, Roehn knew it went beyond that to the way Arcylaen always put her on the defense. Not that she could explain that to her boss, though, so merely smiled and accepted his version of the truth.
“Thank you, Lord Krennys.”
“You’re absolutely welcome. Besides, I rather enjoy my job and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that, either,” he replied and started turning away again, before stopping and holding up his finger. “Speaking of, please go to lunch, before I start getting cited for poor working conditions.”
Brows furrowed, Roehn watched him leave the room without any further explanation. She wasn’t sure how his job would be at risk if he were to reprimand her for her unprofessional behavior. Didn’t that fall under a boss’s job description? Let it go, you still have a job, be happy about that!
When she tried to muster the feeling, it felt weaker than it should. With a sigh, she glanced at Shursja cleaning her paws on her shoulder. “Since it looks like we’re stuck having lunch with that Dragon, do you think you can keep your fur to yourself while we’re at it?”
“That didn’t sound convincing,” Roehn muttered under her breath and left the archives to gather her things.
Her heels clicked across the glossy, marble floor toward the front of the building, where she felt her spirits rise at the sight of young students gathering in the main lobby with their sack lunches. It was a break from the tour they’d obviously been enjoying quite a bit, since they were all excitedly recounting the things they’d seen thus far. Roehn found herself smiling by the time she reached the doors. A sudden thought struck her, giving her pause.
That was Arcylaen’s doing.
If it hadn’t been for him leading the rest of the Thirteen Dragon Houses and whatever allies they’d managed to find against her family, these children would not be experiencing a day freed from the classroom. They wouldn’t know the joy of learning about their history hands on, rather than from a text book. Arcylaen had said as much in his speech at the unveiling. The museum had been left to completely decline under the reign of the Black Dogs, because there was no revenue in preserving history with donations.
If Roehn’s family had been given their way, she wouldn’t even have a place to work. Oh, who was she kidding? If they’d really had their way, she wouldn’t even be breathing! Resigned to that truth, she pushed the door open and wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Arcylaen standing beside an all black sedan parked at the curb. He glanced at the expensive watch adorning his wrist and frowned.
“You’re late,” he stated. “Let me guess, Lord Krennys had to hunt you down and force you to take a lunch?”
How in the world could he even possibly guess at that? She didn’t like the idea that he could already read her so well. She had a lot of damn secrets to keep. When he opened the door and gestured for her to climb in first, Roehn didn’t argue. She chalked it up to being smart, not cowed. Her move to Lonnex had taken up all of her time, so she’d yet to explore the city and had no idea where the nearest restaurant was.
The interior of the car was black trimmed beige in plush leather, making it easier for her to slide across the seat to give the Dragon plenty of room. When the head of a little white horse peeked around the driver’s headrest at her, Roehn blinked in surprise. Traditionally, the Steeds had not only made up the obvious Cavalry units of the royal armies, but the Chevaliers of every royal convoy. Which meant, the man behind the wheel wasn’t any ordinary driver. He was a loyal, armed bodyguard who would give his own life to save Arcylaen’s.
It served to remind Roehn of who she was having lunch with. A man that was the equivalent of a world leader. The car was undoubtedly armored on top of it. She peeled her eyes from the Echelonite when she felt Arcylaen slide in beside her, and glanced over just in time to see his mouth coming right at hers.
Heat spiraled through her the moment his lips pressed against hers and even though he kept the kiss short and sweet, Roehn’s cheeks reddened with embarrassment. They had a witness, for crying aloud! What was he thinking?
“Just in case you had any ideas about addressing me as Lord,” he said quietly, his face still so close to hers, his warm breath and lips caressed her as he spoke. “Know this will happen, without fail, no matter where we are.”
All the blood drained from her flushed cheeks with that threat. Oh, clever, devious Dragon! The urge to call him Lord right then and there was absurdly strong. Roehn just wished she could claim it stemmed directly from her defiance and not the secret desire to feel his mouth moving against hers again. As it stood, his driver had already gotten enough of a show. Straightening, she lifted her chin with all the dignity she could muster and narrowed her eyes.
“Proud of yourself, are you?” She asked.
“Mm-hmm,” he smiled, completely at ease as he settled back into the seat. “When threatening to fine you didn’t work, I was left no other choice but to get creative, Leandra, but I’m quite grateful in hindsight. This is a win-win for me.”
“Ah, the working mind of a politician,” Roehn sighed.
“Careful, or I might just have to devise a way to keep the insults from leaving that sharp tongue of yours, as well,” he chuckled.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Dragon,” she smirked, but that only broadened his grin.
Too much confidence in that one, and she was much too clever to find it so damn appealing–or so she continued to remind herself. When the car turned down a narrow alley, Roehn peered through the windows a little nervously.
“Where are we?” She asked.
“You’ll see,” he replied, gesturing for her to climb out first when the driver opened the door from her side.
His evasion didn’t help her to relax, as she looked around the alley. It wasn’t dirty, so much as…barren. With a set of keys in hand, Arcylaen unlocked the door they’d parked in front of and Roehn held her breath, unsure of what to expect when he guided her across the threshold. The interior was gutted for the most part, exposed framing and cement flooring where carpet had once lain, judging by the glue stains.
Only years of experience kept her from jumping, when his hand settled on her lower back, but she was edging toward panic. Why would he bring her to an abandoned back room in an alley? Her mind could only think of bad scenarios. He’d somehow discovered her and this was going to be interrogation; that was the most prominent one.
“This building was confiscated during the war to rid Lonnex of the Black Dogs,” he explained, oblivious to her turmoil. “Where we’re standing now had been one of the handful of illegal casinos they ran in each city. Some of their dirtiest deals went down here.”
Roehn’s lips parted on a silent gasp and she turned, looking around the entire space anew, imagining it the way it had been. Card tables, craps and perhaps one roulette, but the space was too small for anything more. Undoubtedly, a wall of screens to watch illegal races while bookies ran the numbers. The bar was still there, though without its polished top or finished facade. The lighting was recycled metal discs with pull chains, definitely not the elaborate fixtures that had been there during the building’s heyday.
Everything she’d learned about her family meant none of this surprised her. They’d been highly organized criminals with a shady network of skilled thugs doing all their seediest work while they’d lived off the immeasurable profits.
“Why are you showing me this?” Roehn asked, her stomach a little jittery still.
“Come, I want you to see the rest first,” he evaded again, guiding her deeper into the building and just past where the bar had stood against the back wall.
A solid metal door was the only relief in the exposed brick. When he opened it, however, there was only more brick. She watched as he pushed the wall inward to reveal a bolted handle, which he used to slide the false wall to the left. Off-tune whistling and delicious aromas immediately greeted them, and Roehn found herself stepping into the kitchen of a restaurant. It was quite sparse.
“Wow,” she shook her head.
“Like stepping through a portal, isn’t it?” Arcylaen smiled.
She nodded, drinking in the fluorescent lit space of dingy white and stainless steel. There was only one other person there and he was another Dragon, expertly manning the food cooking on an industrial range. Though he had medium brown hair, Roehn could tell he was from House Draea. He seemed to share similar features with both Arcylaen and Brejeir.
“Leandra, this is my youngest brother, Daelyn,” Arcylaen introduced.
“Lord Draea,” she nodded, since he was too busy moving the skillet over the flames to shake hands.
“Chef,” the man winked over his shoulder. “There are plenty of Lords in the family, already.”
Roehn smiled smugly at Arcylaen. “See? I’m not the only one who thinks you’re deserving of that title.”
He grinned slowly, his gaze dropping to her mouth intently and she backed up a step, lifting her hand to stop him.
“Eh, I never said it!” She pointed out quickly.
“Finding loopholes, already, Leandra?” He chuckled with reluctant amusement. “How very feline of you.”
Roehn sniffed regally. “I’m going to take that as a clever and endearing observation, your highness.”
Daelyn barked out a hearty laugh, giving his older brother a pained look. “Give it up, Cyl, she’s got you beat,” he advised. “Now, out of my kitchen. I’ll bring the food when it’s ready, you two are distracting.”
Roehn was grinning as Arcylaen led her from the room, but it fell away the moment she stepped through the swinging door and into an empty restaurant. The entire space was in the same disrepair as the kitchen, stripped to the basics and in desperate need of upgrades.
“What’s going on?” She demanded.
“Oh, this place is officially closed for business,” Arcylaen answered. “They all are.”
Startled, Roehn blinked at him.
“What do mean, all?” She questioned, looking toward the windows that appeared boarded up from the outside.
Arcylaen held his hand out and waited for her to be brave enough to take it. “Prepare yourself, my little Conservationist,” he said quietly. “This may be hard for you to see.”
© A.C. Melody
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