Arcylaen closed the door and ran a hand through his hair roughly. His steps toward Roehn were measured. Aggravation and anger came off him in waves, as he wrenched at the tie knotted against his throat.
“I don’t want this,” he said aloud to the room, breaking the intense silence. Another moment passed, before he looked at her. “I don’t want to be your Warden, Leandra. This is not how I wanted our relationship to progress, please believe that.”
It wasn’t a question of belief; the slight to his male pride was quite apparent. Unfortunately, intent meant nothing in the aftermath of what was already done. They’d both been backed into a corner, there was no undoing it.
“Perhaps, you should get on that law changing bandwagon, then,” she suggested.
He frowned even deeper. “I’m not sure I’m even fit to be a leader anymore,” he said. “But I promise I’ll do my best to make this as painless as possible.”
Roehn opened her mouth to question his leader comment, but Arcylaen cupped her cheek and placed his thumb over her lips. “I know you won’t hesitate to let me know when I’m messing up,” he added.
She closed her mouth and narrowed her eyes. “Buttering me up isn’t going to stop my questions, Arcylaen,” she warned. “No matter how astute you are.”
His mouth quirked up in the corner, appreciation for her wit dancing through the storm clouds in his eyes. “I’m just angry right now, Leandra,” he replied, silently asking for her not to press the issue.
“What are we going to do?” she asked, relenting for the time being.
He brushed a few wayward locks from her temple, and contemplated the answer, then smiled a little. “We’re going to treat this like a business partnership,” he declared. “We already joined forces over the restaurant project, this is just an extension of that, because it can’t be apart of anything else. However our relationship develops, it will not be from this.”
Roehn decided she liked that idea a lot better than just ‘winging it’ or something as equally indecisive. Since leaving the space station, her entire life had revolved around prudent planning, so she was very uncomfortable in situations where nothing was outlined. The Warden Rites were already a huge risk to her life, she couldn’t abide by leaving everything else to chance.
“I can agree to that,” she nodded.
Relief crossed his features, but he turned brooding again. “To say thank you for choosing me feels like a horrible joke. Yet, that’s what I’m reduced to, because I can’t stop from feeling that gratitude,” he seethed quietly. “The thought of another man having complete control over you…”
Roehn covered his hand with her own and held it to her cheek. “I’m glad you offered,” she cut him off. “I hate it, but I’m also grateful and relieved. I suppose that makes us both horrible jokes.”
Arcylaen shook his head slightly. It was obvious he didn’t fully understand how she could be so calm and rational. In truth, she was anything but. She was mostly still in shock, and already knew once she was alone it was going to hit her. Hard.
His gaze dropped to her mouth, the desire to kiss her burning bright, until it consumed all else. He leaned toward her, and Roehn’s insides rapidly heated with more longing than she could’ve anticipated. Aryclaen abruptly stopped and his face darkened again, as he straightened. Roehn’s lips were tingling with anticipation, so when he tried to remove his hand from her cheek, she tightened her grip.
“You know, I did call you Lord Draea-” she goaded.
His fingers curled into her cheek and his mouth descended upon hers. The reminder was all the invitation he needed to take what he wanted, while unknowingly scratching Roehn’s needy itch. Silly Dragon, already thinks he’s the one in charge.
The kiss was dangerously passionate. Far more potent than she’d been expecting, backed by all the emotions he was still battling from their ordeal. By the time he was easing back, Roehn felt a little buzzed from the hot need swimming through her system. He nibbled at her lips, as if stopping was the last thing he really wanted to do, fueling an all-too familiar ache in her core.
“There you go wanting me to kiss you again, Leandra,” he moaned miserably. “Keep that up and I might actually start thinking you like me.”
“Don’t think, Arcylaen, just kiss me,” she tossed his earlier words back in his face.
He chuckled softly, but merely placed a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth. “I don’t think that’s a good idea right now,” he admitted. “I’m not exactly…settled.”
She blew out a sulking breath, knowing he was right. High-strung emotions could be just as judgment-impairing as alcohol. “Neither am I,” she confessed.
“I know,” he smirked. “I don’t need to be your Warden to see that much, Kitty Cat. Come on, we still have a few things to take care of before dinner and I suspect this won’t be one of our easiest nights.”
Because, I can’t go home.
Roehn was startled by that reminder. The full impact of her verbal agreement during the Rites sank in. She was going to Arcylaen’s house tonight. There would be no retreating to the sanctuary of her own space, losing her shit in the privacy of her own house. Her last moment of freedom had already passed, and she’d missed it! Regret and loss forged a tight knot in her chest, as he led her from the office.
His words rang truer still, when Ilydan pulled the car up in front of the House of Cayen twenty minutes later and Arcylaen made no move to get out.
“Rynd will help you gather your things,” he said hollowly, keeping his attention on his phone where it had been since they’d turned onto her street.
Resigned, Roehn climbed out and fished her keys from her purse, leaving the Hawk to follow. In the foyer, her heels clicked across the hardwood floors, echoing in the mostly empty interior. Boxes she’d yet to unpack stood in random stacks throughout the main rooms, but anyone could see the mansion held far too many for her to ever fill on her own. It was a fortress designed to impress outsiders, intimidate enemies and protect an entire brood of kin, not be the dwelling of a single woman.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Rynd remarked dryly, looking around at the sparseness. “Might I suggest a little fuel and a match? It would help.”
Roehn paused and leveled him with a stern look over her shoulder. “Careful, Hawk, I can always find another favorite,” she warned. “Give me five minutes–and don’t touch anything.”
Of course, he didn’t listen. Apparently ‘favorite’ translated to ‘don’t have to listen’ in his mind. With arms crossed over his chest, Rynd leaned against the doorjamb of the room Roehn had chosen for herself. It definitely wasn’t the master suite. It resided on the main floor, closest to the entrance, but it had its own bath. Truthfully, she just hadn’t worked up the nerve to explore any further yet.
“Why would you buy this place, Miss Leontle?” Rynd asked, while watching her collect clothes and fold them into suitcases.
The genuine puzzlement in his tone put her on the defense. “Because, I’m a Conservationist, Rynd,” she replied. “I can’t stand by and watch history fall into dust like it doesn’t matter, when something can be done to preserve it.”
“Some things should never be preserved,” he stated, a hint of darkness slipping through his controlled demeanor. “Some things should be demolished, until even its dust no longer exists.”
“I’m sure many Skaullings feel that way,” she sighed. “Even Arcylaen, but at least he’s open minded enough to see it from another point of view.”
Rynd reached up and scratched the back of his head, while she continued packing, but it was obvious he was struggling with things Roehn couldn’t even begin to guess at.
“Yeah, you might want to read up on the actual historical events you’re trying so hard to preserve, puss puss. I doubt you’d be able to sleep here at night, if you knew half the horrors that took place within these walls,” he remarked, as he gathered most of her luggage. With hands finally full, he paused long enough to look her right in the eye. “Why do you think he’s waiting in the car? He will never step foot in this house, because no amount of perspective has the power to change the truth.”
Roehn bit down on her tongue hard, as the Hawk pivoted on his heels and walked out. He had no idea how true that statement was, because not a single citizen on Cauldex knew what it was like to sleep on a tattered rice mat on the freezing metal floor of a space station with scarcely an inch of breathing room on either side! She doubted Rynd would be so worried about the haunted memories in the House of Cayen, if he’d spent nineteen years crammed in a sardine can without a single possession, ounce of self-worth, privacy or identity!
Arcylaen preached about living in the absence of hope, and perhaps he’d witnessed his people suffering from that for many years, but the Dragon had never actually lived it. Had never wondered where his next scrap of food was going to come from, or how many assaults he would have to fend off every single day. He’d never had to watch the only person he loved die from a common and curable illness, simply because there was no medicine and no way to procure it!
Roehn covered her face with her hands and forced herself to breathe, until she was able to rein it all back in. Bury it deep. She’d made the choice long ago, that she would not allow herself to fall into the poisonous well of bitterness. Vengeance was not her objective. Change was. Cauldex needed to open its eyes to the truth with a new perspective, and she planned on giving it to them one rescued outcast at a time.
Shit. Her hands fell away, as another critical problem dawned on her. If she didn’t steal anything while under Arcylaen’s Ward, then everyone would know she was the thief. Thus, the very Rites invoked to prove her innocence, would be the very thing forcing her to commit a crime. Dammit!
“Here kitty, kitty…” Rynd’s teasing voice echoed from the foyer.
Roehn’s eyes narrowed, as she grabbed the last of her things and left the room. Pausing in the entrance of the foyer, she called on more of her feline power, until it emanated from her like an assault. She knew her eyes were pure panther when they pinned him from across the room.
“I don’t know about you, Shursja, but fowl sounds absolutely ideal for dinner tonight.”
© A.C. Melody
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