Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 24

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Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re the boss,” Brej sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dear Divine, now what?”

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

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

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

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

“Lords Draea, I tried to stop her–”

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

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

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

****

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

“Uh…where’s Ilydan?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Lady Romaea,” Roehn accepted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would I be?”

“For getting Arcylaen into this mess.”

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

“But, it’s not,” Roehn whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Treasure hoarding syndrome?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©A.C. Melody

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

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 23

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Surprises

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that my surprise?” she asked.

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

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

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

“A theater?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she almost adored that he liked her bothered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©A.C. Melody

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

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 22

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Time-Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lord Malcaen Draea?”

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

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

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

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

“Is that a warning?”

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

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

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

“How do you mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which would be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

“Leandra, wait. I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a surprise,” he winked.

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

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

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

©A.C. Melody

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

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

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 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 19

WardenTsaoShin

image source: TsaoShin @ Deviantart.com

Gentlemanly

Arcylaen paused across the threshold of his study. Flicking the light on at last, he gave his brother a dubious look.

“This is a new tactic,” he remarked, hanging his suit jacket up, while Brejeir sipped from the diamond cut snifter in his hand.

“Yeah well, desperate times and all,” Brej replied. “Since your latest strategy is largely cowardice, avoiding anyone and everything that might have any kind of contact with your own Ward.”

“Brother–”

“No, Cylaen,” Brejeir cut him off, downing the rest of his whiskey and rising. “You weren’t here to deliver the bad news, or to see how well that went over. She’s beyond upset, and with every right to be so.”

“What would you have me do?” Arcylaen demanded. “Let her be the Ward of Haraj or Gwyn? Let them have complete control over her, and command her to do things against her will? Should I just let her roam freely about the city unprotected, so she can be captured and used against me as a pawn, just because her Echelonite chose me?! Is that what I should do, brother?”

“No, Cyl. You should be here when she needs you,” Brej stated firmly. “Not burying yourself in work just to avoid her.”

“I’m not–”

“Oh, bullshit,” Brej waved his hand in frustration. “You haven’t seen or spoken a single word to her all day, which is an extreme change from stalking her, I might add.”

Cylaen rolled his eyes at his brother’s exaggeration, no matter how slight it was. “You don’t understand, Brej. I feel her all of the time. I am constantly aware of where she is. You don’t know how difficult it is to concentrate on anything else, when she’s always right there in the peripheral of my consciousness. I don’t even trust myself to be in the same room with her. I can’t risk saying something the wrong way again.”

“What do you mean ‘again’?” Brej narrowed his eyes.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Cylaen helped himself to a drink he desperately needed. “Last night, I just… I told her to go to bed. They were just words, Brej. Something anyone might have said, but she couldn’t stop herself from following through the motions, as if she had no control over her own actions. I had to order her to stop undressing in front of me!”

Brejeir stared at him with parted lips and wide eyes. “Holy…wow.”

“Yeah, that about covers it,” Arcylaen nodded grimly. “Talex was right. I’m no better than the Black Dogs of Cayen.”

“Now, you just hold on a goddamn minute. You don’t get to talk about my brother that way–”

“This isn’t a joke, Brejeir,” Cylaen leveled him with a dark scowl. “I used my position, my power and influence to persuade the Council to side with me, to rush Leandra through the Warden Rites. How does that make me any better than them? How does that make me a good leader, that I would use those things to get my way?”

“For her protection, Cyl!” His brother countered. “After what you just told me could happen, simply by the way you worded something so mundane, I believe that more than ever before, how can you not? No, you did the right thing, brother. You know for a fact Haraj, at least, would take full advantage of his control over her.”

The dark, vile rage that swam through Arcylaen confirmed that his brother was right, but that didn’t make their circumstances any less volatile. They were traversing through landmines now. “It doesn’t matter. That is how they are treating the situation. Haraj said as much this morning, Brej, you heard him with your own ears. They’re calling for my position to be revoked and once the other Houses get wind of Leadra’s Echelonite’s choice, they’ll side with the Griffin and push for my removal as the Dragon’s Head. This isn’t about her guilt or innocence anymore, brother, this is a struggle for power, which puts us all in danger.”

“Then fight it, Cylaen. Run for office, get voted in and start making changes to these ridiculous laws!”

“That could take up to a year, and you know it. The elections are still two months away, and laws don’t get changed overnight, even when it appears that way. It takes months of planning, drafting and getting them passed through all of the right channels first,” Arcylaen shook his head, put the snifter to his lips and stilled.

His entire mind filled with Leandra’s presence. It shivered down his spine to ignite his lust and touch on all his concerns about their predicament. Even Jesper stirred on his shoulder, aware and confused.

“I can feel her,” he exhaled.

“You already said that,” Brej huffed.

“No, right now, I can feel her… everywhere,” Arcylaen stated, whipping his head around, as if he might see her there. “It’s like she’s in a hundred different places at once.”

Half expecting to see Leandra standing outside of his study, Arcylaen stared in confusion at the empty hallway, then kept going. He headed back into the foyer and took the grand staircase two steps at a time, with Brejeir right on his heels. It felt like he was chasing receding shadows that were always a step ahead of him, until they became one concentrated presence beyond the door to her room.

It didn’t make a lick of sense!

“Leandra?” He knocked on her door, but no answer came.

Trying the knob, he was a little relieved to find it unlocked. He gestured for his brother to wait in the hall, then stepped into the dark room. More relief filled him, when he saw the distinct shape of her tucked under the covers in the middle of the bed. He approached the side of it, and leaned down to brush the dark locks from her peaceful face. Her Echelonite was nowhere to be seen, but that was normal for them in sleep. Their symbiotic companions tended to slip into an unconscious stasis while their host’s slumbered, rendering them invisible to the naked eye.

“Arcylaen?” she stirred.

Her eyes blinked open, even as her black panther appeared on the pillow beside her head with a big yawn.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.” He straightened quickly, glancing at the open doorway to see Brejeir walking away with a pleased smirk on his face.

Ugh. Brothers.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked in sleepy confusion, sitting up while hugging the blankets closer to her chest.

“I felt…” How to explain? “I don’t know what I felt, exactly. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Stifling a yawn, she pushed her silky hair back from her beautiful face and studied him for a moment. “I’d have felt a lot better if I didn’t have to hear how the Council session went from Brejeir, instead of you.”

Sighing, Arcylaen sat down on the side of the bed and lifted her fingers with his. “I know,” he admitted. “What happened last night…it worried me, Leandra and it angers me. What if the next time, it’s something dangerous? What if I say the wrong thing while we’re in public? I’m second guessing every little word before I speak now, and the worst of it is, when it comes to my desires for you, kitten, I want to tell you what to do. I want to tell you to kiss me, strip for me, to do so many things and I can’t. Because, I want you to do them of your own free will, not by the force of some ancient Rite.”

Could she understand his frustrations and concerns? Was it a man’s ego, alone, driving his anger or a man’s desire, alone, that craved those moments of her yielding to him willingly? Leandra appeared surprised by his confession, but not put off, thank the Divine.

“You could always suggest it,” she finally said.

“Suggest what?”

“That I kiss you, rather than commanding it,” she elaborated. “If you’re already trying to be cautious about how you word everything else, then why not do the same for your desires?”

Because, in the heat of the moment, who in the hell was thinking clearly? Still, it might be worth a shot. Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly. He rephrased what he wanted about five different times in his head, before choosing his least favorite, merely because it felt the safest.

“Why don’t you kiss me?”

“No,” she answered, then beamed at him. “See? It worked!”

Arcylaen arched a brow at her. “That’s a matter of opinion.”

Still smiling, she straightened her shoulders. “Okay, ask me again, but this time try wording it more how you want to. I think as long as you keep it in the form of a question, it will work.”

Giving her an option defeated the purpose, couldn’t she see that? Even though he wanted her to give into him willingly, didn’t mean he wanted to pose it as a damn choice.

“Why don’t you give me a kiss, right now?” he suggested on a low growl, his frustration increasing.

“Okay,” she replied, holding his gaze. “But, only because I want to, not because it didn’t work.”

Leaning forward, Leandra pressed her mouth to his before her words even registered all the way. Liquid heat poured down Arcylaen’s throat from the contact, his lust rising recklessly, because he couldn’t separate it from all his other emotions. There was a startling possessiveness, stemming from having faced off with two other men that wanted complete control over her. It had taken a lot more willpower than he’d been prepared for not to threaten their very lives, if they ever came within a hundred feet of Leandra.

The mere thought of it had him pulling her into his arms, banding them tighter around her, as if they could always keep her safe. Keep her his. When her arms slid around his neck, accepting and wanting, his entire chest filled with pride. His desire was like molten gold, shimmering through his veins and he knew if they didn’t stop soon, he wouldn’t be able to at all.

“Leandra,” he exhaled, trying and failing to break away from her delectable mouth. The feel of her soft lips and the delicious heat of her tongue.

“More,” she begged, tightening her hold around his neck. “Please, more.”

“Leandra,” Arcylaen moaned, when she rose higher, squishing her breasts into his chest and kissing him deeper. There were no mixed signals, her desires were being broadcast loud and clear. It was just too dangerous. “Leandra, we need to stop.”

His body hated those words. He hated those words, which meant it had to be the right thing to do. Shivers of lust ignited through his muscles, when her hand dove into his hair and pulled his head back so she could peer into his face.

“Arcylaen, stop trying to be a gentleman when we both know you’re not,” she advised with a sultry smirk. “Is this really the sum of your intentions? Just kissing?”

Stunned, Arcylaen laughed, but it was just as naughty as her words made him feel. Hell no. Kissing was far from being the sum of his intentions, and the little minx knew exactly how to goad him with that challenge, using his own words against him. Was it any wonder he was so attracted to her?

“You’re not ready to know the sum of my intentions, Leandra,” he vowed, a warning served with a smile. “Nor am I settled enough at the moment to prove that to you.”

He saw the determination darken the desire in her yes, before she pressed into him further, her fingers curling around his collar when she attempted to capture his mouth again. It killed him to stop her, when every fiber of his being was aching to lunge.

“Don’t,” he began, gently cuffing her wrist to pull her hand from his shirt. Swallowing the rest of that command, he took a deep breath and tried again. “Please, don’t push at my restraints when they’re already close to snapping, Leandra. I’m angry. I don’t want that anywhere near you, near us, especially our first time together.”

Her features softened with understanding, but there was still a deep well of determination she wasn’t even trying to hide. It only made Arcylaen burn hotter for her.

“Will you stay here with me, then, for just a little while?” she asked.

“That is something I’d never say no to,” he conceded. Despite the further strain it put on his lust, it helped slake some of his possessiveness, at least. When Leandra made to pull the covers aside for him, Arcylaen quickly placed his hand on them to stop her and shook his head. “I’ll be okay on top of the blankets.”

With a heavy sigh, she waited for him to toe off his shoes and stretch out beside her with the barrier of clothing and bedding between their bodies. Snuggling into his arms as close as she could get, his little kitty cat just couldn’t stop herself from expressing her unhappiness. Something he found just as mesmerizing as the rest of her, because it was refreshingly honest.

“I don’t think I like your gentlemanly side, Dragon.”

Pulling her into him even closer, Arcylaen inhaled the exotic perfume of her hair and smiled wickedly into the darkness. “A temporary setback, kitten, I assure you. Very temporary.”

Thank you for reading! If you’re just tuning in, you can find all previous episodes of Thief of Dragons under The Wicked Web link on the menu above. Up next, Episode 20.

p.s. I normally don’t publish twice in one day, unless someone is in need of an Arcylaen-fix. 😉  Hope this did the trick!

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Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 18

Astral

The Power of Spirit

The next morning, Roehn found the grand dining hall full of food, but empty of Dragons. Lifting covers off the trays, she made herself a plate and carried it into the kitchen. Rynd was sitting at the booth style table with Ilydan and Sajyn. They looked at her in surprise, but then the Hawk scooted over and patted the bench to his left. Grateful, she sat down. She was still nervous about facing Arcylaen, so was relieved he wasn’t there yet. They definitely needed to talk about what had happened the night before, she’d just prefer to get some coffee into her system first.

More than anything, Roehn hoped to get him to understand that he wasn’t to blame. She wanted to erase the memory of sheer horror that had crossed his features when he’d realized his own words had literally taken over all of her free will. Unfortunately, Rynd’s next words squashed any hope she’d get that chance before work.

“The Lords Draea were summoned to City Hall first thing this morning,” he informed her. “They won’t be able to make it to the museum before opening, so Lords Ryver and Grevys will be meeting us there for the authentication process.”

“Grievances have already been filed?” Roehn asked, glancing at her watch. It was only six-thirty!

“Word must’ve reached Haraj and Gwyn last night, undoubtedly from someone spotting you and Councilwoman Thaya arriving so close together at Draea Tower yesterday afternoon,” Rynd nodded. “They were waiting for the Council at dawn.”

The main floor lobby of Draea Tower had been rather busy, but Roehn’s suspicions fell to the busy little mice manning the large receptionist desk. Keeping that to herself, she shrugged a shoulder and started in on her breakfast.

“It’s nothing more than we were already expecting, right?”

Rynd gave her a wink. “Don’t worry, it will all blow over soon enough. Until then, guess who you get to hang out with all day?”

Roehn narrowed her eyes, while chewing on a strip of bacon. “You’re not going to follow me around the museum like some creepy lurker, are you?”

“Creepy?” he scoffed, feigning offense.

“I’d be creeped out,” Sajyn put in, causing Roehn to grin at him.

“That’s because you’re prey, chipmunk,” Rynd returned.

Even the racoon on Sajyn’s shoulder managed an unimpressed look at the insult.

“I’d just shoot him,” Ilydan supplied conversationally, while continuing to read the morning paper.

“So much love,” Rynd muttered back into his breakfast, while Roehn chuckled around hers.

*

Once again, the artifacts were conclusively authentic, but when Roehn asked Ryver if he’d heard anything about the Council session, his reply was negative.

“But, don’t worry,” he added. “I’m sure Cylaen will let you know the moment he and Brej have the final verdict.”

They didn’t. Word never came. Not a single phone call, text or appearance. Since Sajyn had been nice enough to pack her a lunch, there had been no need for Roehn to go outside during her break, yet she had. The sting of disappointment to see the curb devoid of Arcylaen’s all-black sedan stayed with her, despite Rynd’s continued vows of contact from the Dragon soon. Roehn tried consoling herself with reason. Most likely, the grievances had taken up time that Arcylaen had to make up at work, leaving him no time to contact anyone. He was just busy, that’s all. She had no idea what he did for a living, other than run the entire country of Skaulling in an unofficial capacity. That was bound to keep his plate excessively full.

At the end of the day, Ilydan appeared in an otherwise empty car to take her back to House Draea. Rynd was her only company for dinner. As much as she liked the Hawk, he was not the man she wanted to talk to. Finally, a Dragon entered the room as they were polishing off dessert. It just wasn’t the one she’d been hoping for.

“What’s for dinner? I’m starved,” Brejeir greeted, making his way to the covered trays on the serving buffet.

“Where’s Arcylaen?” Roehn asked.

“I’m sure he’ll be here shortly,” Brej answered. “The Council took longer than we’d anticipated. He’s probably still at the office working.”

She tried to settle with that, and couldn’t. “Why did it take longer? How did it go?”

“No worries, the Council stood by their choice, but to say the requesting Lords weren’t happy about it, is a slight understatement,” he replied, piling food onto his plate, before joining them at the table. Claiming the seat directly across from her again, he held Roehn’s gaze firmly. “Rynd will be your bodyguard for some time, so I hope you’re getting along okay.”

“She loves me,” the Hawk said confidently.

“What’s the threat?” Roehn asked.

“The word’s out now, that your Echelonite has chosen Arcylaen as its mate,” Brej answered soberly. “That makes you a target from many Houses, including some of our own.”

“I’m not afraid of Dragons,” she stated darkly, beyond irritated. “Especially, Eleqwyn Turvo.”

Bejeir smiled. “I see you’ve already had the pleasure,” he said. “Damn, I wish I could’ve been there. The problem is, she’s not the only Dragon who believes in the traditional uniting of Houses. There are older, more powerful members of our species that will do what they feel is necessary to preserve those traditions, even if it’s unlawful. Cylaen is deeply concerned for your safety now. I would advise not doing anything that will cause him more worry.”

“What can I do?” Roehn balked. “I have a babysitter and a driver. I can’t even go to my own house. I’m lucky I get to go to my job.”

“Leandra–”

“Don’t you dare say that you understand,” she cut him off viciously, pushing out of her chair. “Until you have been stripped of all your freedom and have someone with the power to physically make you do whatever they want with just their words, do not ever tell me that you understand!”

Though she instantly regretted losing her temper, Roehn felt every emotion behind her words. Unable to bear the weight of their pitying looks, she pivoted on her heels and retreated to her room. She hated the lack of outlet for her frustrations. She paced, wanting to rage, wishing she had the courage to pick up the priceless artifacts around her and throw them, but she didn’t. Being a conservationist wasn’t just for show, after all. Roehn could never live with herself if she purposely destroyed something with historical significance.

She wasn’t them. She wasn’t her family. Yet, once again, she found herself in the position of being utterly helpless because of their crimes! No one truly hated the Black Dogs of Cayen more than Roehn, but that hatred hurt. It cut away at her insides and messed with her head. There was something unnatural about despising your own flesh and blood, but how could she not? They’d abandoned her, shunned her, plotted to end her…and worst of all, had been so horrible they’d been destroyed before she’d gotten the chance to meet them. Before she could look them in the eyes and demand to know why!

They were just as much to blame for robbing her of that opportunity as the Dragons. But, Roehn was tired of blaming. She just wanted to move on and the only way to do that, was by completing her mission to take her rightful inheritance and turn it into something good. She wanted people to see that a daughter of the House of Cayen could be better. Could make better choices, and be a positive force for change, but that was mostly likely a pipe dream. In truth, they would never really knew who she was. Every time they would praise or compliment her accomplishments, though, Roehn would know they were really cheering on a Black Dog. That’s all that mattered.

It was time to bring balance back to the scales. Perhaps, Arcylaen’s absence was really a blessing in disguise. Decided, Roehn quickly got herself ready for bed. Once she was tucked in, she went right to work. Despite the success of her powers, it took time getting deep enough into the right kind of meditative state that allowed her to leave her body. The Dragons thought they were up against a group of thieves, because there was no way one person alone could pull off the heists, carry all the goods and bypass the alarms. They had no idea how right and wrong they were.

Roehn had split her astral self a thousand times in the past, but this night was different. There was a greater risk at getting caught, a much greater consequence if she were and an even greater necessity to do it, anyway. She needed her freedom back. Not just for herself, but Arcylaen, as well. It was obvious the responsibility was weighing on him heavier than they’d thought it would. They had to remove the Warden Rites out from between them, before it ruined whatever chance they might have at a normal, healthy relationship. Something she’d never imagined being concerned about with a Dragon, but Roehn was no longer in denial over her attraction to him. There was an unquestionable desire to see where it might lead.

First, she just needed to pull off a little spiritual cat burglary. Nothing her chosen Echelonite couldn’t handle…

Thank you for reading! If you’d like to start Thief of Dragons from the beginning, you can find all of the previous episodes under The Wicked Web link on the menu. Up next, Episode 19.

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