Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 24

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Intervention

Arcylaen’s eyes scanned over the data from the Turvo House robbery, greedy for a single shred of evidence. “Nothing?” he asked. “Nothing at all?”

“Notta,” Brejeir confirmed. “It’s just like the other robberies. No trace left behind.”

“This is really starting to piss me off!” Cylaen raged, tossing the official report onto his desk.

“Well, there is one silver lining,” Brej pointed out. “At least now you know for a fact that Leandra didn’t do it.”

“Yeah,” he ran a hand through his hair. “Maybe. Maybe she’s never been involved, or maybe she’s just never been the one to get her hands dirty.”

Brejeir gave him a look of utter disbelief. “I’m about two seconds away from popping you right in the fucking jaw.”

“I can’t shake it, brother,” Cylaen admitted, as much as it gutted him. “No matter how much I want to, I mean really fucking want to, I can’t shake all the connections. My instincts are screaming that there’s something there. What have we learned about the fence?”

Brejeir sighed, his expression displeased, but he answered anyway. “Hanyx Asher. Daelyn said the team is closing in on him, it’s just a matter of hours or days now. Once Talex copped to it being family, it didn’t take much to track down which one. The authorities have his picture and all routes out of the country are covered, he won’t be able to escape Meive.”

“Good. I want him taken to the Unbinding Chamber as soon as he’s extradited back here to Skaulling,” Arcylaen nodded. “I’m done playing games with these thieves. I want answers now.”

Brej grunted in agreement, cracking his knuckles. Then he took to studying Arcylaen in a way he didn’t appreciate too much. “Okay, and just hypothetically, if you’re right–which, I don’t think you are–and Leandra is somehow involved, then what?”

“Then she goes to Holdax Five just like the rest of the thieves,” he answered, pain lancing through his chest at the mere thought of it. He leaned back against the desk and drummed his fingers on the edge. “You know, I’ve been thinking about the real estate purchase. Her brother, Mantao, has been very absent. It’s just odd. Have Daelyn’s team see if they can track him down while they’re in Meive. I’d like to talk to Mr. Leontle, myself.”

“You’re the boss,” Brej sighed.

Arcylaen’s mouth pulled into a grim line. “Yeah, for now.”

When his brother lingered, Cylaen couldn’t ignore him, but gave him an imploring look to just let the subject rest. Of course, Brej didn’t.

“Cyl, this shit is tearing you up inside. It’s written all over your face,” he commented.

“Then get me the answers that will clear her name, brother,” Arcylaen pleaded. “Help me trust her, so we can end this bullshit Warden bond, appease the twelve other Dragon Houses and put the real thieves on a prison colony where they belong. I don’t know what else to do!”

“Okay,” Brejeir nodded, motivated. “No, that’s a good plan. That’s exactly what we’ll do. Hell, I’ll go to Meive, myself, if I have to.”

“Let’s not get hasty. You’re needed here. Daelyn’s team is already burrowed in the jungles, let them do their jobs,” he said. “And we might have another problem.”

“Dear Divine, now what?”

“You know how I could feel Leandra everywhere for a moment last night? I think…what if it was Lord Gwyn trying to take her while she slept?”

Brejeir’s mouth popped open and his brows furrowed deep. “What?”

“Ravens are ancient metaphysicians, practiced in the working powers of mind and spirit, something that’s quite vulnerable in sleep. Do you think it’s possible he was trying to get to her, because he lost his request for the Warden Rite?”

His brother opened his mouth to respond, but there as a commotion right outside the office door. In a fraction of a heartbeat, Brej was in front of Arcylaen, shielding him from whatever was coming, as the door swung open to a harassed, red-faced Amrya.

“Lords Draea, I tried to stop her–”

“Excuse you, young lady! I am family, there is no stopping me and you’d be wise to learn a thing or two about the House hierarchies before you wind up insulting the wrong Dragon!”

The all-too familiar voice was an assault all its own, as the tall, elegant woman in a tailored traveling suit, hat and fur wrap came into view. Her golden hair was swept up into a fine twist, her jewelry tasteful but expensive. She stormed right past Amrya, glaring her down the whole while, then paused just inside the office and leveled Arcylaen and Brejeir with the same burning, burnished stare. She tapped her clutch against her thigh with impatience, waiting a whole beat for Amrya to take the hint, before cramming it down their poor secretary’s throat.

“You can go now,” Lady Aviya Romaea barked. “I need to knock my beloved nephews’ heads together until their brains dislodge from whatever sanity-sucking wormhole they’ve managed to stuff them into!”

****

Roehn didn’t know what to think of the limousine waiting at the base of the steps when she and Rynd walked out of the museum at the end of the day.

“Uh…where’s Ilydan?” she asked.

“Don’t move, I’ll check,” Rynd replied, pulling his phone out to make the call.

While he did, the driver exited the car and came around their side to open the back door. “Miss Leontle?” he inquired. “Lady Romaea requests your company.”

“She’s not going anywhere, until I speak with Lord Draea,” Rynd stated, grabbing Roehn’s arm to keep her from moving.

A broad brimmed hat ducked into view from within the back of the limo, revealing a beautiful, refined face with the golden eyes only granted to the Draea bloodline.

“I assure you my nephew knows I’m here,” the Lady called out pleasantly. “You’re more than welcome to ride up front with Gaelon, Hawk.”

Rynd ignored her, but not on purpose. His call had finally been answered. “My Lord–” he spoke into the phone. “Yes. I see. Yes, I will.”

He tucked his phone away and nodded at Roehn, escorting her to the car, himself and leaving her no choice but to climb into the back with the wife of the Head of Romaea House, and, she assumed, the sister of Lord Malcaen Draea.

Once inside the limo, Roehn could see that she had nearly platinum hair and that her Echelonite was remarkably similar to Arcylaen’s eyes; both gold and crimson. Had it always been that way, or only once she married, combining to two House colors?

“I hope you don’t mind, dear. I very much wanted to spend a little one-on-one time with you without my eldest nephew’s interference,” the Lady smiled. “Men do love to speak for their women in some unguided sense of chivalry or importance, as if it’s their duty to protect our reputations or their own, but I want to talk to you, not Arcylaen, do you understand?”

“Yes, Lady Romaea,” Roehn accepted.

Every ounce of her was on guard, because she had no idea what the Lady’s opinion was on her presence, the Warden Rites or anything. It was obvious the woman wasn’t shy about being straightforward, but neither was Eleqwyn, so that didn’t help her defenses relax a single bit. Plus, she had a personal investment; Arcylaen was her nephew so her thoughts were bound to be less pleasantry and more direct, if not severe.

“Good. Perhaps, we should start by getting the obvious topics out of the way, set the foundation, as it were, so we can build from there,” the Lady suggested. “I’m sure you’re aware that you’re now a great matter of mystery and speculation. Word travels fast through the cities of Skaulling. So, Miss Leontle, why are you here?”

“My work brought me here,” Roehn answered. “I’m an Exhibit Coordinator and Conservationist for the Museum of Cauldexian Antiquities. Why Skaulling? Because, I believe history should be preserved, which is no longer practiced in Meive by the populace. Preservation is also why I bought the House of Cayen, since that’s the number one question on everyone’s mind and yes, I do realize that no one in this country understands why I would want to preserve anything belonging to the Black Dogs, but as I informed Arcylaen when he also cornered me with the same interrogation, not only was I absent during those unfortunate years, but fully believe that history is more likely to repeat itself if we allow all of the bad parts to get swept under the rug and forgotten. Does that cover your foundation, Lady Romaea?”

“Not quite, dear,” she smiled, her eyes glinting with amusement, which surprised Roehn. “How do you know Lords Haraj and Gwyn?”

“I don’t know Lord Gwyn at all,” she answered. “And I met Lord Haraj at the Gala for the unveiling of the Black Dogs exhibit. He was…charming.”

The Lady was too dignified to snort, but her expression said it all. “Miss Leontle, Griffins are charming by nature, Lord Haraj is a pompous peacock.”

Roehn couldn’t help but grin over that. She studied the older woman and felt a tinge of shame. “I apologize for being so defensive,” she said. “It seems I’ve had so little time to be anything else since I arrived.”

“That’s why I wanted this time with you alone, dear,” the Lady winked. “To see where your current footing is in all this mess. We’ll work on your delivery, because trust me, I’m far from being the last person you’ll have to answer those same questions for. However, it is imperative that you do the answering, not my nephew.”

Roehn nodded in agreement, then shook her head in confusion. “You’re not even angry with me.”

“Why would I be?”

“For getting Arcylaen into this mess.”

The Lady laughed wholeheartedly. “Darling, if there’s one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that Draea men will find their own messes to get into, with or without our help. Arcylaen, especially. He reminds me so much of my brother, always charging headfirst into battle, as if his view on what’s right will be enough to shield him from his enemies.”

“But, it’s not,” Roehn whispered.

Lady Romaea shook her head. “No, it’s not. And unfortunately, this battle has been a long time coming. You have simply given the opportunists the excuse they needed to see it begun. That’s why it’s so important for you to understand just how precarious and vital your position is now. You’re either the key to Arcylaen’s success or the weapon to his downfall. How you proceed from here will determine which one you’ll claim in the end.”

“I don’t want that,” she said. “I already told him I would rather return to Meive than be the reason for him losing everything he’s worked so hard for.”

“Even though your Echelonite has already chosen him for its mate?”

“Yes,” Roehn confirmed, holding the woman’s gaze. “But he won’t let me go.”

Lady Romaea was quiet for a moment, before she sighed. “No, darling, I’m afraid he never will. Giving up something that matters, something they want, that’s not in a Dragon’s nature.”

“Treasure hoarding syndrome?”

“Precisely,” the Lady smiled. “Besides, that opportunity has already passed. If you were to leave now, it would only confirm the wrong kind of speculations and disappoint the right ones. Whether it’s justified or not, your guilt or innocence is no longer based on facts alone, but public opinion and that is a very fickle thing.”

Roehn tried not to grind her teeth, because she knew that was true despite how wrong it was. “My Lady, aren’t you afraid of what might happen if Arcylaen’s Echelonite chooses me in return?”

The Dragon studied her for a moment, her expression thoughtful as she tapped a finger to her chin. “That’s a very good question,” she replied. “The truth, which has been conveniently forgotten, is that left to their own devices, the Echelonites very rarely choose mates outside of their own species. The tradition of uniting Houses founded centuries ago, was never meant to ensure that, but to combat undesired inbreeding within each House. Of course, that gave rise to a system of arranged marriages, rather than love. Not to say that you can’t find happiness or even love in an arranged marriage, but it can never compare to finding the one the Divine has chosen for you.

“So, to answer your question directly, Miss Leontle; no,” she concluded. “I’m not afraid, because I would much rather see my nephew happy and in love, than forced to be with someone he may never find those things with. Maybe, it’s easier for me to say as such now that they’re grown, because I know him so well and Eleqwyn Turvo well enough to know that neither love nor happiness would never be found between those two. The Divine creates mates for a reason, and I think it’s high time we stopped trying to interfere with that.”

Roehn mulled that over for a moment, thinking about Rynd’s warning regarding the Turvos’ stance. “Would you have given up your position as the wife of a Head of House, if you’d had the choice between the arrangement and your true mate?”

“Before, yes,” she answered without hesitation. “Now, well…I hope I never meet my mate, to be honest. I love my husband dearly, because he’s a damn good man and a doting father to my children. I regret nothing.”

Roehn could appreciate that view, but it didn’t ease her concerns. Perhaps, because she worried if Shursja’s vote truly counted at all in the grand scheme of the Divine, even though her feelings for Arcylaen seemed to be growing deeper by the minute.

“I don’t want Arcylaen to give up his position,” she stated, her chest squeezing with the mere thought of it. “I can’t imagine anyone better suited for it. There are so many good things he wants to do for this country, that he’s already doing. I don’t understand why he hasn’t just grasped the reins, already. Why he’s left himself in this vulnerable state of being unofficial.”

“Oh, sweetie, that’s easy,” Lady Romaea sighed. “He’s afraid the power will corrupt him, like it did the Black Dogs. Not just him, but all of the Dragons. He doesn’t want this world to trade one reign of terror for another.”

“But the Dragons have always reigned in one capacity or another, and are still currently running the cities of Skaulling in all the ways that count. The Black Dogs were never voted into office,” Roehn argued, then shook her head with frustration. “I’m sorry, I just…I’m very worried for him. This is all happening so fast and the meeting is only seven days away.”

“That’s why I’m here,” the Dragon smiled. “Over the next week, we will turn this mess into the biggest, grandest political campaign this country has ever seen, or my name is not Aviya Draea Romaea.”

©A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! Please check out The Wicked Web link above for previous episodes, if you’re just tuning in. You can also follow my blog via e-mail to ensure you never miss any free content. Until next time…

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 23

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Surprises

The smell of food hit Roehn’s nose the second Arcylaen opened the back alley door to the restaurant. Her mouth watered and her stomach growled, even as her curiosity piqued. If he hadn’t roped Daelyn into cooking for them again, then why did it smell so delicious in the gutted space? Her answer awaited atop a table set for two situated in front of the bar and a pang of guilt struck her for dragging her feet out of the museum…yet again.

“You planned this?” she asked, though it was quite obvious he had.

Rather than answer, he pulled her into his arms and feasted on her mouth with a kiss that rendered the food irrelevant. The Dragon was hungry for something else entirely, and Roehn’s desire rose to greet his.

“Mmm, I’ve been looking forward to doing that for hours,” he moaned, tasting her lips with softer nips, before stepping back.

Roehn tried not to sulk, her mouth still tingling for more, when he led her to the table and pulled a chair out for her. She eyed the tall easel draped with a cover standing on the other side of his chair, aimed perfectly for her seated view.

“Is that my surprise?” she asked.

“No.” He rubbed his hands together and gave her that hesitant look of hope again. “It’s more like a presentation.”

He removed the material and stepped back so she could see. Roehn gasped with a big smile, delighted. It was a large colorful print of what the restaurant would look like once it was completely remodeled. Only, it didn’t appear to be just a restaurant anymore. There turned out to be a whole stack of prints and as Arcylaen showed her each one, she marveled at the differences between the building they currently sat in, and his vision for its future.

The false wall would be removed, combining the two spaces into one giant venue. Half of where the dining area was now would be a nice lobby, complete with a coat check station and ticket counter, refurbished and expanded restrooms. The kitchen would get moved and somewhat expanded into the other half with upgraded appliances, hidden by a longer, sleeker and modernized bar that faced the new dining area surrounding a giant stage, which filled the entire back end of the secret room. The alleyway door would enter behind it, into those areas the audience would never get to see.

“A theater?” she asked.

He shook his head, his gaze intense, and Roehn had a feeling she was about to get her surprise. “A comedy club.”

“Really?” she beamed, the idea automatically clicking with her. “Arcylaen, that’s even better than I imagined!”

She watched relief and enthusiasm replace the hesitant hope in his eyes. “Out of all the ideas we tossed around, this was the one that grabbed me with certainty,” he told her. “This neighborhood needs laughter. A lot of laughter. And, look–”

He flipped through a couple more cards and pointed to one that showed the outside. “We can sacrifice this corner building that used to be a hardware store and put in a parking garage. The next idea is what I have in mind for the apartments across the street,” he continued. “I want to keep their historic façades intact, but open them up inside to turn them into a hotel.”

“Wait, you bought the apartments, too?” Roehn sputtered.

“No, sorry. I’m jumping ahead,” he chuckled and put all the prints back in place, before joining her at the table. His eyes were all but shimmering with his excitement when he continued. “I’m working on devising a charity based foundation called the Home Again Project, where anyone who feels the same way we do, can volunteer their time, materials or donate money toward rebuilding these neighborhoods in our cities that need to be reclaimed from the terror and haunted memories.”

Roehn’s smile, which hadn’t fully left yet, spread again. “That can belong to the people again,” she said, the idea overwhelming her with unexpected emotion. “That can be their home again.”

“Exactly,” he reciprocated. “We’ll break each area down into multiple projects and people can choose which one they’d like to help, or they can donate to more than one. There will also be an option for people to purchase the projects after they’re completed, as long as the original purpose isn’t altered. So, say after we get the hotel up and running, someone can buy it, as long as they keep it a hotel. They can change the name and décor all they like, but they can’t turn it into a department store.”

“Can you have that kind of stipulation in place, legally?” Roehn asked.

“Yes, through the zoning permits, the business types can be fairly well set in stone,” he nodded. “And that would protect the overall positive atmosphere we hope to accomplish with the refurbishments. No city is ever going to be without its bad parts, but these places have seen too much bad. The only way we’re ever going to draw in the kind of revenue needed to change that, is if people want to come back to them.”

“Do you think they will?” she asked, worried that his plans, no matter how amazing they were, might be doomed to fail before they even began.

“Yes, I really do,” he answered. “I think there are enough people out there that feel it would be the best kind of justice, reclaiming these places that were taken away from them, and that’s a strong motivator.”

“Especially with you as the spokesman for the foundation, because let’s face it, you could motivate a boulder to roll up hill,” Roehn pointed out.

Arcylaen laughed with a shake of his head, but his gaze held hers. “That’s all your doing, Leandra. You’re the one who inspired me.”

Though she blushed, Roehn crinkled her nose. “I think you give me too much credit.”

“Let’s not argue, it’s time for your surprise,” he said, before she could do just that.

“I thought the comedy club was my surprise,” she replied, wondering what in the world could be better.

“Kind of, but this was what I really wanted to surprise you with,” Arcylaen smiled, lifting the domes off their plates at last. “A Meivenese specialty which I cannot even begin to pronounce.”

Roehn’s mouth opened on a surprised exhale at the sight of the familiar spiced and caramelized vegetables and broiled, almost raw meat drizzled with a tangy fruit sauce filling her plate. Like an idiot, her eyes misted over. You’d think he’d have given her flowers or jewelry from the way a sweet, almost achy feeling spread through her chest.

Lereauxa,” she laughed, dumbfounded. “This is one of my favorite dishes. How did you know?”

He shrugged. “I just picked the most popular one I could get my hands on with short notice,” he chuckled.

“Thank you.” Roehn smiled, not knowing what else to say.

It seemed to be the right thing, since he reached across the table and linked his fingers with hers. They both dug into their meals, while he continued filling her in on all of the ideas that he and the other Draeas had been tossing around since before they’d even purchased the restaurant. Roehn wondered how he could be so blind to his own importance. How he was unable to see how perfect he was for the Dragon’s Head position and how much more good he’d be able to do if he’d just made that official already.

Now, they had to fight for it, and the uncertainty of their odds was an uncomfortable feeling. She didn’t want to ruin their very pleasant lunch, though, so let those thoughts stew for the time being. Tonight, when they weren’t so pressed for time, he’d be fair game.

After the conversation about the projects wrapped up, Arcylaen’s gaze turned a little smoky and he popped another caramelized pepper into his mouth. “Have you given any thought to what I said this morning?”

She almost scoffed. How could she not think about it? He wanted her in his bed. Wanted her to give up the last shred of privacy she had in their unfortunate bond, yet Roehn couldn’t deny how much she wanted it, too. Not to lose anything else, but to gain all the pleasures it would open up between them. Sex, yes, for the heavens, they were already on their way to that and fast, but there were other pleasures to be found while sharing a bed with someone. Comfort, companionship, all the little things outside of sex that Roehn had never experienced with anyone so had no idea how they would really feel, yet longed for them all the same. With him. That was the kicker. It had taken a Dragon to make her yearn for things no other man ever had.

“You said a lot of things this morning,” she pointed out with a playful smirk, because she was still unsure of what the night might bring.

Confidence seemed to radiate from him when he flashed a wicked smile, but he was merciful and changed the subject again. Let her off easy with a smoldering reminder. Roehn suspected he might be leery of pushing her too fast too soon, even though she’d been all but begging for it when he’d made that confession in her bed. When she’d been cursing the poor timing of his gentlemanly ways.

Ugh, sometimes trying to figure him out was like trying to dance when she didn’t know any of the steps!

After they cleaned up their lunch mess, Arcylaen gathered all the prints into a kind of portfolio case. Roehn felt the resurgence of her previous awe from when he’d unveiled the prints to her and explained about the Home Again Project. So, when he helped her back into her suit jacket, she followed her instinct and turned into him. Wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him simply because it felt right and she wanted to. Caught off guard, he was slow to return her embrace.

“I feel like I just won a prize or something,” he teased, sounding confused.

“Keep doing what you’re doing and maybe you will,” she smiled with unbidden innuendo. “And as much as you hate the entire subject, Arcylaen, I just want you to know that this, right here, is proof that you’re already the best candidate to lead Skaulling into a better future. You can try to credit me for inspiring you, but these ideas and you acting on them, that’s all you. Arcylaen Draea, not any other Head Dragon of any other Dragon House.”

She tapped her fingers on the portfolio case and gave him a quick kiss, before heading for the door, needing to get away, before she made a complete mushy fool of herself. Roehn was uncomfortable with her feelings and he could’ve been a total Dragon about it, like he’d been at the Gala, but he laced his fingers with hers and didn’t say a word. The ride back to the museum was spent in comfortable silence, if you didn’t count the contented purring from Shursja–which seemed to be a regular part of the ambiance now–and the equally contented smile on Arcylaen’s face, because Roehn was bothered. And he liked her bothered.

And she almost adored that he liked her bothered.

His sigh was almost inaudible, when Ilydan pulled up to the curb and the first thing they saw was the Hawk standing by, waiting.

“Give…” He swore under his breath and released a growl. “Kiss me?”

Roehn couldn’t stop from chuckling, even though she gave him a sympathetic look and leaned in to press her lips to his. His hand cupped the back of her neck and held her there, taking the kiss much deeper than she’d planned. Yet, it wasn’t jealousy she felt emanating from him, it was something else. When he rested his forehead to hers and brushed a thumb over her cheek, she had a strange feeling it had to do with her little speech at the end of their lunch.

To her surprise, he climbed out of the car behind her, but before she could ask why, he motioned for Rynd to join him a few feet away. Pleased, Roehn gave Arcylaen a bright smile over her shoulder, then jogged up the stairs and rushed to the staff room to clock back in.

Ten minutes later, Rynd found her back in the archive room, and without a word, leaned in and placed a kiss on her cheek.

“What was that for?” she blinked in surprise.

“You know what it was for,” he smirked, as he continued past her. “And I trust you won’t tell him about it, because I don’t think you want a different bodyguard. I think you like me, puss puss.”

Roehn snorted out a laugh. “I was going to say you’re welcome, but I’ve changed my mind now.”

With a chuckle, he disappeared to his corner to let her work, but neither of them seemed to find the silence troubling or brood-worthy this time around.

©A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! Please check out The Wicked Web link above for previous episodes, if you’re just tuning in. You can also follow my blog via e-mail to ensure you never miss any free content. Until next time…

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 22

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Time-Share

Roehn flipped through the stack of index cards in her hand, matching call numbers to drawers and filing them. It was one of the more tedious aspects of her job, but the quiet solitude gave her time to think. Usually. Today, it was impossible, because for all the silence, she wasn’t alone. She slid the drawer shut and sighed at the brooding presence standing in the corner.

“You’ve been awfully quiet today, Rynd.”

Their eyes met and held. He nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“You know, you’re not exactly giving me a confidence boost with the silent treatment,” she pushed.

The Hawk smirked, overhead lights refracting in his rust colored eyes, as he stepped toward her. “You got a guilty conscience, puss puss?”

“There, that’s better.” She smiled, her shoulders relaxing. “So what’s on your mind?”

“Just this whole meeting business,” he frowned. “I don’t understand how everything Arcylaen has done for this country can be forgotten so easily. It’s insulting that one little incident can erase years of heroic deeds.”

Roehn studied his rugged, handsome face that always appeared to have a five o’clock shadow. There was a small scar near his right cheek and another running down the side of his neck to disappear under the collar of his shirt. He looked born to be a solider, and had no doubt seen his share of war. Had one of her own family members rendered those wounds? Even if it had only been one of their allies, she felt distantly guilty and remorseful.

“You really admire him, don’t you?” she observed.

“He was the only one who ever truly believed we could save our country,” he nodded. “Who not only motivated the war to remove the Black Dogs, but stayed on the front lines the whole time. He kicks his feet about it, but he’s a natural leader. A true leader, you know? Not one who sees his position as power over others or entitled privilege, but as an opportunity to make things better. Their father was the same way.”

“Lord Malcaen Draea?”

Roehn knew Arcylaen’s parents were passed, but she’d never looked into how it had happened. She was afraid of the answer, now more than ever.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “He had the same outlook on pageantry, too, but Lady Nyris loved it. She…well, you kind of remind me of her. Very classy, but could cut a man down to size with one witty comeback.”

Roehn grinned. “A woman has to have her weapons.”

“Oh, you’ve got plenty, I’m sure,” Rynd chuckled. “And though I admired Lady Nyris greatly, the female Dragons will always hold certain ideas sacred. Those that reflect the same views as Lady Turvo. They’re very closed-minded about certain things.”

“Is that a warning?”

He shrugged. “Just a heads up. I’ve no doubt that Brejeir is right; you could charm the pants off any old Head of House, but if you can’t win their wives over, then it’s a useless strategy. They’re the ones who really run things behind the scenes. They know exactly what to say and what buttons to push to get their men to do what they want.”

“I’m suddenly ashamed of my own gender,” Roehn grimaced.

“Don’t be, they’re clever and resourceful,” he grinned. “That can be dangerous for your current position, though.”

“How do you mean?”

He studied her again, as if deciding whether or not to continue. Lucky for him, he chose wisely, otherwise Roehn would’ve become the biggest thorn in his side until he spilled the beans. Sometimes, it was delightfully effective being that obvious.

He released a sigh and lowered his voice a little more. “The truth is, Lady Turvo may be blunt with her words, but that doesn’t mean she won’t fall back on manipulation when the words fail to get her what she wants, and she is her father’s favorite,” he elaborated. “The Turvo’s are second in line to the Dragon’s Head position, but they had all girls this generation and much like the archaic rites, the laws stating the position can only be held by a male Dragon heir has never changed.”

“It’s both frightening and sad how grateful I am for that,” Roehn admitted with pure female reluctance.

“Yeah, I think it’s safe to say we all are,” Rynd agreed. “But, the tradition of uniting the two Houses by marriage, which has long been deemed the remedy for that gender bias, has now been threatened by your Echelonite’s choice. The presumed promise that the Turvo’s would get their time sharing the power allotted the Dragon’s Head with Eleqwyn and Arcylaen’s betrothal is no longer a sure thing. That gives House Turvo zero reason to vote in favor of Arcylaen remaining their leader. And if Lord Turvo takes Cylaen’s place, I guarantee you, it will be Eleqwyn, her mother and her sisters running the country behind the scenes.”

“That sounds like a very bleak future for Skaulling,” Roehn managed, horrified.

“It’s been worse, but yeah,” he said. “It won’t be what the Lords Draea and all their allies fought so long and hard for, that’s for damn sure.”

Roehn let that work around her mind for a moment, understanding that they could pretty much count on House Turvo voting against them, but that still left eleven other Houses.

“He has to be voted in by the Dragon Houses first, before the people get a say, doesn’t he?” Roehn had already deduced as much, but didn’t mind having a confirmation, which the Hawk gave her with a simple nod. “Why didn’t he just secure the position, officially, once the war was over?”

“Sorry, kit-cat, that’s something you’re going to have to ask him, yourself,” Rynd smirked. “All I have are my theories.”

“Which would be?”

“My theories,” he repeated. “You’ll have to come up with your own, or ask the man straight out.”

“How clever and resourceful of you,” she jabbed.

“Are you calling me a woman?” he balked with a surprised laugh.

Roehn just shrugged with a chuckle, as she turned out of the rows of filing cabinets and walked right into Arcylaen’s solid chest. His scent was right there to pervade all her senses, before she could even blink, adding a drugging haze to the fright.

“Damn it, we’ve talked about this,” she hissed, slapping a hand to her thundering heart.

“Sorry, am I interrupting?” he asked, his expression a little too dark and serious.

Crap, how much of the conversation had he overheard? A quick replay had her worry easing. They hadn’t been talking about anything more than what his entire household had just discussed at the breakfast table a few hours ago.

“Not unless you wanted to help sort index cards,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

Arcylaen studied her for a moment, the muscles ticking in the back of his jaw. He looked angry, which made her uneasy. Had something else happened? Another meeting dumped in his lap or worse? “I came to take you to lunch.”

Roehn glanced at her watch and sighed. “I didn’t even realize it was that late already.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” he remarked.

“What are you getting at?” she narrowed in, not appreciating his tone one bit.

Rynd stepped into the area at that moment and Arcylaen’s dark gaze flicked to his. “Alone.”

“You got it boss,” the Hawk nodded and stalked away.

Roehn’s mouth fell open, as she realized exactly what the Dragon’s problem was. When he looked to her again, his expression turned leery at the sight of her disapproving scowl.

“What?”

“Don’t you what me,” she snipped, though dropped her voice to a near whisper. “You think just because we shared a bed last night that I’m not even allowed to talk to Rynd anymore? The one man on the face of this planet who respects and admires you more than anyone else?”

His eyes widened with surprise, before his expression turned sheepish with shame.

Roehn shook her head in disbelief. “You’re an ass.”

She stalked past him, heading toward the staff break room, where he couldn’t follow. Then she remembered that he ran the whole freaking country which pretty much came with an all rights pass. Not that it mattered, when she didn’t even make it to the door, before he grabbed her arm and turned her around to face him.

“Leandra, wait. I’m sorry.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him an expectant look, waiting for a far better explanation than that.

“I don’t know why I reacted that way. Honest. I just heard you two laughing and it…” he bit off his own words and ground his teeth, seeming to struggle for the right way to explain himself.

“It what? Angered you? Made you jealous?” she pressed.

“It just struck me that he’s here, while I’m across the damn city,” he grit out. “Not only does he get to spend all this time with you that I miss out on, but if something were to happen, he’d be the first one there for you, instead of me.”

“And you’ve a whole building of people who get those same things with you, Arcylaen,” she pointed out, though she’d softened a little with his confession. “Look, I get it, okay? But, that doesn’t mean you get to take it out on Rynd. I was the one who started talking to him first.”

“Asking questions,” he stated, rather than asked.

Roehn narrowed her eyes. “You’re going to apologize to him,” she stated firmly, cutting off his attempt to turn the conversation around on her.

When he frowned, she turned into the break room to gather her things, but he was still sulking by the time she returned.

“Does it really bother you that much?” she asked.

“You already made me apologize to Brejeir this morning,” he complained.

Roehn laughed and shook her head. “The big bad Dragon’s Head, afraid of words. Maybe if you stopped being such an ass, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Now, where are you taking me for lunch?”

He smiled for the first time since arriving, his golden eyes glinting in the semi-darkness. “What is soon to be the best restaurant in the entire Heart City,” he replied.

Try as she may, Roehn couldn’t keep from smiling over that. “So, you roped your brother into playing Chef again?”

“First, my brother is a Chef, he wasn’t just playing at it,” he informed her, to which she smiled even brighter as that was a pleasant surprise. “Second, no. We’ll be dining alone.”

Roehn nibbled on the inside of her cheek for a moment. “You know, we probably should be eating out in public like Brej suggested,” she reminded him, even though the idea filled her stomach with anxiety.

The look he gave her was still edged with his previous foulness. “I understand that, but I want one more day of having you all to myself before I’m forced to share,” he grumbled. Before she could respond, he perked up and gave her a completely different look; one filled with hesitant hope and mischief. “Besides, there’s something I want to show you.”

“What?” she hesitated, loathing the idea of any more surprises.

So far, her number of bad surprises far outweighed the good. Even if the surprise of falling for a Dragon was slowly creeping toward better.

“It’s a surprise,” he winked.

Roehn groaned, which only seemed to brighten his mood. “Gentlemanly and gives surprises,” she griped. “You sure know how to treat a woman, your highness.”

Arcylaen laughed, the big, sexy sound echoing off the cavernous ceiling and marble walls of the museum’s lobby, causing heads to turn.

“Oh, kitten,” he sighed. “Only you would find fault in that.”

©A.C. Melody

 Thank you for reading! Please check out The Wicked Web link above for previous episodes, if you’re just tuning in. You can also follow my blog via e-mail to ensure you never miss any free content. Until next time…

Lyrical Fiction Friday ♥ Envy

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For writers who love music and are often inspired by their favorite songs, this is the perfect writing challenge hosted by Marquessa over at Simply Marquessa, which combines both our loves by using song lyrics as a writing prompt each week.

She already has a list of prompts to choose from, that you can find here. I was having trouble working with this week’s prompt, so I’ve decided to use last week’s instead (December 7th).

Lyrics: It makes no sense to be falling…you’ve got her, I’ve got him, should not even be calling…”

Due to some unexpected upheavals in my personal life, I’m running behind on my first attempt at this challenge, but hopefully even a day late, it still counts. This excerpt was partially written, then added onto for this post, from my upcoming novel Envy (Hell on Earth series). It doesn’t quite fit, but in the words of The Finder: “I’m gonna risk it.” 😛

~~

Something twisted up nice and tight in her chest, the aching need to dive into the ocean and swim through its currents was so painfully potent, she actually started crying. The acute joy of being there, of feeling the tide ebbing and flowing over her skin was beyond explanation. A lifelong yearning in the infancy of fulfillment.

“Why don’t you just go in?”

Startled, Ally leaped to her feet and turned away without even needing to see who it was. No one else she’d met tonight had a Greek accent, or the same melodic quality to their voice. She quickly wiped at her eyes and cheeks, as humiliation rushed up to crush her, twisting her insides the wrong way. Oh God, Finn was right, one of these days someone was going to lock her away for her madness.

“Are you stalking me, Mr. Pelagos?” she accused, her tone heated from embarrassment rather than anger.

“Yes, Allison, on my own private island, I’m stalking you,” he replied. There was a pause, before he spoke again. “Are you crying?”

Fuck. She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sky, forcing her irrational emotions to calm. He was the last man on earth she wanted as a witness to her craziness. The king of all things nautical confronted with the girl insatiably obsessed with the sea, who didn’t know how to swim. Besides, he was right. It was his damn island, so he could be wherever he wanted. She was the intruder there, not the other way around.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, turning back toward the water.

“Look at me.”

Ally faced him completely, her eyes drifting over his bare feet and up the casual beach pants to the shallow v-neck shirt that did nothing to hide the unbelievable cut of his long, sculpted muscles. He was built like a hunter or a swimmer, his body perfected for speed and lethal agility. The warm breeze played at the waves of his golden hair and her fingertips tingled with envy. He was simply too tempting for words. Especially, when her body echoed with the memory of being molded to his, held so tightly in his arms, even for such a brief moment. Her hero and savior… he was going to destroy everything.

Ally finally met his gaze and he didn’t appear happy. His brows were furrowed and his eyes, so azure they seemed to glow in the dark, were a slash of disappointment.

“Why do you do that?” he demanded.

“Do what?” she blinked, the beginning of their conversation already a blank.

“Apologize for being yourself. And if you’re not the one doing it, then your so-called fiance is apologizing for you, and at neither time have you done anything wrong.”

Stunned, Ally’s mouth popped open, but she wasn’t even sure what to say.

“Don’t you dare say you’re sorry,” he warned.

She snapped her mouth shut and lifted her chin. Deep down, she knew he was right, but he had no idea why it was that way, nor was it any of his business.

“Fine, Mr. Pelagos, I’m not sorry that you’re so judgmental for only knowing me all of two days, where we’ve spoken maybe a total of fifteen minutes.”

“Two days,” he practically scoffed. The darkness ebbed from his features and something a bit more frightening replaced it. A confident wisdom he wasn’t even trying to hide. “Why were you crying?”

“I don’t think I want to share that with you,” she replied, confused by his response and unsure if she was leery of him in general or just the things he made her feel.

“Allison,” he said, and if she wasn’t imagining things, it was both a warning and an enticement. “I’m not blind. You’re not in love with him, nor he with you. This world is rife with marriages of convenience. Every last person on this island is fucking somebody else, in love with someone else. They married for money and status, that is all.”

“Is there a point to your grim fairytale?” she asked, defensive out of fear. Fear that everything he’d just mentioned was her bleak future. Fear that it wasn’t. She was so screwed up.

“I know you overheard us talking earlier, he and I,” he said. “Is that why you’re upset?”

“Nothing about that conversation upset me, Mr. Pelagos,” she deadpanned. “Everything you managed to get out of Finn–for your own benefit, apparently–I’ve known for years. And I don’t care. It works to my advantage. Now, if that’s all, I think I’d like to get some sleep.”

He stepped right into her path, wrapping her in his arms. Just like the first time, the pull was overwhelming. Heat infused her every cell and the same, insane emotions she experienced with the ocean running over her skin attempted to consume her.

“Thirio,” he purred. “Say it just once and I’ll let you walk away from me…again.”

Ally’s lungs felt labored, the salty air between them charged with delirium. That’s what they were; lunacy incarnate. Nothing about it was sane or healthy, and she feared that giving him even that much–speaking his name–would be the very fracture destined to shatter her life.

Recognizing that possibility gave her the strength to shove free of his hold and stare him down with all the indignation she didn’t feel.

“Goodnight, Mr. Pelagos,” she stated firmly, immediately turning away.

“All I have to do is wait, little fish,” he called after her. “Very soon, you’re going to swim back to me.”

The irony of his words nearly caused her to laugh, even as it broke her heart. “Not in this lifetime,” she promised.

©A.C. Melody

 

All rights to the above video and song remain with the artist and their respective agents. No copyright infringement intended.

I really need to figure out how to make these things shorter… 😐

 

 

#WednesdayWIP Tease

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The town car that pulled up to the curb wasn’t at all surprising. There was no escaping the evidence of her escort’s affluence. He exuded it with the ease of someone who’d known nothing else. Born to money, prestige and class. The fact that he was a killer with cultivated tastes and endless resources only made his willingness to perform menial tasks far more intimidating.

Once settled in the car, where the drapes were pulled closed against the cityscape, he seemed a bit more contemplative than talkative. Jet wished she could see where they were going, but had an inkling that was the point. If this Tula person was as powerful and important as she’d been led to believe, it would only seem appropriate to keep visitors ignorant of her location.

“Tell me your story,” he prompted. “Not the facts. I already know those. Tula would not have extended an invitation without having all of your details first, right down to the brand of your favorite products.”

Jet’s mouth popped open, her eyes widening with the aftermath of violation. “She spied on me?”

“Hm, you are so sure of certain things,” he mused. “If you’ve any hope of finding the answers you seek, it would be wise to let those preconceived notions go and open your mind to all possibilities, even those you cannot conceive, without expectations.”

“How does that answer my question?” she asked, her mind racing to catch the hidden meanings of his words, if there were any.

“Tula has many enemies. To not do a thorough background check on someone before inviting them over for tea and biscuits would be excessively dimwitted, wouldn’t you say?”

“There’s a difference between thorough and invasive.”

“Not here,” he deadpanned. “There is a war waging under the ignorant façade of this empire. You’ve already heard the whispers. Noticed the differences, however slight. The citizens don’t like it when things interrupt their normal routines, so those small offenses don’t go unnoticed, even by a simple coffee house waitress just trying to make it through university and find out who she really is.”

“You know so much about me, then?” she fumed.

“Just the facts, as I said,” he reminded her. “I know nothing of your story.”

“And why should I give you that, when you can’t even give me your name?” she countered.

“Those who matter know precisely who I am,” he replied. “That is not always a good thing. Do you want to matter, Jet? Is that the sum of your ambition?”

Despite the lingering anger from having her life whittled down to nothing more than just data in some spy report, she knew it would be dangerous to answer sarcastically. Most likely, he’d have the car stopped and leave her standing on the side of the road. Jet couldn’t risk that, when she was finally making progress after all these years. Wouldn’t she be willing to sacrifice more than just her privacy to get the answers she needed?

“Everyone wants to matter,” she whispered. “I just want to find out why I didn’t.”

“Again, you are so sure,” he noted. “Things are rarely what they seem in the end.”

“I think you’re exactly as you seem,” she returned, being braver than she felt.

His mouth quirked up in one corner and his eyes slid to hers briefly. “No, little Witch, I am the worst thing you could ever imagine, and infinitely more.”

#WIP These Darkest Hours
©A.C. Melody

#WednesdayWIP Tease

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Gold spilled over the tables skirting the gleaming marble floor of the immaculate ballroom. Mirrors reflected each other like tangible echos on either side, giving the illusion of endless space, glimmering light and people. The very room was designed to be a criminal’s best friend and an operative’s worst nightmare. There were at least two skilled pickpockets working the crowd, but humans behaving badly were not Aviana’s concern.

Their gracious hostess, Madame Fervaunte, was the biggest con of them all, at any rate. With her help, the gala had been set up to lure a far more dangerous threat to the Parisian elite. A Succubus who’d been picking off the wealthiest and most entangled, which made the task of covering up the crimes a strain, even for the GSI.

Hence, Aviana and Stephan’s assignment. Her partner had been in France for months, living his backstory, carefully laying the delicate gossamer layers, until no one saw him for anyone other than Lord André Beauchene, a young aristocrat from Nice. Avi was playing his French-American girlfriend, Claire Dubois, on holiday from university. In reality, she’d been on another assignment in Moscow.

The plan was simple: confirm the target was on site, then spring a trap they couldn’t possibly resist. Easy, in theory. They just had to keep the night flowing in their favor. Seated across from their clever and witty hostess, both Avi and Stephan were attuned to everything happening around them. It helped that they were able to use their own supernatural senses to remain alert, rather than relying on their eyes. That’s how Aviana caught her first whiff of mud. A bitter, damp and almost decaying aroma that couldn’t be disguised with an entire vat of Chanel. She honed in on the smell, following it over the room’s occupants, then silently alerted Stephan to a beautiful brunette laughing and flirting with a minor viscount in the far corner of the dance floor. It was time. The faster they put their plan into motion, the faster they could stop the viscount’s naivety from becoming fatal.

“Madame,” Stephan politely interrupted their hostess, as he began rising from his chair.

The woman gasped and abruptly looked past him, her entire face lighting up with pleasant surprise. Aviana completely lost the Succubus’s scent, at that precise moment. Her senses taken hostage by the familiar, heady fragrances of morning dew on grass, fertile earth and windswept mountains. She nearly forgot herself and closed her eyes, as it overpowered everything else, flowing right into her like a jet stream. Purposeful. Driven. Demanding.

The room fell into a murmur of awe, people captured by whoever filled the entrance and Aviana didn’t even have to look to know. The only reason she did, was to not give herself away. Then her gaze was trapped by the reddish-brown irises of the one she thought she’d escaped. It was surreal to see him standing there, looking a thousand times deadlier in a damn skirt than he had in jeans and a t-shirt. His red, black and white tartan was complimented by the short, formal jacket of black with its big silver buttons. The decorative, fur lined sporran hanging from his hips boasted a large, snarling wolf head in more silver. It was arrogantly intimidating. A symbol of pride for his people that, like the living wolves beside him, the human guests couldn’t possibly see as anything other than eccentric, yet Avi found it ridiculously sexy.

“Caden McCuine MacSweyn,” the usher announced without a single waver, despite the giant wolf that brushed against his leg. “High Chief of Skye Clan Revan, Laird of Uig.”

No! Stunned, Avi didn’t dare share a glance with Stephan, but she had to wonder if he’d just connected the same dots. If that really was the Caden McCuine–Alpha of the UK packs–then their entire operation was in shambles. Because, if their target found viscounts tasty, she certainly wasn’t going to pass up on a king!

#WIP Untitled (The Úlfrinn series)
©A.C. Melody