Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas) (3 page)

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
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The rest of the men turned to look and Alexander saw wonder dawn in their expressions.

“It can’t be,” Iggy whispered.

“We should find out,” Orion declared.

Peter, predictably, was the first to doubt his eyes. “It must be a trick...”

Alexander didn’t care. He wasn’t waiting for any of them. This was his village. His wife was here and his son. If he was home, there was only one detail of importance.

Katina.

His heart thundered at the prospect of the reunion they would share. Their marriage had always been passionate, even after the spark of the firestorm had been satisfied.

Alexander started down the hill with purpose.

“Halt!” Drake shouted from behind him.

“I must know!” Alexander spun to declare with heat. “I must see her, regardless of the price. She’s my destined mate. We had a firestorm!”

“We mustn’t break rank!” Drake insisted. “It could be a trick, or a lure. I don’t want to lose another man, especially not my second in command.”

“Are you even sure she’s there?” Peter demanded. “Who knows how long we’ve been gone. She could have left.”

Alexander took a deep breath, focusing his attention on the house he knew as well as the lines in his own hand. He inhaled slowly, dissecting and identifying the scents that were common to any village. When he identified his wife’s particular scent, the intoxicating mix of perfume and fired clay and her own body’s scent, his heart leapt. “She’s here!”

“No. I forbid you to break rank,” Drake commanded, his tone making Alexander pause. “All of you! Pledge!”

Drake put out his right hand, his fingers clenched in a fist and his palm down.

“The Dragon Legion stays together,” Damien said, placing his hand on top of Drake’s. The others followed suit quickly, except for Alexander. He yet stood a dozen paces away and he felt a muscle tick in his jaw.

Everything he had ever desired was in that village.

He had left once to serve with his own kind.

Wasn’t his duty fulfilled?

“Together,” Drake repeated with force and Alexander felt his leader’s gaze upon him.

“I have served my obligation as a
Pyr
,” Alexander said with resolve. He held Drake’s gaze. “I left my wife and my destined mate to heed your summons, as I had pledge to do.” Alexander swallowed. “Don’t ask me to do as much again, I beg of you.”

Drake’s lips tightened even as his gaze filled with understanding.

“Maybe this is why we’re here,” Alexander suggested. “Maybe the crystal is letting us repair the wounds of the past. Maybe that’s the point.”

The others caught their breath and looked at Drake.

“No. You can’t know that,” Drake argued. “You can’t know what you’ll find in that village...”

“That’s why I have to go.”

The two men stared at each other.

Drake was the first to blink. “Go,” he commanded quietly. “But return quickly to tell us what you’ve found.”

Alexander laughed. He saluted Drake, then marched down the hill to the village.

“We will wait,” Drake called after him, his tone level.

This was a gift Alexander hadn’t anticipated. He surveyed the village, taking satisfaction in how similar it was to his memories. He found himself striding quickly closer, anxious to be reunited with Katina again.

He hadn’t taken a dozen steps when Alexander smelled the stone heating again. He paused to glance back. He saw the dread in his Drake’s expression as he opened his hand to display the stone. His commander’s features were illuminated by the flashing light of the darkfire crystal.

“Not again!” Peter said.

“Alexander!” Orion cried. “Come here!”

A new fear seized Alexander, a fear that this chance would be stolen from him forever. Maybe that was the trick of the stone. Maybe it would tantalize him with a possibility, then steal it away.

He wouldn’t be cheated. He had to see Katina, no matter what the price.

Alexander pivoted and ran down the hill, racing toward the village as quickly as he could. He had to be far enough way from the crystal to escape its pull.

He had to be left behind.

He heard his companions cry out, shouts of protest that had no hold over him. He felt rather than saw the bright light of the stone, as brilliant as an explosion behind him.

Alexander halted at the perimeter of the village and looked back, his chest heaving. He saw only a fading blue-green flash of light and no soldiers. His companions had disappeared, as surely as if they had never been.

Drake and the others were gone.

Alexander was shaken by his sense of solitude.

He was alone, for the first time in years. Only when it was too late did he realize how much he had come to rely upon the counsel and company of the other Dragon’s Teeth Warriors. They had shared the same strange experiences and understood each other. That camaraderie would no longer be part of his life.

Even though he’d achieved his purpose, Alexander was momentarily terrified. What if he was wrong? What if he’d sacrificed everything for nothing? What if he truly was lost from everyone and everything he’d ever known?

No. He checked his wild thoughts. Terror achieved nothing. Alexander exhaled and calmed himself. He’d made his choice, and now he’d make the most of his fate, whatever it was.

Katina held his fate in her hands.

 

* * *

 

Your future lies in fire and earth;

The world’s in the son you birth.

 

The words of the Pythian oracle had echoed in Katina’s thoughts for almost nine years and still the prophecy made no sense to her. She couldn’t help feeling that she must have missed the point, because she certainly wasn’t happy.

Just as her parents had anticipated.

When she’d been refused as an offering at the Korykian Cave of the Nymphs, the Pythia at Delphi had provided the enigmatic verse as explanation. Katina had believed the greater purpose served when she met Alexander in the temple of Apollo where the Pythia sat. Their passion had been instant and their marriage quick. Her parents had been relieved. After she bore Alexander’s son, he had been the one to suggest that she should learn the trade of a potter, to fulfill the rest of the prophecy. She remembered how her life had seemed to be filled with promise.

But Alexander had left soon afterward, never to return, and now her son was gone, too.

And it was an inescapable fact that she was a failure as a potter. After eight years of relentless practice, her pots were still the ugliest to be found. The prophecy had to be a test of her persistence.

Katina both dreaded and yearned for days like this one, when she remembered every detail of her time with Alexander with perfect clarity. She was tormented by her memories of him—her first glimpse of him at Delphi and the magical sparks that had lit the air between them. She’d have noticed him even without the extra illumination, for he was so tall and dark and strong. So handsome. The strange fumes in the oracle’s grotto had made their first meeting powerful and memorable, but Katina believed they would have found each other somewhere and sometime. No matter where or when, that first glimpse would have been unforgettable.

Those wonderful memories stood in stark contrast to her present reality.

No wonder he haunted her.

Katina turned the simple gold ring on her finger, the one set with a single cabochon carnelian. She’d never taken it off, not since Alexander had placed it on her finger. She knew Cetos wasn’t happy with that—she also wore the much wider golden ring that he’d given her, but didn’t remove the carnelian. The russet stone gleamed in the gold setting, making her think of the fire and clay of her pottery.

Katina shaped the pot and reminded herself of her good fortune. She had a home. She had food to eat and wood for the fire, blankets for the night and a few ornaments for her hair. Her son was strong and healthy, even if he was gone. There were others less fortunate than herself.

The clay rose between her fingers, coaxed by her touch to take the shape of a bowl as she turned the wheel with her foot. She tried to find the joy in her craft, but it eluded her. The pot looked heavy and graceless, just like all the others she’d made.

Would Alexander have blamed her for letting their son be taken away? She doubted it. He’d been from Sparta, and they were a tough breed of warriors. Alexander had never been afraid to face difficult choices or to fulfill his duties. In fact, he’d probably endured the same separation and training as a boy that Lysander now faced. He probably would have thought it right for Lysander to go.

He certainly would have kept the pledge to his kind. As much as she had admired his sense of honor, there had been times when she felt Alexander dispassionate.

He could be so still and impassive that she’d wondered more than once if he was made of stone.

Was that why he hadn’t come back? Had their marriage been a duty for him? Had he thought his obligation fulfilled when their son had been born?

Katina wanted to believe otherwise. She wanted to believe that she’d given herself to him with a love that had been returned.

But as the years passed with no word, she had begun to doubt.

She closed her eyes as she formed the rim of the bowl, letting her fingers find the way, and let herself daydream. She savored the sense that Alexander was close to her, maybe hovering on the threshold, watching her with that little smile on his lips.

When she opened her eyes and turned, he’d be there, she told herself. He’d be there on the threshold, watching her in silence, that familiar heat in his eyes. The sign of his desire had always made her heart leap. In bed, she’d never had any doubt of his passion for her, even if it had been carefully hidden away otherwise. In his embrace, she’d never doubted his feelings.

What she wanted was to be with him again.

That wasn’t going to happen. Katina’s daydream shattered and she forced her eyes open. She surveyed the bowl before her without satisfaction. It was, at best, functional. Maybe it needed a pair of handles. Maybe she should roll the clay back into a ball while it was soft.

“A customer, my lady,” the young slave girl, Zeta, said. “A gentleman.”

Zeta’s tone showed her surprise, and Katina was surprised as well. She didn’t do a bustling trade, not by any means. A sale, even one of compassion, might lift her spirits. She draped the bowl with a damp cloth, then wiped her hands with care.

“How can I be of assistance, sir?” she asked, trying to work a last bit of clay from beneath her fingernail.

He said nothing, although she felt his presence. The hair prickled on the back of her neck, her memory of Alexander coming uncomfortably to the fore. Katina frowned with impatience at her own whimsy. There was no point in dwelling on the past.

She pivoted to face the client, a polite smile curving her lips.

It faded at once.

For Alexander
did
stand on her threshold.

Katina stared. Alexander had changed and not changed. She would have known him anywhere, that was for certain. His hair was still ebony and wavy, so unruly that she longed to push her fingers through its thickness. It was a bit shorter than it had been, but looked tidy and crisp. It suited him. He was tanned to a deeper shade of brown and his clothing was odd, presumably because he had traveled far. She ached at the weariness in his expression and the lines of exhaustion around his mouth. He was still tall and broad and seemingly immovable, a man who might have been a statue—save for his eyes. Her heart clenched with painful force, then began to pound when she saw the heat in his dark eyes.

The passion burned there, the passion she’d never been able to resist. When he looked at her like this, Katina had been certain they were destined to love each other for all time.

“Alexander!” she whispered.

He smiled a little. “You remember.”

“Of course!” she said, then voiced her fear. “I thought you had forgotten me.”

Alexander shook his head, looking so sad that she wanted to hold him forever. “We were so lost, Katina, but now I am found.” His voice husky with a rare display of emotion, one that brought tears to her own eyes. “My Katina.” Alexander lifted his hand toward her and it was all the invitation she needed. Katina threw herself into Alexander’s arms and lifted her mouth for his kiss, just as she had done a hundred times before. His arms closed around her, unmistakably real and heartbreakingly familiar.

His mouth locked over hers, his kiss as potent as she recalled. He kissed her as if he couldn’t get enough of her, as if he would make up for every lost moment on this very day. Katina tasted her own salt tears in their kiss but didn’t care. She wound her fingers into his hair, running her hands over him, arching her back so that she was pressed against his muscled body. She wanted to feel the lean strength of him against her, and she wanted to feel the heat of his skin pressed against hers. As always, Alexander’s kiss kindled a passion that Katina couldn’t deny, and didn’t want to. His touch could make her forget everything except the desire between them, and Katina felt warm in his embrace for the first time in years.

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
13.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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