Friends of Yours?
It hadn’t been a warning, alone. It had been a prophetic insight on how Roehn would feel once the regret started sinking in, and Arcylaen’s promise that it would change nothing.
Smug, arrogant, imposing Dragon!
All throughout the delicious lunch Daelyn had prepared for them, Arcylaen had given her little smirks while eating in smug silence and she had no one to blame, but herself. With one lousy lapse in sanity, she’d handed him the very key to her undoing. What part of “I think we should keep this professional” hadn’t she understood about her own speech?
Hours had passed, yet she could still taste him. Arcylaen’s flavor was permanently branded in every corner of her mouth, just as immovable as the man, himself. In the museum staff room, Roehn clocked out for the day and paused in the process of gathering her things, as the memory of that burning kiss filled her mind for the millionth time.
Dammit, she was smarter than that! She’d known from the beginning that getting involved with him could potentially derail her plans. And it would be one thing if she only had the Dragon to contend with, but Shursja had been purring all day, sending feelings of contentment through their bond. She felt uncomfortably outnumbered.
A sense of déjà vu struck Roehn, when she stepped outside and found the all black sedan waiting for her at the curb. Only, it wasn’t Arcylaen waiting for her this time, but his driver. He opened the back door for her, as she slowly descended the steps.
“Miss Leontle, my name is Ilydan,” he greeted. “Lord Draea has requested that I bring you to his office for a matter of utmost importance, and apologizes that he could not be here, himself.”
A peek into the backseat confirmed that it was indeed empty. Roehn eyed the Steed suspiciously. “Is everything okay?”
“I was given only my orders, Miss,” he replied. “Nothing more.”
Oh sure, that’s not ominous at all. Trepidation quickened her pulse, as Roehn climbed into the backseat. The door closed, resonating through her anxiety like the bars of a cell. Was she overreacting? There could be a hundred different reasons why Arcylaen was having her brought to his office. They’d never gone over his ideas for the restaurant at lunch, the topic momentarily forgotten in the wake of her stupidity and his gluttonous reaction to it. The Dragon could merely have presumptuous and imposing plans, assuming–albeit, correctly–that she had no life and would be free to keep him company for dinner or something.
Roehn forced herself to relax and watched the city pass by in a blur of lights just beginning to glow in the early evening. It wasn’t quite dusk yet, but the remaining daylight held that tint of slate-blue that normally accompanied rain. When Ilydan steered the car downtown, she forgot her worries for a moment and plastered her face to the glass in awe.
Spires pierced the skyline, modern towers battling for most uniquely designed and impossibly tall. Skyways arched over the busy avenues, while glass elevators soared up and down gilded, mirrored facades. A giant, octagonal tower crowned a bend in the road, rising into the clouds with gold filigree trim curving down over the sides like a giant claw from the pointed roof. More gilded metals framed the elevators working at various levels up and down the tinted glass. Due to the curve in the road, it held the largest entrance of all the other buildings, fifteen yards of decorative stonework holding park benches, long planters with flowering shrubs and a fountain people could actually walk through if they wanted.
Toward the top of the building, and on every facet, was the Draea Coat of Arms glowing in colorful display for all the city to see. Even without it, Roehn would’ve known that was where the car was going to stop.
With a steadying breath, she took the hand Ilydan offered when he opened her door and then swallowed to see a Hawk coming right toward her with a stringent stride.
“Miss Leontle?” He inquired. She nodded, unable to speak. He touched something at his ear and issued a command for Arcylaen to be notified of her arrival, before looking to her again.”Welcome to Draea Tower. Please follow me.”
Roehn fell into step just behind him, unsure if she should be panicking or plotting the early demise of a certain Dragon. Was there really a matter serious enough to necessitate such an official atmosphere, or was Arcylaen merely trying to impress her?
The glass doors slid open as they neared the grand entrance, and they stepped into the atrium style lobby. Toffee veined marble reflected the crystalline amber scones and chandeliers, subdued by hand carved walnut trim along the walls. Employees and clients rushed about, completing their end of day business, while strategically placed Bears surveyed their comings and goings. Brass staircases with scrolling balustrades zigzagged along the left and right walls, for those who didn’t want to wait for an elevator.
A large desk manned by six receptionists sat in the center of the floor, designed to mimic the shape of the building. The Hawk bypassed it, ignoring the flirtatious smiles he got from half the occupants, and approached the single elevator in the back wall. Unlike those being frequently emptied at the front of the lobby, he had to enter an access code to activate the doors, indicating it was a private lift.
The moment they stepped inside and the doors closed, Roehn pounced. She couldn’t take the stony silence any longer. “Are you allowed to talk? Can you tell me what this is all about, please? I feel like I’m being escorted to my own execution here.”
He looked over at her, but his expression remained passive. “All guests of Lord Draea’s are escorted, Miss Leontle,” he informed her. “It is for both of your protection.”
“That doesn’t answer the question,” she snipped mildly, her nerves fraying.
“It’s my job to make sure Lord Draea’s guests arrive safely to his office, just as it’s my job to protect him at whatever cost,” he elaborated. “It is not my job to know why you were summoned, unless my Lord decides to tell me.”
Roehn’s eyes narrowed slightly and she couldn’t help but smirk in slight amusement. “Clever Hawk. Give me just enough information to answer my question, without outright admitting or denying what Lord Draea told you,” she caught on.
The very slightest tick in the corner of his mouth was the only indication that he was either amused or surprised by her astute observation. “Well, you might want to escort me all of the way into his office, Hawk,” she added. “Because if I find out this was all for some stupid show of male pride, I am going to hurt your boss.”
More stifled amusement flickered in his fractured amber eyes and a the small twitch in his lips increased. “I don’t think the Dragon’s Head is afraid of a little pussy…Miss.”
Roehn’s mouth popped open in disbelief for a full second, before she burst into laughter. Her cheeks pinched and were undoubtedly flushed, but the laughter just kept rolling out. More than that, it brought a familiar element from her life aboard the space stations she hadn’t realized she missed, and she appreciated him for giving her that, no matter how unintentional. His stony facade failed and he grinned at her, shaking his head. Something kindred passing between them in that brief moment. When the elevator slowed to a stop at last, Roehn was finally able to reel it back in and exhale on a final chuckle.
“So far, you’re my favorite,” she commented, as the doors slid open.
The first thing to greet them were two giant Wolves guarding the columns flanking a short walkway into the receptionist area with their arms crossed over massive chests. Shursja’s tail flicked, the only outward appearance that she’d gone on alert. Wolves had been the Generals over royal armies in the past, because they were natural leaders and their pack-mentality kept soldiers motivated, loyal and focused. Nowadays, they made up most of the policing units and special tactical teams, but some did work in private security like the Bears.
“Friends of yours?” Roehn asked the Hawk quietly.
“No,” he answered, all humor gone now, as he took her elbow protectively.
He kept a steady eye on the Wolves, as they passed between them and beyond. Even though he gave a short nod to the single receptionist behind an impressive desk, he didn’t relax. Unlike the Mice in the lobby, she was another Dragon. Her pure white Echelonite, hair and eyes of crystalline blue put her in the House Bowen bloodline.
“Amrya,” the Hawk greeted her.
“He’s waiting,” she said in a tone that, along with the presence of the Wolves, had all of Roehn’s previous nerves rushing back to the surface.
Anxiety had all but clenched her throat shut, by the time her escort opened the next set of doors. Then the world seemed to stop spinning on its axis, altogether. She stared, unblinking, at Arcylaen standing in the center of the most elaborate, luxurious office space in the world…speaking to an older, female Eagle.
Roehn’s heart pounded deafeningly in her ears, muffling everything Arcylaen said while he crossed the bold red carpeting toward her and the Hawk. She felt dizzy, motes of black dancing around the edges of her vision. She was going to pass out. The Hawk replied to whatever Arcylaen had said, but it didn’t matter. Roehn had reached the end of her game. Somehow, they’d found her out and now her life was over.
Why else would a Council Elder be there?
© A.C. Melody
♥ Thank you for reading! You can check out all of the previous episodes under the Wicked Web link above, or keep reading with Episode 14