Sensual Sentient ♥ Episode 7

NortokShip

image source: I.F. 221C by Andree Wallin on Deviantart

Know Thy Enemy

The echo of Sida’s screams followed Blake and the others over the valley, as the Meylosian cruiser rushed them toward their fate.

“Commander?”

The familiar, muffled voice came from the other side of the black wall of Non-Terrestrial squished against Blake’s right side. “Johansen?”

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“Who else?” he asked.

“Lupo, sir.” Engineering Junior Grade, Torance Lupo, replied.

“And Kass, sir.”

Ensign Baron Kass was a medical officer Blake had never seen outside of the infirmary before and he prayed he wasn’t the only one Sida had ordered to join the field team. The thought of her and the rest of the crew being stranded on an unknown planet without a medic didn’t help his already foul mood. Especially,  when he knew they’d most likely sustained injuries in all that chaos with the other patrol cruisers. Of course, that would only be a problem if the NT’s didn’t decide to cook them up for dinner. Fuck!

Blake ground his teeth in frustration, but he wasn’t completely irate. He would get captured a thousand times over if it meant his captain was free with a fighting chance of survival, and hopefully a rescue plan.

“Okay crew, as you’ve probably noticed, we’re dealing with the Meylos, who are supposed to be non-hostile neutrals. Filthy bleeding liars,” Blake swore, despite his lungs going numb from lack of space. “Just stay calm and I’ll get us out of this somehow. I doubt the opportunistic vultures want to go to war with Earth.”

The hot air that rushed over them wasn’t all natural, but enhanced by the cruiser’s energy field and proton net. The only thing Blake was grateful for was that he was facing the underbelly of the ship, rather than the valley far below. That would certainly make it difficult to think clearly. The trek over the jungle grew a little cooler as they passed over the large lake that followed. In no time, they were in the city that he and Sida had spied from the ridge, yet his limbs had still managed to turn into pin-prickling uselessness from lack of circulation. Noise assaulted them from every direction, but it was recognizable; the din of a bustling urban center.

The ship’s descent was somewhat nauseating and by the time it came to a hovering stop, a million different scenarios had already raced through Blake’s mind. A thousand logical steps to take. His adrenaline was still churning, while he tried to capture every new invasion to his senses. The net was slowly lowered and only a few seconds ticked by, before he felt solid ground beneath his back.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” The unmistakable nasal curl of a Meylosian’s voice questioned from somewhere nearby.

It was a male, though higher pitched than the average human male range. The Meylos accent was unique, sounding equally Austrian and British without any distinction between the two, yet warped into some kind of dual inflection.

“When I heard there were Earthlings running about the jungles, I just had to come see it for myself,” the speaker continued.

As the Meylos started his speech, the net was released and Blake’s lungs immediately inflated with the additional room, causing him to suck in huge, audible breaths. The relief from the weight and renewed circulation made his skin tingle painfully. He couldn’t even attempt to sit up while the feeling slowly returned to all his limbs. It didn’t seem to be an issue for the NT, though, who released a snarling battle cry and lunged off the tarmac. The Meylosian soldiers standing by merely cocooned him in his own personal proton net and watched him topple over onto the ground.

“Imagine my surprise in this moment to see that it’s not only true, but we have in our company, officers from Earth’s Galactic Navy, itself. To include its Commander,” the Meylos continued.

Blake and his team were lifted off the ground by the soldiers and their commentator finally came into view, stopping directly in front of Blake. His long, spindly finger ended in a talon and flicked the insignia embedded into the material of Blake’s AABV. It took a considerable amount of restraint not to deck the thing right in its ugly little face. Meylosians were supposed to be neutral diplomats, mediators and negotiators that helped set up mutually beneficial trade business between planetary systems. Blake had always found them to be an extremely pretentious race, but altogether harmless. They were the yuppies of the universe.

Blake towered over him, for the Meylos were quite petite in stature. They made up for it with the long, broad feathers that grew out of their narrow, oval scalps and curved backward like a headdress. This alone was their only distinguishing feature, each style, color and pattern unique to the individual or a genetic marker of their bloodline. Otherwise, they all looked the same. Pale coral skin, their noses nothing more than a thin spine down the center of their faces that ended in two small slits. Their mouths were small and scaled like a lizards, their eyes round and eerily identical to those of a baby Caiman’s. They were like the missing evolutionary link no one ever wanted to find.

“Last I heard, GINESS was welcome in the Meylos System,” Blake stated.

“But of course,” the Meylosian gestured grandly to their surroundings. “You, I’m afraid, will not be seeing the Meylos System anytime soon, Commander. Toss them on the transleigh.”

Blake didn’t fight when those orders were followed out by the soldiers. He and his crew watched as the NT was lifted onto his own separate sleigh, still trapped in a net. Cargo sleighs were designed to hold up to five tons without losing altitude, which was only about three and a half feet off the ground. The Meylos leader lounged across the buffer ledge at the front of their sleigh, staring down from his mild perch at Blake and his three unfortunate crewmates. Pretentious bastard. The sleighs started moving, heading off the brightly lit tarmac and into one of the large hangars that were open at both ends.

“You and I both know you didn’t come here by ship, Commander,” their captor spoke, as if there had been no lapse in the conversation.

The nice thing about dealing with narcissists was they enjoyed the sound of their own voices so much, they tended to reveal pertinent information in their outpouring of bullshit, with next to no prodding. The truths were typically springboards for their embellishments, easily transliterated into vital details by applying sheer common sense. Blake didn’t know which was more pathetic, that they were so transparent or that they actually believed they weren’t?

“We are on a planet in the most remote outer reaches of space, that with Earth’s rudimentary jumping technology, would take generations for your people to reach by ship, without any detours or delays.”

Blake looked down at the sleigh beneath him and then around the large hangar full of cargo. “So, the natives here trade with their imaginary friends?”

Okay, perhaps he was a little cranky and too sore to muster the pretense of civility. He’d just spent the better part of three weeks on a dust-filled planet with little oxygen, a slight hangover and a nagging libido he hadn’t been able to slake, only to end up on a potentially volcanic planet full of spear-wielding NT’s and not so non-hostile Meylosians. He wasn’t a frigging android. The unexpected jab served its purpose, at any rate, causing Mr. Arrogant to pause in the middle of his “I’m an evil villain” monologue and lean right into Blake’s face.

Blake leaned back just as slowly, to keep the distance between them the same at all times and never broke eye-contact. Johansen was directly behind him, so Blake used the exaggerated motion to distract the birdbrain from the fact that he was grabbing the fixall laser tool out of Johansen’s AABV. He shoved it up his sleeve, because he knew they’d be stripped of their vests once they got to wherever they were going. He wasn’t about to get imprisoned without a Plan B.

“Your kind has always been so crude, so unrefined. It’s a cosmic wonder you ever made it out of your caves, let alone your planet’s atmosphere,” the Meylosian sneered. Maybe. It was really hard to tell.

“At least we don’t look like we still belong in them,” Blake remarked.

“If you must know, the beings that trade in this region of space are so far beyond your scope of perceived intellect and grandeur, that the chance of your kind ever meeting them redefines the meaning of ‘worst odds’,” he continued, talking right over Blake’s insult. “Elite races from these most advanced civilizations would never bother making contact with any of the insignificant star-systems you know of.”

“I know of yours,” Blake smiled coolly. “And I’d like to see how you plan to explain this to the United Federation of Earth’s Intergalactic Alliance.”

“I won’t be explaining anything to anyone,” the Meylos answered. “I’ve never met you or any of your crew and my people know nothing of this planet or what happens here. We are a neutral race with no ties to any alliance or their laws.”

Make that pretentious underhanded bastards!

That was fine, though. They had plenty of those on Earth and Blake knew exactly how to handle them. He’d never had much patience for the sport of manipulation. He’d earned his stripes by being the best without having to kiss anyone’s ass in the process, because both GINESS and the Galactic Bureau of Exploration and Scientific Research liked his results far more than they hated his attitude. That and they knew he could just as easily ditch the regulations and protocol and make a killing on the Galactic Black Market running his own Starblood smuggling operation.

The only reason he didn’t, was because then his crew would be made up of untrustworthy mercs carrying around their own shitty attitudes and a pension for mutiny, while competing with the universe’s worst mobsters. None of which gave a lick about the lives, ecosystems or general planetary stability of other worlds. Blake could be a dick, he even wore the badge with pride most days, but he wasn’t into mass genocide for profit.

“Now, Commander, why don’t you tell me who else you have here on Pralldex with you. Your Captain, undoubtedly,” the Meylosian picked up again. “It’s only a matter of time before we find and capture them all. My cruisers never return empty.”

Blake nearly pointed out that two of his cruisers hadn’t returned at all, but that would only confirm the Meylosian’s suspicions, which he wasn’t about to voluntarily do.

“I’m afraid you caught me on my first solo mission that our captain entrusted me to lead.” He scowled grimly for affect. “Just a small group of scientists trying to find more alien bugs to add to our collection.”

The Meylosian glanced over his shoulder toward the end of the hangar they were rapidly approaching and came very close to smiling, when he looked back to Blake.

“I have a feeling your answer is about to change, Commander,” he said confidently.

Blake spread his hands in an innocent gesture, retaining his bluff. Then the sleigh veered left out of the hangar and right into a docking station full of Nortokian Class B fighter ships. Dread didn’t even begin to cover the sinking weight in the pit of Blake’s gut, because as far as the universe’s worst mobsters went, Nortoks made them all look like fucking amateurs.

©A.C. Melody

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more of this SciFi serial, or if you like a little more fantasy in your alternate worlds, check out Thief of Dragons under The Wicked Web on the menu bar. There’s already 25 episodes available and counting! 🙂

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Sensual Sentient ♥ Episode 6

Contact

image source: Roleplayer guild

Contact

Blake was right behind her, when Sida shoved off the ground and raced back down the ferny slope toward camp. They could hear Ketha’s voice cutting through the melee, shouting orders in between shots fired. Night abruptly turned into day when the patrol cruiser crested the ridge right behind them, forcing them to hit the ground again. Sida lost her footing in the process and slid downhill on her ass, before tumbling into somersaults. Mid-roll, Blake lifted her from the ground and tossed her further ahead. With a startled, winded grunt, she glanced over her shoulder to see a proton net hit the ground where she’d just been and disperse.

“Thanks.” She managed, when he grabbed her hand and pulled her back into the race beside him. Her head was spinning from the continuous momentum, but her vision was clear as ever. “That’s a Meylosian cruiser!”

“Noticed,” he shouted over the propulsion system and thrusters hitting the jungle with the force of a tropical storm. Leaves and vines thrashed all around them, kicking up tiny whirlwinds of debris. “I thought they were neutral?”

“So did I!” she hollered back, as they dodged another net. They both saw something big and dark race through the underbrush up ahead. “What was that?”

“Not a Meylosian.”

“It looked humanoid,” Sida observed.

“Less science, more running for your life!” Blake shot, tossing her earlier command back in her face.

Two more creatures passed them, running in the opposite direction, surefooted and extraordinarily fast through the jungle. Right toward the cruiser. Their leaping grace could’ve belonged to a gazelle or jungle cat, but they were definitely humanoid.

“DUCK!”

Sida was tackled to the ground, as Blake covered her and another net flew right over their bodies to disperse on a tree.

“Sonofabitch!” she snarled, lunging to her feet as soon as she was able, and forcing her legs to work even faster than before.

Another creature charged out of the trees right before them. That close, there was no mistaking the long poleaxe in its hand; just as black as the rest of it and glinting as menacingly as its red, reflective eyes. The NT appeared male and had to be no less than seven-feet tall, wearing some kind of head-to-toe body armor that looked more like a second skin. At the sight of them, its lips peeled back in a dangerous growl. Sida lifted her rifle, but it merely darted around them like an agile deer. In the next instant, they witnessed all of the NTs use the trees to ricochet jump high into the air and land atop the cruiser in a matter of seconds. Their saber-tipped spears cut right through the hull of the ship like it was made out of paper.

“Sida, run!” Blake yelled in panic, when the cruiser tilted drastically and headed into a nosedive right toward the forest floor. The thickness of the treetops and vines kept it from impacting as explosively as they’d both been fearing, but it still shook the entire planet it seemed. “Don’t stop, I think there’s more!”

Without the one to slow them down, it was only a matter of seconds before Sida finally surged through the last bit of jungle and into their small camp. She nearly collided with another NT and three of her own people trying to run out of the camp–and by the time she realized why, it was too late. A neon blue net was flying right for them and she’d put herself directly in its path. Strong hands shoved her sideways from behind, sending her flying to the ground so hard, she skidded on her stomach. Sucking in a sharp breath, she rolled onto her side and scrambled off the ground to stop what was about to happen, only to watch the net wrap around the entire group all at once–including the one who’d just saved her ass.

“BLAKE!” she screamed in horror to see him and three more of her crew getting hauled away in the net. She ran after them, screaming like it would change anything. “Blake! Johansen! No, no, NO!”

There was a third cruiser that both her team and the NTs were working together on battling, but Sida dodged them, still chasing the one carrying a net full of her people away. Switching her rifle to max reserves, she was racing on pure adrenaline. The multitude of injuries and fiery burn of exertion in her muscles were numbed by it. When she finally had a clear shot, she stopped, aimed and curled her finger over the trigger. The cruiser cleared the ledge, soaring over the valley and putting the captives at immediate risk of death from the fall if she took the shot.

“Dammit, DAMMIT!” she raged.

Sida watched helplessly as her people grew more and more distant through the scope of her rifle, and the guilt that instantly swamped her was intense. One of the NTs leaped right in front of her like a solid wall of black. He growled threateningly, because one of his own was also in the net and he obviously believed she was still planning to take the shot. Sida gave two shits about his reasons. Frustrated, fighting tears and racked with guilt, she growled in outrage right back at him. The alien jerked upright and its animal-like eyes widened as if startled.

“Captain!”

Keeping her weapon aimed at the NT, Sida slowly backed away from it, toward Ketha’s voice.

“Are you hurt?” she asked the Lieutenant.

“My leg,” Ketha admitted, limping to her. “I think I fractured it. Why are the Meylos attacking?”

“I don’t know, but–”

Sida’s words faltered when the NT she’d just had a growling match with started advancing on them and as he did, the black armor that covered him began to disappear. Underneath was a very humanoid male with dark golden skin, slightly pointed ears and long hair of jet black wearing nothing more than a dark, calf-length sarong. The only thing that didn’t change were his eyes, remaining the same orange-red hue that reflected the light like a felines. In that moment, Sida may have believed that Egyptian gods were real, because she was staring right at one.

“Captain.” Another familiar voice called out.

Sida pivoted to see Ensigns Darling and McConnell being led into the area at the spear points of more NTs who were still covered in all black. It had to be some kind of bio-armor encoded in their DNA, a natural defense triggered by a chemical reaction whenever they sensed danger or fear. A sort of retractable exoskeleton possibly made out of a form of keratin. But where did it retract to, their pores? The scientist in her was practically frothing at the mouth.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a fourth NT stalk around the others and head right for the unarmored one. He asked Goldy a question and the fact that Sida’s translator didn’t kick on, meant it was an alien language Earth hadn’t discovered yet. Goldy answered while gesturing at Sida and Ketha, so the other stepped toward them, his armor also receding to reveal the flesh underneath. Sida wished she could watch the process under a high-powered microscope. Her eyes tried so hard to narrow in on the action, but it was too damn dark. Then she peered into his face and immediately took a step back, lifting her rifle again, because he was more. So much more than the other one.

His features were ten times more delicious, his mouth alone triggered an insane amount of fantasies to race through her mind. Desires she’d never even been aware of, and Sida Marx was not a bashful girl! Without pause, he grabbed the barrel of her rifle and lifted it before she could even hope to get a shot off, holding it upright between them as he towered over her. His eyes drank in every minute detail of her face, as if she were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. Then, he reached out and caressed the wild strands of her hair, which had been whipped free of her braid. She’d lost her hat somewhere between dodging nets and NTs, apparently. Even as she jerked her head out of his reach, an enticing musk filled all of Sida’s senses. Her stomach gurgled in hunger and her throat dried from thirst, despite the saliva forming along her tongue with craving.

“De-etto,” he ordered, his voice an aphrodisiac to her ears.

Sida shook her head, not only because she didn’t understand him, but to dislodge the drugging effect he had over her mind.

“De-etto,” he repeated, but this time he touched his fingers to her throat.

Electricity crackled through her, instantly weakening her muscles. Pure, unadulterated lust speared right through her core to flood her thighs. As her entire body heated and grew lax, her brain continued to cloud over, going under a blanket of sensations thicker than the humidity. Her reaction had the NT’s eyes flashing wide and his musk intensified, smothering her. Sida was wrapped up in his strong arm and pulled into his hard body. Need surged through her veins, and she was certain her arousal scented the air, because the NT inhaled deeply as if he could smell it.

Whatever neurons in her brain that were meant to trigger embarrassment, outrage, survival instincts–something–appeared to be malfunctioning, because all she wanted to do was let this alien have his way with her until she forgot her own damn name. But the bastard was doing it on purpose. Using it as a weapon against her. Sida had too much training in psychic and cognitive psychological warfare not to recognize it when it was hitting her full force. Knowing that made it easier for reason to break through the fog and remind her of the very real and frightening situation she was in. Like the fact that part of her crew had just been abducted by Meylosians and the others were either injured or in possible danger from the natives. Sida grabbed onto the insult of his deliberate attack, added it to the frustration, panic and guilt, and prepared to do as much damage as possible.

Fuck diplomacy.

The NT’s eyes swam with the promise of death by pleasure, vowing to give her more than she’d ever dreamed possible and when his gaze dropped to her mouth, she couldn’t escape the full-body shiver. That’s when she swung. He was too humanoid. Too gloriously male and sensually potent. His lush mouth moved closer to hers, their breaths mingling and the sensation went somewhere deeper than it should have. She fought with teeth gritting determination, but her vision still went hazy, even as her knuckles connected with his jaw. The second point of physical contact was like shooting herself with a proton pistol. It fried her brain completely, even while pleasure rippled all the way to her toes.

©A.C. Melody

Hope you enjoyed this new episode and thanks for reading! Again, you can find all episodes of my two current serials under “The Wicked Web” link on the menu above. Stay tuned…

Sensual Sentient ♥ Episode 5

Infared

Some Like It Hot

Satisfied that Barnes’s grunts would have their camp up and running in no time, Sida led her crew into the jungle surrounding the World Opening.

“Shouldn’t take long to find running water in this environment,” Blake noted.

That was always their first objective. It was the fastest way to find civilization, especially if they were dealing with a primitive planet, as the lack of pollutants would suggest. Of course, it was just as likely they were dealing with a highly advanced race that had stopped emitting pollution a long time ago.

Forty minutes into their trek, Blake smacked another mosquito-like insect off his neck. “It’s like walking through the damn Amazon around here. Even with weapons, you can’t help feeling extremely low on the food chain.”

“Humans haven’t been at the top of the food chain since we decided to be smartasses and leave our own solar system,” Sida remarked. “Insolent children that we are.”

“Wow, Captain, that only missed the enlightening mark by this–”

Blake cut himself off when Sida stopped abruptly and signaled for her team to do the same. Pointing to her eyes first, she then pointed through a gap in the broad leaves straight ahead and started unfastening the binoculars from her belt. Blake leaned in to get a line on her visual.

“Is that smoke?” he questioned, pulling the binoculars from her hands and using them, rather than digging out his own.

Sida squinted at the distant pillars of something white rising up into the sky. Some were narrow and nearly transparent, others were so dense they looked more like stretched, vertical clouds.

“Well?” she prompted.

“I’m thinking steam,” Blake replied. “No embers, ash, or discoloration that would indicate burning. Of course, that means we could be looking at volcanic activity after all.”

“Any signs of life?”

“No, just the steam.”

“Try thermal,” she suggested.

Blake adjusted the binoculars and immediately jerked them away from his face with a seething hiss. “Well, that was insightful, everything’s red!” he griped, rubbing at his eyes, before adjusting the binoculars more and trying again. “Yep, red, yellow and orange. Even the vegetation has body heat, as if everything’s abnormally hot.”

“Hot springs, of course!” Isiah swore, obviously disappointed he hadn’t thought of that sooner. “They must be feeding all the vegetation, which is why there’s a higher concentration of minerals and sulfur in the air.”

Sida removed her glove and placed her palm on the nearest tree. “It does feel warmer than it should,” she confirmed. “Close to the same temperature as the air, though, nothing extreme.”

“They seem elevated from our position, but could still be exposed pools, or geysers,” Isiah noted, as he took his own turn with the binoculars.

If it was the former, natives could still be situated nearby in order to utilize them, but if was the latter… “That puts us right back in danger of seismic activity,” she said, chewing on the debate running through her mind on how to proceed.

“Hey, you know what we could do in a hot spring?” Blake wagged his brows at her.

His libido was so predictable, it was amusing. “You go right ahead and keep that image in your mind, Commander, because that’s the closest you’re getting to hot tub sex right now,” she smirked.

“Well yeah, because we have to get there first,” he scoffed.

She merely shook her head at his optimism. Secretly, the idea of sinking into hot mineral pools sounded like paradise to her, sex would merely be a bonus. She didn’t have to tell him that, though.

“That’s our new destination, team. Let’s gain as much ground as we can.”

Countless hours passed, as they trudged through underbrush half the size of the trees, which was still three times the size of them, and didn’t appear any closer to the steam stacks than when they’d started. Yet, they could still see them, playing peekaboo through a somewhat steady range of gaps in the the canopy and foliage.

“I’m not sure I care for how much this feels like a trail,” Sida remarked.

Blake glanced at the spongy, moss covered ground. “It’s not worn by anything living,” he pointed out. “Something under the surface is blocking the root systems here.”

“You always make me feel so much better in potentially dangerous situations, Yarring,” she grumbled.

“Potentially dangerous situations is exactly why I asked to join your crew, Captain,” Blake deadpanned. “No matter what you tell those cadets at NASE, you live for this kind of shit, same as I do.”

Sida couldn’t argue with him completely. She thrived on the various thrills that came with danger and discovery, but she was also responsible for a lot of lives and there was nothing exciting about that. Another hour passed with no change, so when they came upon the first decent clearing, she called it.

“Alright crew, we make camp here for the rest of the night–or day, whichever,” she announced. “Three hour shifts. Yarring, Minnows and I will take first watch.”

No one argued, as gear packs were dropped and rifled through for camp materials. Everyone was hungry, thirsty and exhausted. The temperature never altered a single degree, heavy with humidity and no wind for relief. If anything, it felt warmer the closer they got to the steam stacks. As Sida started walking a perimeter around the site, circling further out with each pass, she worried about the pressure that could be building in trapped veins right below the surface of where her crew was getting ready to sleep.

“You ever hear of safety in numbers?” Blake scolded, coming up beside her a little while later.

“Mmm, only when it comes with coffee,” she grinned, accepting the steaming cup he offered. “Thanks.”

“Self-preservation,” he admitted, taking a sip of his own. “I know how charming you get without your regular caffeine fixes.”

Sida chuckled, too tired to argue.

“Unless, of course, you had a different kind of fix in mind?”

She opened her mouth to answer and then went on full alert at the somewhat distant sound of thrashing leaves. She knew Blake hadn’t heard it, but he instantly followed her cue, because they knew each other too well for skepticism. Their coffee was quietly abandoned, as they drew their weapons, tuning all their senses into the world around them. Sida signaled that she’d heard something and then pointed in the direction she was intending to go. Blake nodded and moved with her.

It was as natural as breathing, the way they fell into sync, creeping silently through leaves and vines. Their gazes swept opposing hemispheres, so all angles were covered. It didn’t take long to notice they were going up a gradual incline of thick, fern-like ground coverage. Sida heard the same noise again, and this time, so did Blake. It sounded like someone was running very swiftly through the jungle, without fear of being heard, yet it was still distant. It grew louder, the higher up the small hill they went.

They crouched into a crawl for the last several feet, until the land rounded into a natural ledge and that’s where the scenery hit them all at once. The hill topped a dramatic drop-off that led into a dark valley where the canopy of more jungle kept the real distance to the ground hidden from view. The mouth of a river was just visible beyond the far-off forest end, snaking out to feed a large body of water between it and a sprawling, modern metropolis glowing with lights nestled into the base of a giant mountain range. It wasn’t a neon city filled with cloud breaching skyscrapers, but it was far from primitive.

Sida studied the red glow of a large moon offset by two smaller moons that were farther away. They were illuminated in varying shades of pale pink to the same bright white that Earth’s natural satellite reflected. That confirmed their suspicions; a Red Dwarf was definitely present, but so was a Yellow Dwarf, which would account for the temperature and lush vegetation. Sida held up two fingers and Blake nodded in agreement. The planet had two stars. Daytime cycles were gonna suck.

Blake dropped and shoved Sida’s head down into the ferns, when a patrol cruiser broke through the treetops in the valley far below, its spotlights shining in all directions, to include theirs.

Sida parted the ferns between them and found their noses nearly touching. “It’s looking for whoever we heard running,” she whispered.

“Did you recognize it?”

“I didn’t get a good enough look. That blasted red moon isn’t penetrating even the weakest of shadows.”

They heard the thrashing of underbrush again and Blake pulled his binoculars out to try to lock onto the position of their runner.

“I think there’s more than one–”

The sound of multiple shots being fired split the air from behind them and to the right, turning Sida’s blood into ice and physically jarring Blake.

“That was camp!” She panicked.

©A.C. Melody

Thanks for reading! If you’re just joining in, you can find the first 4 episodes under the menu link “The Wicked Web” – There you will find 25 episodes of another serial titled Thief of Dragons, which combines SciFi with Fantasy. Stay tuned for new episodes coming soon!

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 25

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Ace In The Hole

Arcylaen was pacing the foyer by the time his aunt decided to bring Leandra home. He’d been a nervous wreck since the woman had declared her intentions and forbade him from interfering. He was sure he had something unpleasant coming his way for not giving Leandra a head’s up, but worried more if she and his aunt had been getting on okay.

When Emmon opened the door, the last thing Cylaen expected was to hear and see the two women laughing like old friends. Something powerful punched him right in the chest at the sight of the glowing smile on his sexy kitten’s face. It was the very thing that made his lingering distrust for her so damn painful. When he was with her, all of his concerns seemed so frail and distant. Her personality, passions, the things that made her happy and the way her mind worked; none of those things matched the worst of his fears, so he had no clue why they were still there. Brejeir was right, it was tearing him up inside, driving him crazy.

“I don’t know if I should be afraid or celebrating,” he commented, when his aunt greeted him with a lot less hostility than her arrival to his office.

“Both, darling,” she smiled, patting him on the cheek. “It’s good for you to stay on your toes, especially with the trials ahead. Now, I think I’ll go freshen up before dinner. You put me in the East tower, Emmon?”

“Of course, my Lady,” he answered and led her away.

Arcylaen stepped into Leandra and wrapped his arms around her waist, before they were even alone. He didn’t care who saw. Relief filled him when she didn’t hesitate to rest her hands on his arms and smile up at him. He peered into her beautiful face, the sparkle of humor in her feline eyes and forwent all charm for straight up pleading.

“I’m sorry. She insisted on surprising you and forbade me from calling to warn you ahead of time. You don’t know how frightening she can be–”

Leandra laughed. “Are you going to get on your knees and beg forgiveness, your highness?”

Cylaen popped his jaw to the side, torn between doing just that and narrowing his eyes at her for the highness remark.

“Do I need to?” he hazarded.

“No,” she chuckled again, wrapping her arms around his neck. “You’re just lucky it turned out so well, or I might have lorded it over you until I felt thoroughly compensated.”

There was no mistaking the sensual gleam in her eyes, or in the purring undertone of her voice. He saw it, heard it and felt it reverberate through every single one of his male instincts.

“Well, now let’s not call the matter squared just yet,” he suggested, dropping his gaze to her mouth, because the desire to kiss her in ways he’d yet to even try was growing strong. His kitten had no idea the feast he planned to make out of her. “I think you might feel better if you let me make it up to you, and we do have some time before dinner.”

She snickered, and placed a chaste kiss on his starving mouth. “Which, I’m going to use to go freshen up, as well, while you track Rynd down for your daily report.”

Cylaen released a quiet growl, when she slipped right out of his hands and headed for the stairs. “I’m going to put that Hawk under a gag order,” he warned.

“That wasn’t a trade secret, your majesty, I’m just that smart,” she winked over her shoulder. Halfway up the stairs, she smiled down at him. “You’re right, I do feel better. Maybe I’ll hold onto this for awhile.”

A rumble of laughter filled him and the foyer. Fuck, her mind was marvelous. “You just let me know when you really want to feel better, kitten, we’ll see who’s the one lording then.”

He followed her beautiful laugh all the way across the second story balcony, before shaking off the lustful effects and doing precisely what she predicted by tracking Rynd down. He didn’t have anything to report that Arcylaen wasn’t already aware of, but that was a good thing. The signs the Hawk was watching for weren’t things Leandra would necessarily notice, because as she’d admitted, she hadn’t been in Skaulling during the reign of the Black Dogs. She had no idea the terrifying lengths criminals would go to for a shot at a big payday or revenge.

Parting with Rynd in the kitchen, Cylaen made it into the dining room just as Sajyn and the rest of the kitchen staff were setting up the trays on the serving cabinet. His aunt appeared a few seconds later. When he attempted to give her his seat at the head of the table, she shook her head and skirted around him for Brejeir’s place, instead. He moved just in time to pull the chair out for her.

“That seat was never meant for me, Cyl,” she said, her gaze lingering on the chair they both knew should still be occupied by her brother, his father. It was a shared sorrow that went unspoken. “Where’s your lovely Cat?”

“She’ll be arriving any moment,” he answered, because he could feel Leandra descending the grand staircase in the foyer, her presence like an enticing shiver down his spine.

“I like her,” Aunt Aviya said, looking him straight in the eyes. “I mean it.”

Arcylaen felt pride and apprehension with that declaration. There was a hidden warning in his aunt’s tone, as if she feared he might muck it up. Shit, he was afraid he’d screw it up, but doubted it was for the same reasons. Most of his concern was the Warden bond, the constant worry that he’d say something the wrong way again. The other part was attached to his inability to trust her completely.

He remained standing, waiting for Leandra to enter the room. She looked both relaxed in the simple floral dress, and stunning. He knew it was the woman. He doubted there was a single article of clothing she couldn’t pull off. She’d just sat down in the chair he’d pulled out for her, when the rest of his kin filed into the room. Grevys, Daelyn and Rivyr made a beeline for their aunt, while Brejeir meandered in at his usual pace.

“Aunt Aviya!”

“There’s the rest of my boys,” their aunt greeted, standing to accept their hugs and kisses.

It was a far cry from the way she’d greeted him and Brej at the office, which is exactly what the look Brej gave him translated to. Arcylaen chuckled and pushed Leandra’s chair back in for her.

“Brejeir, did you just roll your eyes?” Aunt Aviya never missed a thing.

“No, ma’am,” he grinned, turning it right to Daelyn, as he snagged their younger brother’s chair and sat down beside Leandra, as if he’d won a major victory.

Once everyone was settled and the first course served, Aunt Aviya jumped right into her campaign plans without preamble.

“House Turvo must be your first stop,” she stated.

Cylaen paused mid-chew and gave the woman a weary look. “I’m trying to eat.”

“Don’t give me your sass, Cylaen,” she chastised. “You know I’m right. They’re already feeling offended and vulnerable due to this situation, to not visit them first would come across as both cowardly and more offensive. They are second in line for Dragon’s Head, that gives them precedence, whether you like it or not.”

Cylaen groaned and continued chewing. He knew she was right, that didn’t make it any less unpleasant and it wasn’t like it hadn’t already crossed his mind.

“It would be getting the biggest hurdle out of the way first, rather than spending a week fretting about it,” Leandra commented, though she sounded just as disgruntled about the prospect as he felt.

“That’s the spirit, my girl,” Aunt Aviya smiled, lifting her wine in a toast.

“It’s not like we don’t already know what their answer’s going to be, at any rate,” Brejeir chimed in.

“After your brother gives them his answer, yes,” Aunt Aviya agreed. “But, they still have to be given the chance to ask it.”

Cylaen’s grip tightened around the handle of his spoon when Leandra stiffened beside him, her hand pausing in the process of lifting soup to her mouth.

“Aunt Aviya–”

“I’m fine, Arcylaen,” Leandra cut him off. “You think I haven’t already guessed what they’re planning? Bartering their vote to keep you as Dragon’s Head on the condition that you wed Eleqwyn is their most obvious course of action. What I worry about is their ace in the hole.”

“What ace in the hole?” Brej asked, as that phrase got everyone’s attention.

“That’s just it,” Leandra sighed. “I have no idea what it is, but they have one. Because for all of Eleqwyn’s predictable traits, she has zero confidence in her ability to win Arcylaen over on her own. She proved that the night of the Gala. She’s not stupid. She knows Arcylaen’s disinterest in her has nothing to do with me or any other woman.”

“Cyl?” Brejeir questioned.

Arcylaen was still wrapping his head around the idea that the Turvo’s might have a secret weapon against him, but more so about how in the hell Leandra had been able to see it, when none of them had. Her mind, yes it was freaking spectacular, but her ability to think so strategically didn’t help his remaining concerns about her connections to the robberies.

“She’s not wrong.” He shrugged.

“No shit, she’s not wrong,” Brejeir exasperated. “But what would they have up their sleeve?”

“There are two ladies at your table, nephew,” Aunt Aviya chided him.

Brejeir opened his mouth, then sulked back into his soup, muttering under his breath about Leandra never caring if he swore.

Their aunt ignored him and tilted her head at Leandra. “I like the way your mind works,” she said. “I worried that the Turvo’s might rush to get a lead on us with the rest of the Houses. That could be the ace they’re hoping for.”

“Especially, if they’ve already started,” Daelyn put in. “Eleqwyn’s known about the panther’s choice since first thing this morning, at least, which means they could already be a day ahead of us.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Leandra said. “If there’s one thing she seems very confident in, it’s that all of the Dragons will want to keep the traditions going strong.”

“Not all,” Aunt Aviya interjected. “But, yes, a good many of them will want to hold fast to that, until they meet you, Miss Leontle. When they see you and Arcylaen together as a united front, hear your answers to their questions and learn about your joint renovation projects for the cities, they will change their minds. Dragons may be strong headed about their traditions, but they are and will always be, protectors at heart. These cities mean everything to them, they’ve fought and bled for them. You mustn’t forget that. You will be speaking with war veterans and families who lived through the reign of the Black Dogs and the war to take them down.”

“How Arcylaen handled the war should be enough all on its own,” Rivyr put in.

Cylaen looked at him and sighed, shaking his head. “We’re not playing that card, brother,” he said, understanding his thoughts on it, but disagreeing. “This isn’t about what happened during the war, it’s about what happened after. I didn’t step up to the plate and take the official position as Dragon’s Head. No matter my reasons, I’m sure it’s long been seen as a sign of weakness and no one wants a weak leader.”

“It’s the robberies,” Leandra said, surprising everyone.

Arcylaen looked at her, their eyes crashing and holding. “What?”

“They know something about the robberies,” she said. “That’s their ace. That’s the only way they’d be able to discredit you as a good leader, Arcylaen, because I agree with Rivyr, your past and present actions which have led Skaulling and all its citizens back to their former glories should be enough, whether your leadership was official or not. There’s only one thing that’s happened in all that time that has shaken the Dragons’ confidence in you, and that’s the robberies.”

“I think she might be right, nephew,” Aunt Aviya said, her tone grim. “Somehow, the Turvo’s have found evidence that you and your investigation team missed.”

“How?” he balked, every muscle in his body tightening with the absurdity and denial, even as a darkness crept into his blood, chilling him. “I went over both my team’s and the Council’s investigation reports. The only way they have evidence we don’t, is if they found it after the fact–”

“Or before and withheld it,” Brejeir stated.

“No,” Arcylaen immediately denied. “Eleqwyn might be a prickly little snot, but we’re talking about an entire family of Dragons who’s bloodline and history stretches as far back as ours. I refuse to believe they would purposely obstruct an investigation.”

“Even if they found it afterward and withheld it, it’s still obstruction,” Leandra pointed out. “And who’s to say all of the Turvo’s know about it?”

Cylaen ground his teeth, the uncertainty that Eleqwyn might actually do something like that out of desperation was too great to ignore. He still refused to believe it would be any other Turvo, though. He rose from his chair, and flashed a look at the only brother sitting beside his kitten.

“Brej.”

When Brejeir stood to join him, Leandra did the same and he had to bite down on his desire to tell her to stay. It was just a word, but with the Warden bond, it would be a command she couldn’t refuse and it would mess everything up all over again.

Instead, he held his hand up to stop her. She crossed her arms, matching his imploring look with a determined one. Cylaen tried to think of how best to phrase his words so they wouldn’t emerge as a directive, but before he could say anything, she sighed and let her arms fall to her sides again.

“Fine,” she exhaled. “But you better fill me in later, or I’ll find somebody who will.”

His grin was fast and masked too many reactions at once to put names to, but stars above, she was a constant fascination. Arcylaen stepped into her and placed a kiss on her cheek. “It’s a date,” he whispered in her ear, not even trying to hide his naughty innuendo.

It was better to see the glint of appreciative humor in her eyes, as he walked away, than frustration. Just as he reached the door, his youngest brother had to put his two cents in.

“They don’t even have to talk anymore, that’s just creepy.”

“No, my youngest hatchling,” Aunt Aviya smiled, sending Cylaen a wink when he glanced over his shoulder. “That’s called partnership.”

©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 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…

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…