Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 21

Rival

Rival

Roehn wandered downstairs, and what greeted her was the exact opposite of the morning before. The grand dining hall was filled with Dragons, alongside Ilydan, Rynd and Sajyn. All conversation dropped off the moment she entered the room. Trying not to be bothered by it, she made her way over to the serving table, which had the head chef jumping out of his chair.

“Miss Leontle, please, allow me,” he said.

“It’s fine, Sajyn, I can do it,” she waived him off. “Go back to your conversation, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

The Raccoon looked hesitant, glancing toward the Dragon Lords. “If it’s all the same to you, Miss, I’d rather not get fired,” he pleaded quietly.

Sighing in understanding, Roehn pointed to the heated carafe. “Coffee, too, please,” she instructed, while handing her plate over to him.

Arcylaen entered the room, as she was crossing to the table. “There are far too many Dragons under the same roof for it to be this quiet,” he commented, pulling Roehn’s chair out for her.

“That’s my fault,” she admitted, sitting down so he could scoot her in, before taking his own seat.

“Well, from what I hear, you did bite everyone’s head off the last time you were in here,” Arcylaen agreed.

Roehn’s mouth popped open, as she glared at him in surprise. “Not everyone’s,” she admonished. Looking across the table, she found Brej watching them with amused curiosity. “I am sorry, though, Brejeir. I was completely out of line taking my frustrations out on you, when this situation is far from being any fault of yours. Just like you have no control over the fact that your brother was a complete absentee jerk yesterday.”

Arcylaen’s expression fell. “I said I was sorry.”

“Not to Brejeir,” she pointed out sweetly.

The Dragon in question gave them both a wide, toothy grin, which had Arcylaen rolling his eyes and grumbling out an apology under his breath.

“Thank you, Sajyn,” Roehn smiled, when the Raccoon brought plates and coffee for both her and Arcylaen.

The conversations had just started to pick up again, when Emmon suddenly appeared from a mysterious entrance. “My Lord, Lady Turvo is here and requesting an immediate audience. She claims it’s an emergency.”

Roehn felt her shoulders stiffen, and she wasn’t the only one who seemed to grow a little tense at the announcement. Even Brejeir’s grin completely vanished.

“Of course, show her in,” Arcylaen replied.

Emmon bowed and then disappeared.

“No one will blame you, if you’d rather not be here,” Arcylaen said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Roehn’s forearm reassuringly.

Still not afraid of Dragons,” she stated.

His mouth quirked up in amusement, before he captured her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles. That’s when Emmon returned with the perfectly polished Eleqwyn Turvo. Her red coils were wrapped up in a stylish do, her white and gold ensemble appeared more expensive than the subdued gems at her neck, wrist and ears. If Roehn didn’t know any better, she’d say the woman was trying to show off her ability to portray the perfect politician’s wife. Of course, she did know better, and didn’t doubt for a single second that was exactly what the woman was attempting to do.

Eleqwyn paused with unbidden displeasure at seeing the room full of people she apparently had no love for. Her gaze fell pointedly on Ilydan, Rynd, Sajyn, and finally on Roehn, where it lingered a bit longer than the others.

“Well, it’s nice to see you’ve opened your table to anyone willing to sit at it, Lords Draea,” she commented coolly.

“I doubt the dining habits of my household was the big emergency that brought you here this morning, Lady Turvo,” Arcylaen countered smoothly, his tone civil, yet devoid of feeling.

“You’re right,” she agreed. “I’m here, because my house was robbed last night.”

That got everyone’s attention, especially Roehn’s.

“What?” Arcylaen rose from his chair. “Was it the same as the others?”

“Yes, all of our Cayen relics and monies were stolen, no evidence was left behind,” the Lady answered, and despite what a haughty bitch she was, Roehn could see that she was genuinely shaken by it. “The alarms were never triggered.”

“Is your father with the authorities now?” Arclyaen asked.

“He is, but as you know, there’s very little that can be done,” she replied. “Which is why my father is calling for a meeting of the Thirteen Dragons. Consider this you summons and warning, my Lords. Things are going to change.”

“Good, they need to change,” Cylaen agreed, dismissing her threat. “Our modern world can no longer be run by archaic Rites. The old-fashioned traditions no longer have a place in today’s society.”

“Those traditions and Rites are sacred,” Eleqwyn gasped, appalled by his words.

“No, they’re narrow-minded and prejudiced,” he countered. “I will state as much at the meeting. For now, we need to focus on the robberies.”

“Why don’t you ask your Ward where she was last night?” Eleqwyn suggested snidely.

“Why would I ask her something I already know?” he returned calmly.

Arcylaen let the intended implication hang in the air long enough to have Roehn and Brej grinning like mischievous children at one another across the table. She didn’t feel a single shred of embarrassment that he’d just announced to the entire household they’d spent the night together, even if it had been mostly innocent. Then Arcylaen had to go and ruin it, by continuing with a more clinical explanation.

“For all your claim on how sacred the ancient Rites are, you apparently know nothing of how they work. I can feel Leandra all of the time and exactly where she is, that is the entire purpose of the Warden bond.”

Ah, yes. How could Roehn have forgotten? She truly had been outside of his study the night before, though he hadn’t been able to see her. She’d overheard the very same confession when he’d made it to Brejeir. The Warden bond was putting a stranglehold on her ability to finish what she’d come to accomplish. Apparently, she was no longer the only thief in town, either, but they hadn’t robbed the Turvo’s. Not really. They’d robbed her, and she would find them.

Sniffing, Eleqwyn lifted her chin, obviously displeased with that insight, because it gave Roehn an air-tight alibi. “Well, don’t blame me, I’m not the only one questioning her motives here in Skaulling, or why she would purchase the House of Cayen. Otherwise, the requests for the Warden Rites never would’ve been submitted to the Council in the first place.”

“Oh, I’m very aware of why the requests were submitted, Eleqwyn,” Arcylaen countered in a tone that clearly indicated it was not for the purpose she was suggesting. “Now, I am very sorry that your house was broken into last night. We have been following all leads that we come across, and I assure you, the investigation has not rested for even a second. We will find those responsible. That should be the main focus of the Thirteen Dragons, not the resurgence of ancient traditions no one has bothered with in over three decades.”

“There was never a need to bother with them before, Arcylaen, but apparently, that need is quite present now,” she returned heatedly.

“And a matter which I will discuss with the Heads of Houses at the meeting,” he stated firmly.

Ouch. Even Roehn felt the sting of that one, but it was obvious the woman would’ve continued her verbal campaign right into the ground, had Arcylaen not nipped it so cleanly in the bud. Lady Turvo stared him down with silent indignation for a moment, then turned on her heel and marched from the room. Emmon gracefully fell into line behind her, to see her out properly–or perhaps, make certain she left.

Cylaen sighed heavily and returned to the table. “And so it begins.”

“The meeting was unavoidable, even without the last two days’ events,” Grevys spoke up. “The fact that we’re no closer to catching the thieves now than we were after House Riescho was originally broken into, has been making the Heads antsy and questioning our ability to protect them.”

“That’s the problem,” Arcylaen fired darkly, rapping his knuckle on the table with an unexpected show of frustration. “It’s not our duty to protect them. It’s the duty of all Thirteen Dragons and their Houses to protect the combined cities of Skaulling! This lack of responsibility and ridiculous notion of entitlement the other Houses have fallen into needs to be put to a stop immediately!”

“Brother, we need to rally our allies before the meeting,” Ryver pointed out. “Find out if the other Heads of Houses are in line with your ideas beforehand, so you’re not blindsided by a twelve-to-one vote.”

“Thank you so much for the confidence, Ryv,” Cylaen remarked dryly, but nodded in agreement and finally sank back down into his chair. “That’s a good plan. Unfortunately, for all of Eleqwyn’s lack of personality, at least she’s always up front. The others may not be as forthcoming about their true thoughts or intentions.”

“Then we can’t afford to waste any time,” Brejeir said. “I’ll send our team to House Turvo to go over the crime scene and talk to the authorities. They might find something that was missed. In the meantime, I suggest you start making personal visits to the other Houses, brother, with your Ward.”

Roehn nearly choked on her eggs. “What?”

“What are you scheming?” Arcylaen asked at the same time, narrowing his eyes at his brother.

“Anyone who actually takes the time to meet and talk with Leandra would never be able to dislike her,” Brejeir stated confidently. “Except Eleqwyn, of course. Let them ask her their questions and hear her answers for themselves, so they no longer see her as an unknown foreigner and possible threat. Everyone knows her Echelonite has chosen you as its mate, so give them the respect and opportunity to put their fears at rest that she isn’t going to distract you from your duties as the Dragon’s Head, that she’s actually already on her way to making you a better leader.”

“He’s right, Cyl. Whether you like it or not, this is now a political campaign. You’re going to have to put yourself and Leandra in the public spotlight, so they can not only get to know her, but you and her as a team,” Daelyn finally spoke up. “The refurbishing projects in the abandoned neighborhoods are a great springboard, and the fact that you two began them prior to the Rites and the meeting being called, adds weight to your position.”

“I hate pageantry,” Arcylaen grumbled.

Roehn completely agreed with him on that, but the more her mind unraveled the pitfalls and outcomes of their situation, the more she realized they had very little choice. Besides, someone else had broken into House Turvo the night before, which meant there was an unknown element at play and until she could discover if they were friend or rival, she had to do everything in her power to ensure House Draea remained at the top of the food chain.

“Arcylaen, I’m not crazy about any of this,” Roehn said sincerely. “But I can’t be the reason why the other Houses turn on you. I’d rather be deported back to Meive, before I let that happen.”

The crimson underlining the gold in his eyes brightened with denial. “You’re not going anywhere,” he said with finality.

“Then, it’s settled,” Brejeir intervened, just as his phone chimed. Picking it up, he read the message and then leveled them both with a serious expression. “And so is the date for the meeting. We have seven days to convince the majority of twelve Houses that you’re still the best candidate for Dragon’s Head.”

©A.C. Melody

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 20

Intentions

Warm lips brushed over Roehn’s shoulder, a broad hand smoothing over the silk of her nightgown across her ribs toward her breasts. There was a hard, warm body molded to her backside, too big to fight off, if he was determined enough.

That was the sole thought in Roehn’s panicked mind, when she woke in a startled daze. Her heart was already in her throat, pumping adrenaline through her veins. She reached under her pillow and wrapped her hand around the dagger she always kept there. With a trained move made all the more lethal by her feline attributes, she had the intruder pinned with a merciless blade pressed to his throat in a single, wild heartbeat.

In the colorful sunlight filtering through stained glass, Roehn’s harsh breath disturbed dust motes as sleep cleared from her frightened vision on the Dragon staring up at her in profound shock.

“Arcylaen?” she puzzled, before hazy memories of the night before started seeping through the panic and shame rushed through her. “Oh shit, I’m so sorry!”

She quickly lifted the dagger from his neck, but he was fast. His hand wrapped around her wrist and his reptilian eyes blazed with more crimson than gold.

“Why the hell do you have a knife under your pillow, Leandra?” he demanded.

Go ahead, say it. Tell him you spent years using that very blade to dissuade would-be rapists in slummy space stations, and that you’ve never spent a whole night wrapped in a man’s arms before. What’s a little soul-baring and bloodshed before breakfast?

“Habit,” she stammered out.

Her pulse was racing, which he undoubtedly felt under his grip. His eyes were volatile and damning, rather than skeptical. “Habit? From what exactly?”

“I got scared, okay,” she confessed. It was one small grain of a truth that had nothing to do with the real answer, but she hoped it was convincing enough. “When I first moved here, into the House of Cayen, it wasn’t exactly welcoming. The neighbors glared at me like I was public enemy number one, and I think someone tried to break in my first night there.”

“Did you report it?” he asked heatedly.

“No, because the house is so big and empty, it’s always making weird noises and honestly, I didn’t think anyone would show up,” she replied.

“Why wouldn’t anyone show up?” he scoffed.

Roehn gave him a dubious look. “Arcylaen, the movers wouldn’t even take my things inside, they left it all in the driveway. I know how the citizens of Skaulling feel about my house, I’m not ignorant. I didn’t want to be that outsider stirring up trouble over something as silly as a rodent.”

When his hold on her wrist loosened, Roehn pulled it free the rest of the way, but not before Arcylaen snatched the blade away from her.

“Hey–”

“There’s no need to slice your fingers off in your sleep, Leandra, for the Divine’s sake this thing is sharp enough to shave with!” He cut off her protest.

Reaching under the pillow, Roehn gave him a mild smirk as she held up the scabbard. “Again, I’m not stupid.”

Placing the dagger safely into its sheath, then into the drawer of her nightstand, Arcylaen grabbed her hips and easily slid her halfway into his lap.

“No one would ever accuse you of that, Leandra, but are you still afraid? Is that why you brought it with you?” he asked, all of his previous anger melting into genuine concern. “You don’t have to put on a brave front for me, kitten, but if you don’t feel safe here, I’d damn well like to know.”

“This isn’t a front, Arcylaen, the knife is just habit, and like I told your brother, I’m not afraid of Dragons,” she stated.

That used to be completely true, but the more she got to know them, learn their ways, the less conviction she felt in that statement. She was extremely leery of their tenacity, intelligence, loyalty and most of all, global reach. She could also do without being vulnerable in front of the most powerful Dragon of all. He’d just gotten a glimpse at the real Roehn, the girl she’d spent five years burying under the personae of Leandra Leontle. It felt too raw and exposed having him witness such a brutal honesty.

They were already irrevocably bonded by the Warden Rites, and by Shursja’s choice. Roehn felt like she was losing more of herself than she’d already sacrificed to her borrowed identity. Her very reason for being in Skaulling was no longer a smooth trajectory, but littered with obstacles. She feared it was her own increasing feelings for Arcylaen tripping her up the most.

“What are you afraid of then?” he asked.

Swallowing through the frustration of her own thoughts, she couldn’t escape his close examination. His eyes skimmed over her features, searching for his own answers, but at least they were more gold than crimson now.

“Not making a difference,” she admitted soberly.

Arcylaen stilled, his gaze piercing. “That’s the one thing you never have to worry about, Leandra,” he deadpanned.

Roehn was touched by his sincerity, but doubted he would still be her number one fan if he knew the kind of difference she was planning to make. Without any other option, she let him think what he wanted.

He brushed his lips over her temple and down her cheek in search of her mouth. When he found it, seducing her lips apart for his hot tongue to invade, there was no way to keep her body from reacting. She yielded to her own desires with little resistance. The burning need to have every part of him on that basic, physical level was becoming too insistent to ignore much longer. Arcylaen accepted it, pressing her into him even closer. His hands manipulated the silk over her heated skin, igniting goosebumps and her nipples pebbled against his chest, arousing them both.

“Mmm, kitten,” he groaned against her lips.

She heard the regret in his tone, and clung to him even tighter out of denial. “Don’t tell me you’re still angry, Arcylaen, you’ve already used that excuse once.”

“Angry, no,” he admitted, lifting his hand to brush locks of hair from her face. “But we are pressed for time and the things I want to do to you, Leandra… I will not be rushed.”

Delectable shivers coursed through her from that erotic promise, but she still felt like pouting. Of course he picked up on it and chuckled softly, which had her eyes narrowing. That only made him smile brighter, but there was no amusement in his eyes, only pure hunger.

“I have to return to my rooms to get ready for the day,” he said, after placing a soft kiss to her sulking mouth. “Meet me downstairs for breakfast?”

Roehn groaned, when he climbed out from under her, set her on her feet beside the bed. “Fine,” she huffed.

Rather than laugh at her again, as she’d been expecting, Arcylaen banded his arms around her more tightly and forced her face up to his.

“I want you in my bed, Leandra,” he confessed with quiet hunger. “Tonight, tomorrow, it doesn’t matter, because when you climb into it–willingly–there will be no coming back to this one.”

Heating her mouth with another devouring kiss, he added a final word of caution, before reluctantly pulling away. “That, kitten, is where the sum of my intentions begin and I am a man of my word, so please, consider this carefully.”

Even when he was trying to be nice, it came across as a warning, and neither changed the outcome. His wording was insignificant under the weight of his intentions. Roehn knew she would spend the rest of the day thinking of little else… and preparing for something she feared was already inevitable.

©A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! The next episode, Rival, is already in the works! If you’re just tuning in, you can find all previous episodes listed under The Wicked Web link on the menu above. Until next time…

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 17

words1

A Way With Words

Still using Roehn as an excuse to put on a show, Sajyn and his staff were gracefully efficient at getting the newly arrived Dragons set up with their meals. Brejeir scarcely waited for them to finish, before getting right down to business.

“So, what’s the verdict?” he asked Arcylaen.

“Lord Haraj’s request was first, and no surprise,” he answered around eating.

“I still say it was your phone call,” Rohen muttered between her own bites of soup.

“What phone call?” Brej asked, but wasn’t the only one who perked up, intrigued.

Arcylaen gave her an exasperated look, before telling them about the call he’d used as a ploy during the Gala to send the Griffin on an unnecessary errand. “That doesn’t change the fact that he was already interested and would’ve submitted a request with the Council, anyway.”

Daelyn snickered at Arcylaen’s defensiveness, who scowled in return.

“The other request was from Lord Gwyn of House Oryth,” Arcylaen continued, causing all of the Dragons to look at him in surprise.

Brejeir sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the side of his wine glass. “What interest would the Ravens have in this?” he wondered aloud. “The House of Cayen?”

“Possibly,” Arcylaen replied.

“What about it?” Roehn asked, displeased with the idea of them keeping pertinent information from her.

Especially, when it pertained to her own house. The two eldest Dragons appeared reluctant to share.

“Historically, the Ravens were always the most loyal to both the Black Dogs and the Wolves,” Ryver spoke up, looking at her from across the table. “About a quarter of a century ago, a falling out occurred and the Ravens removed themselves completely from any association with House Cayen. They remained quite detached from all the drama that followed, siding with no one during the struggle to remove the Cayens from power.”

“What if the Black Dogs took something that belonged to them and now they want it back?” Grevys asked.

“They would’ve filed a grievance with the Council just like everyone else did five years ago. There would be no need for them to invoke the Warden Rites over Leandra,” Arcylaen growled. “Please, look into it.”

“Of course, brother,” Ryver nodded.

“Speaking of grievances,” Brejeir interjected. “You know the two losing Lords are going to be filing their share first thing in the morning.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve already contacted Metka. At this very moment, he’s working up dismissal orders for anything the Lords could possibly attempt,” Arcylaen replied, speaking of his attorney, Roehn presumed, since he’d already mentioned taking that action to Councilwoman Thaya. “The Rite won’t be overturned.”

“Are you sure?” Daelyn questioned, looking between him and Roehn with concern. “The order of submission–”

“Doesn’t mean a thing when Leandra’s Echelonite has already made its choice,” Arcylaen cut him off, succeeding in shocking everyone at the table, except Brejeir.

Roehn’s cheeks reddened, dumbfounded at how easily Arcylaen could just blurt such a major incident like it was a common, every day occurrence.

Daelyn’s grin was slow and wide. “Well, okay then,” he celebrated.

Roehn offered him a weak smile, but couldn’t muster the same excitement. It was bad enough the situation made her feel grateful for Shursja’s rash behavior, knowing she very well could’ve ended up at a completely different table tonight.

The entire ordeal was infuriating, because Roehn didn’t want to feel grateful, anymore than she wanted to be bound to the Dragon’s Head. Her plans were edging toward complete ruin, thanks to some barbaric tradition!

“You know, you could just put a stop to all of these ridiculous laws, then no one would have to worry about rushed ceremonies, filed grievances or contacting attorneys,” she grit out.

When Arcylaen looked at her, she held his gaze with an arched brow, daring him to say she was wrong. He knew damn well she was right. They all did. Even the Council knew she was right!

“Those aren’t the only laws that need adjusting,” Daelyn added.

Arcylaen rolled his eyes. “We’re not turning dinner into a political campaign,” he stated with finality. “We have enough to worry about at the moment and by morning, those problems will undoubtedly be doubled. We need to stay focused on what can be handled right now, rather than in the future. Laws cannot be altered or eradicated overnight.”

“You’re the boss,” Daelyn sighed.

The rest of the meal was spent mostly with the others chatting amongst themselves about current events, while Roehn listened curiously and Arcylaen ate in silence, brooding.

Afterward, he led Roehn upstairs to the west tower, where her new room waited for its reluctant princess. It was another enchanting motif done in sunset shades of pinks, oranges and yellows with a touch of dusk blue. Arcylaen stood just inside the door, watching her inspect the hand carved furniture and fourposter bed. She lingered at the arched windows with stained glass depicting brilliant suns, dragons, castles and nature scenes. It was too dark to see what kind of view she had otherwise, but Roehn didn’t doubt it would be both breathtaking and of no consequence.

She would still feel like a prisoner.

“Since we’ll need to authenticate the artifacts again, we can all ride to the museum together in the morning,” Arcylaen said, when she faced him.

“Okay,” she accepted.

“The en-suite bath should be fully stocked with everything you need,” he said, as if searching for a reason to stay. “But if by some chance you need something, there’s a phone next to your bed that will connect you to Lyva or any of the household-”

“Arcylaen, I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time, I think I can manage,” she cut him off.

“Of course,” he smiled slightly. “Well, I’ll let you get some rest, then.”

Roehn nodded, wondering when their relationship had turned awkward. Suddenly they didn’t know how to be in the same space together? When he crossed to the door, she followed so she could close it behind him. It all felt so mechanical, yet neither of them seemed to know how to make it stop.

“Goodnight, Leandra,” he said, pausing with his hand on the knob.

“Goodnight.”

Holding her gaze for a moment longer, he finally released the handle and turned out of the room. Roehn exhaled a long sigh, then started closing the door, when Arcylaen’s hand stopped it and pushed it open again.

“Just one more thing,” he muttered.

She hadn’t realized how disappointed she’d been, until he crossed the threshold with golden eyes churning in desire. He wrapped his arms around her and lifted her from the floor, bringing her mouth to his.

It shouldn’t keep getting better. Roehn’s mouth should be getting used to his kisses, not feeling them more vigorously. The texture of Arcylaen’s lips were more defined and persuasive against hers. His tongue hotter, stronger and more demanding. His confident fingers kneaded the tension from her muscles, while his mouth threatened to leave her in a puddle of melted, needy goo.

Roehn gasped into his hungry mouth, when he cupped her ass and pinned her even tighter against his body. The hard line of his arousal was clearly defined against her lower stomach, launching her desire into a whole new orbit. Heat fused with her cells, creating tiny solar flares all through her veins.

A tiny moan escaped her and Aryclaen devoured it, grew hungrier for more. Roehn’s mind spun happily, like a child making themselves dizzy just for the sensation of it. For the sheer free-fall joy of it. That’s what giving into her lust with the Dragon would be; Freeing. But at what cost?

They came back to their senses simultaneously, though neither were ready to break apart completely. The intensity was gradually reined in, the kisses melting into a smoldering warmth, edged with the promise of future combustion. It had to be enough. Roehn couldn’t allow herself to accept more yet. She still needed time to settle with the idea that it would happen. There was no point in denying it, she wasn’t that naïve or, apparently, strong-willed when it came to her desire for him.

There was too much riding on the present to be worried about the future, at any rate. Arcylaen’s hand slid into her hair, cradling the base of her skull and Roehn leaned into it. Reveled in the feel of his masculine strength, while he rested his forehead on hers.

“That’s how I meant to say goodnight the first time,” he smiled a little smugly.

“Definitely a better choice,” Roehn reciprocated. “Maybe you should practice, so you don’t forget next time.”

He chuckled, placed a soft kiss on her lips, then spanked her bottom playfully. “Go to bed, kitten, we have a busy day tomorrow.”

In a blink, Roehn forgot everything she’d been thinking or feeling, overcome with the singular need to obey Arcylaen’s words. Her arms fell from him and she stepped back, her entire body possessed by an invisible force. It might have stemmed from her bond with Shursja, since the panther woke with a start, fully alert.

Roehn turned and approached the side of the bed, her fingers working the buttons undone down the front of her blouse. She needed to get undressed and into her nightgown, so she could brush her teeth and hair. Afterward, she’d go through her nightly process of washing her face and applying an overnight moisturizer. Then she could go to bed. She needed to go to bed.

Right before she could peel the blouse from her arms, strong hands clamped around them to stop her. She had no idea who it was, nor did it matter. She only had one objective.

“Leandra, what are you doing?” A male voice asked, his tone both surprised and aroused.

“I have to go to bed,” she replied hollowly, the only thing she could think of, a single-minded obsession. “I can’t stop, until I go to bed.”

“Stop!” he demanded, his voice hard.

In a snap, Roehn felt the unknown force release her body and mind. Under the influence of the Warden power, she hadn’t been able to feel or think beyond Arcylaen’s command, but there was nothing stopping the shock from hitting her in the aftermath. Her mouth popped open, breath sucking in sharply.

Heart pounding, she looked down at her shirt hanging open, her black lace bra and cleavage fully exposed. It felt like someone punched her right in the gut, the air exploding from her lungs.

“Aaah!” she started, grabbing the material and quickly closing it over her chest.

Embarrassment, shock, fear…fear was the biggest, slammed into her like a bullet train.

“Fuck, I didn’t mean-,” Arcylaen roughed out, but Roehn instantly shied away from him when he tried to touch her.

The ramifications were instantaneous. She hadn’t even had the chance to process what had happened, yet her first reaction was mistrust and it effected them both horribly.

“You need to leave,” she whispered, unable to look him directly in the eye. “Please…get out.”

“Leandra,” he held his hand up, as if he wanted to touch her, but he didn’t. He backed away from her slowly, his expression dark and horrified. “I’m so sorry.”

He was out of the room before Roehn could even clear her vision. She sank down onto the bed in a daze of confusion, as the hurt began seeping through the filter of shock. Still clutching her shirt closed, Roehn curled into herself as tightly as possible, because she started trembling uncontrollably.

Betrayal sliced through her, tears filling her eyes. Her mind simply couldn’t accept the truth and the more it tried, the more it hurt. She never would’ve expected to get her first taste of the Rite’s real potential from Arcylaen, himself. Not physically. She’d chosen him, because she’d trusted him with her body. Had known that he’d never make her do anything against her will.

The worst part was knowing it had been completely unintentional, because that left no one to blame. No outlet for the anger that quickly rose up to outmatch the heartache. For hours, Roehn worked through a gamut of emotions. All of the reactions she’d been forced to keep bottled up since leaving work to find Ilydan waiting for her. The apprehension, fear, outrageous disbelief over being forced to enter into a binding ritual she’d never wanted, the injustice, being denied her own home and privacy.

The more she relived the events which had unfolded over the course of a single evening, the angrier Roehn became, until it was the only thing left. She grabbed hold of it, because anger was better than heartache in so many ways. It allowed her to view Arcylaen as her equal in the incident, rather than the antagonist. The Rite had victimized both of them, created an outcome against both their wills and no amount of knowledge or understanding could erase that. Nothing could take it away. The traumatizing moment was forever etched into her brain, her soul and it was a fate she wouldn’t wish upon her worst enemy. No one should ever have to endure having all control of their own thoughts and body taken away like that!

Cauldex desperately needed a complete overhaul of their outdated traditions and laws. There was only one surefire way she could see that happening. Arcylaen needed to step up,  become the official leader of Skaulling, and Roehn needed to put her position as his unofficial business partner to much better use. She couldn’t be just a conservationist and thief anymore. Those were only bandage solutions, she understood that now.

The world needed an engineer of change.

© A.C. Melody

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 16

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House Draea

The drive across the city was a study in silence, though Arcylaen had set his phone aside once the House of Cayen was behind them.

He gently lifted Roehn’s fingertips with his own and studied her, when Ilydan turned down a narrow lane where a small castle stood like an ancient sentry amid modern day mansions. Roehn’s gaze drank in the gold-hued stone decorated with red and green lichen. It was a giant square, the corners made of towers with open battlements. Lead-pane windows were tall and arched with flower boxes nestled at their sills. All, save the giant stained glass window crowning the front entrance, glowing with the Draea Family Crest, just like his skyscraper downtown.

Well, at least their pride is consistent.

At the end of the drive, Ilydan stopped the car and waited for the security gates to slowly swing inward, before pulling into a narrow way. Tall hedges flanked the pavement like walls, until the right side curved away from them, revealing a large parking area complete with a guard tower. A Bear stood on the small stoop outside the arched wooden door, smoking a cigarette. He saluted a wave at the car, as Ilydan passed the garage and continued toward the main entrance. Ground lighting was cleverly tucked into bordering plants, granting plenty of illumination to the cobblestone courtyard, but most were arranged to set the castle aglow in the darkness.

“What, no moat?” Roehn asked.

Arcylaen smirked, yet continued to watch her, as if wanting to gauge her reaction to his home. It was gorgeous, of course, and no less than she’d expect from the oldest Royal family on the planet. The Dragon was just lucky Roehn wasn’t the spiteful type, or she might’ve shown his house the same respect he’d shown hers.

Unfortunately, Rynd’s words kept circling in her mind, tugging at her empathy. The blasted Hawk had nailed it; Roehn was completely ignorant when it came to the history of her own house. She hadn’t dug into any of the reports or articles pertaining to it, because she’d been leery of finding reasons to sympathize with the Dragons. After all, when one was intending to rob someone, it wasn’t a good idea to grow a soft spot for them.

She glanced at Arcylaen and practically rolled her eyes. Who was she kidding? Soft spot was an understatement for what was growing between them. In such a short time, she’d gone from never meeting a Dragon, to being the Ward of one, and somewhere in between an undeniable attraction had taken root. Yet, Roehn didn’t feel swayed from her plans. If anything, her time with Arcylaen had only served to reinforce them. Especially with the ridiculous Rites binding her to his complete control.

After climbing out, Arcylaen ordered Ilydan to assist Rynd with all of Roehn’s luggage, so he could be the one to offer his hand for her to take. She gave him a bemused smile, as she slid to her feet.

“Are you trying to be a gentleman?” She teased mildly.

“I am a gentleman,” he countered confidently.

The undercurrent of lust in his every nuance said otherwise, but who was she to argue when both sides of the man sparked a degeneration of her own ladylike qualities?

To prove himself, Arcylaen kissed the back of her hand–and then ‘gentleman’ took a backseat to Dragon, when rather than placing it on his arm, he entwined his fingers with hers and held tight. At the top of the stairs, the doors opened for them, but Roehn scarcely noticed the Bears on either side of the armored wood. Her eyes widened in awe over the splendor of the grand foyer.

“Arcylaen, this is breathtaking,” she whispered sincerely, her neck craning in attempt to see everything at once.

“Thank you,” he accepted, his smile genuinely pleased.

A grand staircase swept across the space from the right, creating a balcony across the back of the foyer, before curving down the left wall and finishing in a wide, angled welcome. Maplevine was woven through the decorative balustrades, sprinkled with the soft glow of fairy lights. An enormous chandelier hung level with the second story, the very light source behind the stained glass Crest visible from outside. It looked exactly like the fiery bloom of a Dragon’s Breath flower. The chain was molded into the same twisting, vine-like stem, the frosted glass stained sunset orange and crimson for the petals that curved up and then out at the very tips. The stamen spiraled down from the center, each holding a glowing orb of light. The stigma was capped with a multifaceted sconce of crystalline amber, the light dancing in simulation of an actual flame.

A small group of household staff silently gathered, while Roehn took in the décor. She supposed Arcylaen had probably called ahead to let them know about her new–Please be temporary–living arrangements.

“Leandra, this is Emmon, Head of Household staff,” he gestured to the older male Badger first, before moving onto a female Swallow, then a male Raccoon. “Prelei is Head of the Housekeeping staff and Sajyn is the Head Chef in charge of all kitchen staff.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Roehn greeted.

“And this is Lyva,” he saved the Dove for last. “She will be your personal attendant.”

Attendant or babysitter? Roehn forced a polite smile for the slightly younger woman. She knew a lot of prominent families still kept personal servants, but Roehn had no need for one. She couldn’t very well say that without hurting the Dove’s feelings, though. To garner a job at House Draea was undoubtedly a coveted position the girl was proud to have.

“My Lord, dinner is ready and awaiting your approval,” Sajyn announced.

“Good, I’m famished,” Arcylaen replied. “Emmon, Lyva, please see to Miss Leontle’s belongings. She can take the Sunset Suite in the west tower.”

“Shouldn’t I go with them?” Roehn wondered quietly, watching the virtual strangers gather her bags and cart them up the stairs. She’d never had someone else tend to her things before and wasn’t exactly comfortable with it.

“Don’t worry, your belongings are in safe, capable hands,” Arcylaen answered. “Besides, you’re hungry, because you haven’t eaten a single bite since Daelyn showed off his culinary skills at lunch.”

Roehn scowled at him. “Do I need to start looking over my shoulder for spies, L-”

His brow rose quickly and a look of challenge crossed his features, daring her to finish that sentence. When she clamped her mouth shut and glared, he chuckled. “Shame,” he mused, his gaze sweeping across her mouth briefly. “Once again, I don’t need to be your Warden to pick up on your more obvious traits, Leandra. You are a workaholic.”

Roehn countered with her own arched brow. “Says the man running an entire country with all the stress and none of the vetoing benefits.”

With an exasperated sigh, he shook his head and led her through the foyer. They had to step down into a hallway that started from under the staircase and continued to their right, ending in an arched doorway framed with more Maplevine and fairy lights. The same bold red carpeting that filled his office started as a runner from the other side of the threshold, leading them into the largest formal dining room Roehn had ever seen outside of a history book. Though it could never take the place of a King’s Great Hall, it was definitely big enough to fit his entire family plus half their neighbors.

Where the left wall ended, the room expanded into a more intimate alcove where a long banquet table of dark wood stood surrounded by no less than fifty throne backed chairs. Miniature Dragon’s Breath chandeliers hung at varying heights, creating a draping appearance over the table, which was adorned with glowing candelabras and fluted vases overflowing with fresh green foliage rather than flowers. Crystal figurines sparkled under the lights, tucked into the center pieces down the middle of an embroidered tablecloth.

Across the other side of the table, heavy drapes were tied back from the four wide and two-story high arched windows in the outer wall, but that wasn’t as mesmerizing as all of the things hanging around the room. Tapestries, swords, shields and the kind of standards one would see flying atop long poles. Roehn bypassed the carved serving cabinet laden with covered dishes, where Sajyn and his staff waited to serve their meal.

She approached the nearest hanging relics and marveled at the dirt stains, the wear of the fabric and frayed stitching. Her fingers yearned to trace the dents and scratches in the shields, smooth over the worn paint. Some held the Draea Coat of Arms, others just depicted a golden dragon. They were all real, well used, had never been crafted for their current decorative purpose. The swords were the only items still in immaculate condition, but that wasn’t surprising. Swords had long been a symbol of one’s status, since only the wealthy had been able to afford the best.

Roehn studied the enormous tapestries, trying to imagine how long and how many people it had taken to complete just one. The first depicted an ancient royal procession with gilded carriages and armored knights on horseback traveling to what appeared to be the very castle keep she was now standing inside of. In the scene, it stood like a stone giant surrounded by meadows and forests, rather than a ritzy, city neighborhood. The other was a well known battle scene between all the Dragon Houses and the Minotaurs, an extinct race.

“Leandra?”

Roehn turned to find that she’d wandered during her historian daze, drawn further away from the table where Arcylaen waited, holding a chair out for her.

“Sorry,” she blushed slightly. “I can’t help it.”

“I know,” he smiled. “But if you don’t eat soon, I’m worried you’ll fall over.”

As if to verify his concern, her stomach grumbled loudly and her face reddened with embarrassment. “Ugh, it’s pretty bad when you out-vote yourself,” she muttered under her breath.

Arcylaen laughed in a way she was coming to crave. Almost as if her smart mouth had the ability to take him by surprise. He scooted her chair in, then seated himself at the head of the table to her immediate left. Sajyn and his staff moved into action. Some carried dishes to set before them, uncovering them in a flourish of practiced grace, while others filled their crystal goblets with wine. The delicious aromas filled Roehn’s nostrils, triggering her saliva glands and another rumble from her empty stomach.

When the show was complete, Sajyn hustled the staff back into the kitchens to prepare for the next course.

“You know, they’re only doing this for you,” Arcylaen smiled at her in amusement. “We don’t get new guests very often, so they’re taking advantage of this rare opportunity to show off.”

“Oh,” she chuckled, flattered. “Well, I won’t disappoint them. I’m starving.”

“You don’t have to tell me something I already know, kitten,” he sighed, and dug into his own meal.

Heat spread up Roehn’s neck to gather in her cheeks again, only this time it was over the unexpected way his little pet name made her feel. It effected her on a more intimate level than his previous Kitty Cat nickname, though she couldn’t say why.

Rich barley soup was their first course, and Roehn had managed two delicious spoonfuls before the kitchen doors swung open and swished aggressively behind the Dragon who’d stormed into the room with a gruff attitude.

“Well, that happened,” Brejeir huffed, gesturing to Roehn and Arcylaen with a lifted hand.

Roehn watched Daelyn and two more male Dragons file into the room, stalking around Brej for the table. One of them was as golden as Arcylaen and the other was a dark brunette, though he still had the same gold-dusted eyes and matching Echelonite perched on his shoulder.

“Unfortunately,” Arcylaen replied darkly.

Roehn knew they were speaking of the Warden Rites. Arcylaen had most likely texted them while waiting for her to pack. He seemed the type to want to keep his most trusted apprised of every given situation, and there was no one Dragons trusted more than their own blood.

“Leandra, it’s good to see you again,” Daelyn said, before seating himself beside her and pouring his own wine. “Though, I wish it were under better circumstances.”

Roehn lifted her glass. “I’ll toast to that.”

Brejeir grabbed the bottle and lifted it. “Here, here,” he seconded, then poured a glass and downed half the contents. The staff had hurried out of the kitchen to serve the new arrivals, working around the Dragons as they meandered to their seats. “Can’t complain about finally having someone better to look at during meals than this lot, though.”

Roehn’s grin grew brighter, when Arcylan shot him a dark look. Unaffected, Brej claimed the chair directly across from her, and jerked his thumb at the two younger Dragons she’d yet to meet. “This is our second youngest brother, Ryver, and our cousin, Grevys.”

“Nice to meet you,” she greeted.

“Welcome to House Draea, Miss Leontle,” Ryver toasted. “It only gets crazier from here.”

Though Roehn reciprocated, clanking her glass to his, she had a sinking feeling his words rang with more truth than humor.

© A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! Check out the Wicked Web on the menu above for all previous episodes.

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 13

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Friends of Yours?

“Big mistake.”

It hadn’t been a warning, alone. It had been a prophetic insight on how Roehn would feel once the regret started sinking in, and Arcylaen’s promise that it would change nothing.

Smug, arrogant, imposing Dragon!

All throughout the delicious lunch Daelyn had prepared for them, Arcylaen had given her little smirks while eating in smug silence and she had no one to blame, but herself. With one lousy lapse in sanity, she’d handed him the very key to her undoing. What part of “I think we should keep this professional” hadn’t she understood about her own speech?

Hours had passed, yet she could still taste him. Arcylaen’s flavor was permanently branded in every corner of her mouth, just as immovable as the man, himself. In the museum staff room, Roehn clocked out for the day and paused in the process of gathering her things, as the memory of that burning kiss filled her mind for the millionth time.

Dammit, she was smarter than that! She’d known from the beginning that getting involved with him could potentially derail her plans. And it would be one thing if she only had the Dragon to contend with, but Shursja had been purring all day, sending feelings of contentment through their bond. She felt uncomfortably outnumbered.

A sense of déjà vu struck Roehn, when she stepped outside and found the all black sedan waiting for her at the curb. Only, it wasn’t Arcylaen waiting for her this time, but his driver. He opened the back door for her, as she slowly descended the steps.

“Miss Leontle, my name is Ilydan,” he greeted. “Lord Draea has requested that I bring you to his office for a matter of utmost importance, and apologizes that he could not be here, himself.”

A peek into the backseat confirmed that it was indeed empty. Roehn eyed the Steed suspiciously. “Is everything okay?”

“I was given only my orders, Miss,” he replied. “Nothing more.”

Oh sure, that’s not ominous at all. Trepidation quickened her pulse, as Roehn climbed into the backseat. The door closed, resonating through her anxiety like the bars of a cell. Was she overreacting? There could be a hundred different reasons why Arcylaen was having her brought to his office. They’d never gone over his ideas for the restaurant at lunch, the topic momentarily forgotten in the wake of her stupidity and his gluttonous reaction to it. The Dragon could merely have presumptuous and imposing plans, assuming–albeit, correctly–that she had no life and would be free to keep him company for dinner or something.

Roehn forced herself to relax and watched the city pass by in a blur of lights just beginning to glow in the early evening. It wasn’t quite dusk yet, but the remaining daylight held that tint of slate-blue that normally accompanied rain. When Ilydan steered the car downtown, she forgot her worries for a moment and plastered her face to the glass in awe.

Spires pierced the skyline, modern towers battling for most uniquely designed and impossibly tall. Skyways arched over the busy avenues, while glass elevators soared up and down gilded, mirrored facades. A giant, octagonal tower crowned a bend in the road, rising into the clouds with gold filigree trim curving down over the sides like a giant claw from the pointed roof. More gilded metals framed the elevators working at various levels up and down the tinted glass. Due to the curve in the road, it held the largest entrance of all the other buildings, fifteen yards of decorative stonework holding park benches, long planters with flowering shrubs and a fountain people could actually walk through if they wanted.

Toward the top of the building, and on every facet, was the Draea Coat of Arms glowing in colorful display for all the city to see. Even without it, Roehn would’ve known that was where the car was going to stop.

With a steadying breath, she took the hand Ilydan offered when he opened her door and then swallowed to see a Hawk coming right toward her with a stringent stride.

“Miss Leontle?” He inquired. She nodded, unable to speak. He touched something at his ear and issued a command for Arcylaen to be notified of her arrival, before looking to her again.”Welcome to Draea Tower. Please follow me.”

Roehn fell into step just behind him, unsure if she should be panicking or plotting the early demise of a certain Dragon. Was there really a matter serious enough to necessitate such an official atmosphere, or was Arcylaen merely trying to impress her?

The glass doors slid open as they neared the grand entrance, and they stepped into the atrium style lobby. Toffee veined marble reflected the crystalline amber scones and chandeliers, subdued by hand carved walnut trim along the walls. Employees and clients rushed about, completing their end of day business, while strategically placed Bears surveyed their comings and goings. Brass staircases with scrolling balustrades zigzagged along the left and right walls, for those who didn’t want to wait for an elevator.

A large desk manned by six receptionists sat in the center of the floor, designed to mimic the shape of the building. The Hawk bypassed it, ignoring the flirtatious smiles he got from half the occupants, and approached the single elevator in the back wall. Unlike those being frequently emptied at the front of the lobby, he had to enter an access code to activate the doors, indicating it was a private lift.

The moment they stepped inside and the doors closed, Roehn pounced. She couldn’t take the stony silence any longer. “Are you allowed to talk? Can you tell me what this is all about, please? I feel like I’m being escorted to my own execution here.”

He looked over at her, but his expression remained passive. “All guests of Lord Draea’s are escorted, Miss Leontle,” he informed her. “It is for both of your protection.”

“That doesn’t answer the question,” she snipped mildly, her nerves fraying.

“It’s my job to make sure Lord Draea’s guests arrive safely to his office, just as it’s my job to protect him at whatever cost,” he elaborated. “It is not my job to know why you were summoned, unless my Lord decides to tell me.”

Roehn’s eyes narrowed slightly and she couldn’t help but smirk in slight amusement. “Clever Hawk. Give me just enough information to answer my question, without outright admitting or denying what Lord Draea told you,” she caught on.

The very slightest tick in the corner of his mouth was the only indication that he was either amused or surprised by her astute observation. “Well, you might want to escort me all of the way into his office, Hawk,” she added. “Because if I find out this was all for some stupid show of male pride, I am going to hurt your boss.”

More stifled amusement flickered in his fractured amber eyes and a the small twitch in his lips increased. “I don’t think the Dragon’s Head is afraid of a little pussy…Miss.”

Roehn’s mouth popped open in disbelief for a full second, before she burst into laughter. Her cheeks pinched and were undoubtedly flushed, but the laughter just kept rolling out. More than that, it brought a familiar element from her life aboard the space stations she hadn’t realized she missed, and she appreciated him for giving her that, no matter how unintentional. His stony facade failed and he grinned at her, shaking his head. Something kindred passing between them in that brief moment. When the elevator slowed to a stop at last, Roehn was finally able to reel it back in and exhale on a final chuckle.

“So far, you’re my favorite,” she commented, as the doors slid open.

The first thing to greet them were two giant Wolves guarding the columns flanking a short walkway into the receptionist area with their arms crossed over massive chests. Shursja’s tail flicked, the only outward appearance that she’d gone on alert. Wolves had been the Generals over royal armies in the past, because they were natural leaders and their pack-mentality kept soldiers motivated, loyal and focused. Nowadays, they made up most of the policing units and special tactical teams, but some did work in private security like the Bears.

“Friends of yours?” Roehn asked the Hawk quietly.

“No,” he answered, all humor gone now, as he took her elbow protectively.

He kept a steady eye on the Wolves, as they passed between them and beyond. Even though he gave a short nod to the single receptionist behind an impressive desk, he didn’t relax. Unlike the Mice in the lobby, she was another Dragon. Her pure white Echelonite, hair and eyes of crystalline blue put her in the House Bowen bloodline.

“Amrya,” the Hawk greeted her.

“He’s waiting,” she said in a tone that, along with the presence of the Wolves, had all of Roehn’s previous nerves rushing back to the surface.

Anxiety had all but clenched her throat shut, by the time her escort opened the next set of doors. Then the world seemed to stop spinning on its axis, altogether. She stared, unblinking, at Arcylaen standing in the center of the most elaborate, luxurious office space in the world…speaking to an older, female Eagle.

Roehn’s heart pounded deafeningly in her ears, muffling everything Arcylaen said while he crossed the bold red carpeting toward her and the Hawk. She felt dizzy, motes of black dancing around the edges of her vision. She was going to pass out. The Hawk replied to whatever Arcylaen had said, but it didn’t matter. Roehn had reached the end of her game. Somehow, they’d found her out and now her life was over.

Why else would a Council Elder be there?

© A.C. Melody

Thank you for reading! You can check out all of the previous episodes under the Wicked Web link above, or keep reading with Episode 14

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 12

inspiration

Inspiration

Roehn didn’t have time to register the warmth spreading up her arm from their linked hands, before he opened the door and led her outside. Her jaw dropped, along with her spirits. She continued past him and out into the street, turning in a slow circle.

They were all boarded up, one building after another…discarded. Graffiti clashed with broken glass, overgrown sidewalks and the scattered debris of things left behind. An old doll buggy, a ripped and mildewed mattress. Remnants of lives no longer there.

The restaurant was the third in a long row of closed businesses with empty apartments above them on one side of the street. The other held an abandoned apartment complex flanked by empty townhouses. More than one showed signs of fire and whatever other kind of destruction had been wrought then, and since.

“There are neighborhoods like this all over Skaulling,” Arcylaen’s voice penetrated the shocked silence. “War zones where all of the occupants had either been criminals, or innocent citizens we managed to evacuate. The rest fled on their own, once they realized what was happening and that they were free to leave at last.”

Roehn covered her mouth with her hand. So many lives. Her eyes roamed over the countless dingy windows, two or three per family and a least a dozen sets in each building. How many more streets looked just like this or worse? This is what her family had done! All this time, she’d been spouting about the importance of preserving their House, their relics and these were the ruins they’d left behind! All of these homes and the shattered families who’d suffered for decades inside of them.

Lonnex was the Heart City of Skaulling, the others spanned out from it like spokes on a wagon wheel, increasing in number the further out they went. Four surrounding cities, eight outlying cities and Lonnex in the very center. The original Thirteen Dragon Kingdoms. That was a lot of lives!

“Why are you showing this to me?” She repeated, the uneasiness no longer a match for the disgust he felt for everything her family had done.

She couldn’t wrap her head around their relation, how she could have possibly come from them. It made her physically ill to know their DNA was floating around inside of her.

“I wanted you to see the difference you’re helping to make,” he answered.

Stunned, she faced him with wide eyes. “Me?” She asked loudly, her voice echoing off all the empty stone and brick.

He grabbed her shoulders to turn her back toward the scenery, wrapping an arm around her waist to hold her to him while he gestured over her shoulder with his other hand. Any other time, the position would’ve rendered Roehn into a melted puddle, but the moment was far more profound than basic desires.

“You reminded me that not everyone was here during those horrific times,” he answered. “That you never lived through it in order to understand why we Skaullings could just allow places like this, like the House of Cayen, to fall into ruin. It’s difficult to explain what it’s like living in the absence of hope. Despair is an infection of the soul. It eats away at your mind, until there’s nothing left but the disease.”

Roehn turned to face him again, so many words trying to form, but she couldn’t speak them. She had no idea how to make them emerge in any helpful way. There was no solace to offer, no amount of her own truth that could ever erase what had been done here.

“That mindset, that habitual way of life, can be very hard to recover from. And in the process of trying to heal ourselves and the people, grieve the ones we’ve lost and recuperate the crumbling infrastructure before the entire city falls–places like this, that harbor more bad memories than anything else, don’t exactly make it onto the priority list,” he continued, before shaking his head. “But you opened my eyes to the truth, that ignoring these wounded places doesn’t make them go away. It will never fix all the ways they’re broken. We have an opportunity to take back what was ours, and make sure that everything happening in these damaged neighborhoods from this day forward, is something better.

“So yes, Leandra, you. You are already inspiring changes for the good, making a difference by helping me see that we first have to let go of the insult of the bad, before we can hope to make better choices for the future.” He pulled her around to his side and gestured to the boarded up restaurant. “Even if it’s just one dilapidated building at a time.”

Roehn gasped as a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “You bought it?” She asked. “You bought the restaurant?”

“Indeed, I did,” he answered.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I have a few ideas circling. I was actually hoping to get your opinion on them over lunch.”

“I don’t know anything about business,” she stammered, trying not to feel touched and failing. “Shouldn’t you be asking some kind of analyst or something?”

Arcylaen shook his head and leaned closer, his eyes dropping to her mouth even though she hadn’t addressed him as Lord. Roehn was saved from the temptation of yielding completely, when Daelyn stuck his head out the door.

“Hey, you two, lunch,” he called. “You can snog later!”

Though her cheeks reddened in embarrassment again, Roehn was surprised by the disappointment that shot through her for the missed opportunity.

“As I was saying,” Arcylaen sighed, after sending his brother a dark look that had the younger Draea chuckling back into the restaurant. “I want you in on the renovations, because you were my inspiration. All an analyst can give me is numbers and probabilities. They can’t give me a different perspective or the right kind of good.”

A little speechless, Roehn smiled and couldn’t seem to stop the sensation from completely taking over her face. “The right kind of good?”

“Yes, the kind motivated by preservation, not greed,” he nodded.

“Oh, I can be greedy,” she cautioned lightheartedly.

“Yes, I know,” he said lowly. “Every time I think about kissing you, you manage to keep your lips from mine.”

The laughter bubbled out of her mouth, drowning the familiar warning alarms going off in her head. Maybe it was the need to forget they were standing in the rubble of her family’s tyranny, or perhaps it was his ability to say all the right things, at all the right times, while coming across one hundred percent sincere. Most likely, Roehn was experiencing a temporary lapse in judgement, because she found herself returning his flirtations as she started walking away.

“But, you make it so easy, my Lord.”

Roehn made it two steps, before she was yanked back and spun around in his arms. Her hands slapped into the hardness of his chest that clothing did nothing to disguise, and Arcylaen’s mouth crushed down on hers.

His tongue plunged right in for the kill, taking all that he’d denied them both each time before. Deliciously hot tingles ignited throughout Roehn’s lips and she swore she could feel the erotic vibrations in her teeth. Then she realized it was a deep, growling moan coming from Arcylaen’s throat. All the lustful thoughts of him she’d ever ignored came rushing to the surface and Roehn’s fingers curled around the lapels of his suit, so she could kiss him back for the very first time.

His arm banded around her, holding her steady while their kiss reached a fiery peak. Then it slowly ebbed into a savoring smolder neither was ready to give up on just yet. Arcylaen’s hands cradled her face, his thumb caressing her cheek bone. He moaned again, and Roehn couldn’t miss the damning sound of his satisfaction.

“You wanted me to kiss you this time, didn’t you, Leandra?” He rubbed in her face, his teeth sinking into her bottom lip slowly, turning the small bite of pain into a seduction.

All she could manage was a whimpering kind of confession. Once again, wishing for the ability to experience the moment completely carefree of any consequences, the way every other woman could. But, the Dragon was too pleased to let her revel.

“Oh, kitty cat,” he purred deeply, brushing his lips across hers again. “Big mistake.”

© A.C. Melody

For all previous episodes, check out the Wicked Web link above, or continue reading with Episode 13

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 11

closedforbusiness

Closed for Business

Despite attempting to hide in the farthest reaches of the archives, Lord Krennys still managed to find Roehn to announce the dreaded news.

“It’s time for you to take your lunch, Miss Leontle.”

Dammit.

Eating was overrated. At least, that’s what her stubborn mind said. Her empty stomach didn’t quite agree with that assessment. She wanted to offer to work through her lunch, but decided against it and simply nodded. She hadn’t spoken one-on-one with her boss since her verbal battle with Arcylaen that morning, so didn’t want to push her luck.

When he turned to leave the dusty room, though, she couldn’t bear keeping quiet any longer.

“Lord Krennys?” She hesitantly stopped him. He turned to face her with a questioning look. “I-I wanted to apologize for my behavior this morning with the Lords Draea. I didn’t mean to be so disrespectful, and I hope you know how grateful I am for the opportunity you’ve given me here. I never wished to do anything to jeopardize that.”

He laughed lightly, entering the room again and dismissing her concerns with a wave of his hands.

“Miss Leontle, please, you’ve nothing to worry about,” he assured her. “In fact, if it weren’t for ethical protocol, I could kiss you. Lord Draea wasn’t exaggerating, I have been after the Cayen relics for years and though your methods were…unconventional and a bit heart-stopping…they were driven by the sincere passion of a Conservationist, and that is something you should never apologize for.”

If that had been the only driving force, she would agree. Unfortunately, Roehn knew it went beyond that to the way Arcylaen always put her on the defense. Not that she could explain that to her boss, though, so merely smiled and accepted his version of the truth.

“Thank you, Lord Krennys.”

“You’re absolutely welcome. Besides, I rather enjoy my job and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that, either,” he replied and started turning away again, before stopping and holding up his finger. “Speaking of, please go to lunch, before I start getting cited for poor working conditions.”

Brows furrowed, Roehn watched him leave the room without any further explanation. She wasn’t sure how his job would be at risk if he were to reprimand her for her unprofessional behavior. Didn’t that fall under a boss’s job description? Let it go, you still have a job, be happy about that!

When she tried to muster the feeling, it felt weaker than it should. With a sigh, she glanced at Shursja cleaning her paws on her shoulder. “Since it looks like we’re stuck having lunch with that Dragon, do you think you can keep your fur to yourself while we’re at it?”

Rawr.

“That didn’t sound convincing,” Roehn muttered under her breath and left the archives to gather her things.

Her heels clicked across the glossy, marble floor toward the front of the building, where she felt her spirits rise at the sight of young students gathering in the main lobby with their sack lunches. It was a break from the tour they’d obviously been enjoying quite a bit, since they were all excitedly recounting the things they’d seen thus far. Roehn found herself smiling by the time she reached the doors. A sudden thought struck her, giving her pause.

That was Arcylaen’s doing.

If it hadn’t been for him leading the rest of the Thirteen Dragon Houses and whatever allies they’d managed to find against her family, these children would not be experiencing a day freed from the classroom. They wouldn’t know the joy of learning about their history hands on, rather than from a text book. Arcylaen had said as much in his speech at the unveiling. The museum had been left to completely decline under the reign of the Black Dogs, because there was no revenue in preserving history with donations.

If Roehn’s family had been given their way, she wouldn’t even have a place to work. Oh, who was she kidding? If they’d really had their way, she wouldn’t even be breathing! Resigned to that truth, she pushed the door open and wasn’t the least bit surprised to find Arcylaen standing beside an all black sedan parked at the curb. He glanced at the expensive watch adorning his wrist and frowned.

“You’re late,” he stated. “Let me guess, Lord Krennys had to hunt you down and force you to take a lunch?”

How in the world could he even possibly guess at that? She didn’t like the idea that he could already read her so well. She had a lot of damn secrets to keep. When he opened the door and gestured for her to climb in first, Roehn didn’t argue. She chalked it up to being smart, not cowed. Her move to Lonnex had taken up all of her time, so she’d yet to explore the city and had no idea where the nearest restaurant was.

The interior of the car was black trimmed beige in plush leather, making it easier for her to slide across the seat to give the Dragon plenty of room. When the head of a little white horse peeked around the driver’s headrest at her, Roehn blinked in surprise. Traditionally, the Steeds had not only made up the obvious Cavalry units of the royal armies, but the Chevaliers of every royal convoy. Which meant, the man behind the wheel wasn’t any ordinary driver. He was a loyal, armed bodyguard who would give his own life to save Arcylaen’s.

It served to remind Roehn of who she was having lunch with. A man that was the equivalent of a world leader. The car was undoubtedly armored on top of it. She peeled her eyes from the Echelonite when she felt Arcylaen slide in beside her, and glanced over just in time to see his mouth coming right at hers.

Heat spiraled through her the moment his lips pressed against hers and even though he kept the kiss short and sweet, Roehn’s cheeks reddened with embarrassment. They had a witness, for crying aloud! What was he thinking?

“Just in case you had any ideas about addressing me as Lord,” he said quietly, his face still so close to hers, his warm breath and lips caressed her as he spoke. “Know this will happen, without fail, no matter where we are.”

All the  blood drained from her flushed cheeks with that threat. Oh, clever, devious Dragon! The urge to call him Lord right then and there was absurdly strong. Roehn just wished she could claim it stemmed directly from her defiance and not the secret desire to feel his mouth moving against hers again. As it stood, his driver had already gotten enough of a show. Straightening, she lifted her chin with all the dignity she could muster and narrowed her eyes.

“Proud of yourself, are you?” She asked.

“Mm-hmm,” he smiled, completely at ease as he settled back into the seat. “When threatening to fine you didn’t work, I was left no other choice but to get creative, Leandra, but I’m quite grateful in hindsight. This is a win-win for me.”

“Ah, the working mind of a politician,” Roehn sighed.

“Careful, or I might just have to devise a way to keep the insults from leaving that sharp tongue of yours, as well,” he chuckled.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Dragon,” she smirked, but that only broadened his grin.

Too much confidence in that one, and she was much too clever to find it so damn appealing–or so she continued to remind herself. When the car turned down a narrow alley, Roehn peered through the windows a little nervously.

“Where are we?” She asked.

“You’ll see,” he replied, gesturing for her to climb out first when the driver opened the door from her side.

His evasion didn’t help her to relax, as she looked around the alley. It wasn’t dirty, so much as…barren. With a set of keys in hand, Arcylaen unlocked the door they’d parked in front of and Roehn held her breath, unsure of what to expect when he guided her across the threshold. The interior was gutted for the most part, exposed framing and cement flooring where carpet had once lain, judging by the glue stains.

Only years of experience kept her from jumping, when his hand settled on her lower back, but she was edging toward panic. Why would he bring her to an abandoned back room in an alley? Her mind could only think of bad scenarios. He’d somehow discovered her and this was going to be interrogation; that was the most prominent one.

“This building was confiscated during the war to rid Lonnex of the Black Dogs,” he explained, oblivious to her turmoil. “Where we’re standing now had been one of the handful of illegal casinos they ran in each city. Some of their dirtiest deals went down here.”

Roehn’s lips parted on a silent gasp and she turned, looking around the entire space anew, imagining it the way it had been. Card tables, craps and perhaps one roulette, but the space was too small for anything more. Undoubtedly, a wall of screens to watch illegal races while bookies ran the numbers. The bar was still there, though without its polished top or finished facade. The lighting was recycled metal discs with pull chains, definitely not the elaborate fixtures that had been there during the building’s heyday.

Everything she’d learned about her family meant none of this surprised her. They’d been highly organized criminals with a shady network of skilled thugs doing all their seediest work while they’d lived off the immeasurable profits.

“Why are you showing me this?” Roehn asked, her stomach a little jittery still.

“Come, I want you to see the rest first,” he evaded again, guiding her deeper into the building and just past where the bar had stood against the back wall.

A solid metal door was the only relief in the exposed brick. When he opened it, however, there was only more brick. She watched as he pushed the wall inward to reveal a bolted handle, which he used to slide the false wall to the left. Off-tune whistling and delicious aromas immediately greeted them, and Roehn found herself stepping into the kitchen of a restaurant. It was quite sparse.

“Wow,” she shook her head.

“Like stepping through a portal, isn’t it?” Arcylaen smiled.

She nodded, drinking in the fluorescent lit space of dingy white and stainless steel. There was only one other person there and he was another Dragon, expertly manning the food cooking on an industrial range. Though he had medium brown hair, Roehn could tell he was from House Draea. He seemed to share similar features with both Arcylaen and Brejeir.

“Leandra, this is my youngest brother, Daelyn,” Arcylaen introduced.

“Lord Draea,” she nodded, since he was too busy moving the skillet over the flames to shake hands.

“Chef,” the man winked over his shoulder. “There are plenty of Lords in the family, already.”

Roehn smiled smugly at Arcylaen. “See? I’m not the only one who thinks you’re deserving of that title.”

He grinned slowly, his gaze dropping to her mouth intently and she backed up a step, lifting her hand to stop him.

“Eh, I never said it!” She pointed out quickly.

“Finding loopholes, already, Leandra?” He chuckled with reluctant amusement. “How very feline of you.”

Roehn sniffed regally. “I’m going to take that as a clever and endearing observation, your highness.”

Daelyn barked out a hearty laugh, giving his older brother a pained look. “Give it up, Cyl, she’s got you beat,” he advised. “Now, out of my kitchen. I’ll bring the food when it’s ready, you two are distracting.”

Roehn was grinning as Arcylaen led her from the room, but it fell away the moment she stepped through the swinging door and into an empty restaurant. The entire space was in the same disrepair as the kitchen, stripped to the basics and in desperate need of upgrades.

“What’s going on?” She demanded.

“Oh, this place is officially closed for business,” Arcylaen answered. “They all are.”

Startled, Roehn blinked at him.

“What do mean, all?” She questioned, looking toward the windows that appeared boarded up from the outside.

Arcylaen held his hand out and waited for her to be brave enough to take it. “Prepare yourself, my little Conservationist,” he said quietly. “This may be hard for you to see.”

© A.C. Melody

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