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…

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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…

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. Up next, Episode 21.

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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

Thank you for reading! Need to start the story from the beginning? You’ll find all previous episodes under the Wicked Web link on the menu above. Up next, Episode 18.

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