Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas) (6 page)

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
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But she had never yet given Cetos a son.

And worse, she whispered Alexander’s name in her dreams.

It was possible that she thwarted him on purpose. They all said there was something strange about Katina, that she’d been touched by the gods and would earn their blessing or punishment. Cetos had been hoping for the former, but it seemed his wife had earned the latter. He was impatient with childlessness and determined see his situation changed.

He needed a son.

He would bed her daily, perhaps twice daily, until she bred.

Then he’d do it again. He’d have half a dozen sons if it were up to him.

Cetos paused before the house, composing his story. Katina wouldn’t take well to the news that her son was to leave, but he was ready for that. He’d never tell her that he’d sold the boy: he’d say that he’d found him a paid position, providing companionship to the son of a rich man. He’d say he had to do it, to make up for the low prices of olive oil and the fact that her pots never sold. He’d say he was ensuring that the boy would eat, that he’d have an education and a future.

She’d be grateful, if he told the story right.

She’d never see the brat again, which suited Cetos well.

It was all arranged. The buyer would arrive at the house after dark, the better to ensure that the neighbors saw nothing. Cetos had planned everything perfectly. Katina would be completely beneath his hand and carrying
his
child before the month was out.

The merchant had been right. Cetos deserved far more from his beautiful wife than she’d given him so far.

 

* * *

 

Katina had married Cetos.

And he’d been gone eight years.

Alexander didn’t know which detail he found more astonishing. Both together were incredible. He hauled on his pants and buckled his belt, then tugged on his boots. If he’d been gone a full eight years, did that mean that his term of service to the
Pyr
was complete? Alexander thought it must be, but he wouldn’t make a promise to Katina until he was sure. He put on his shirt but left it open, freezing at the sound of voices in the courtyard.

She’d asked Cetos to marry her. There was another incredible detail.

But then, his Katina was nothing if not practical. If no other man would have her, she would have spoken to the one who would. He had no doubt that she would have done anything possible to ensure Lysander’s welfare, regardless of any price to herself.

But why wouldn’t any other man have her? She was beautiful, perfect in his eyes. Alexander couldn’t make sense of that. What kind of stories had people told about her?

He also couldn’t understand how he’d missed the signs he should have noticed. As soon as he paid attention, he smelled a man’s routine presence in this room. Initially, he’d been savoring the scent of Katina and had ignored everything else. Only the joy of seeing Katina could make him forget his years of training and experience.

Alexander stood by the doorway and breathed deeply, familiarizing himself with the everything in the house in an attempt to correct his oversight. He smelled now the three slaves in the house, two in the kitchen and one at the outer door. He smelled the olive presses in the storage room, the basis of
 
Cetos’ trade. He smelled the burro now being led by the slave at the outer door to a lean-to where it would be stabled.

The evidence had been in the house, but Alexander had been so consumed with desire for his wife to notice it.

He had never met Cetos, but had only heard his name. He knew him to be a merchant and one much older than Katina, one who had been content to offer to marry the young woman whose family believed she should serve the gods. He remembered also that Katina had disliked Cetos—or at least the differences in their ages—from their first encounter.

Yet she had chosen Cetos in the end.

She had
pursued
Cetos.

He supposed that had to be a measure of her desperation. He had abandoned her with an infant son. The fault was his, both that she had made such a marriage and that speaking of it put such shadows in her eyes. He’d heard the accusation in her tone, and her conviction that she’d had little choice.

The fact was that Katina had been poorly served, and Alexander was to blame. Eight years with no tidings? He couldn’t say that his faith would have been stalwart in her place.

Alexander might have chastised himself and regretted his choices—even though he knew he hadn’t really had a choice—but he smelled the brimstone of anger.

A man’s anger.

The scent teased his nostrils and drew him closer to the door. A heavy footstep sounded in the corridor to the courtyard, and a slave murmured to a man who responded in an impatient voice. Alexander stood silently in the shadows of the doorway, knowing who it must be. In the courtyard, Katina stood with her hands folded before herself and her head bowed, a demure pose that made her almost unrecognizable as the opinionated and outspoken woman he loved.

Anger lit within Alexander that Cetos wanted Katina to be anything other than what she was. His prize of a wife was still poorly served, but now by this husband.

A much older man stepped into the courtyard and surveyed it with dissatisfaction. His face was creased in lines of discontent and there was something mean in the line of his mouth. He was a large and swarthy man with small eyes. Katina hastened to remove his cloak, speaking to him in a subservient manner that Alexander despised.

He remembered all too clearly how she had averted her gaze when he’d asked if Cetos had been good to her. One glance at them together told Alexander the truth. The man was like a seething bull, filled with violence and seeking only a target for his wrath.

He wondered whether Katina had felt the weight of this man’s hand and his fury grew.

Alexander knew his valiant Katina would take blows herself to save any other soul in the household, even a slave. She would invite them, to protect another. Had she done as much to save Lysander? The idea that she would be in a situation that might compel her to do as much infuriated Alexander, never mind that he was responsible for it. He clenched his fists at his sides, feeling the shimmer of the change.

He caught a whiff of a deep and rotten smell and his eyes widened in surprise. Was Cetos a
Slayer
? How could that be? There would be no
Slayers
for at least a thousand years, until some of the
Pyr
turned against mankind. All the same, the residue of the scent clung to Cetos, like the scent of a wood fire lingering in one’s cloak the next day.

There were no
Slayers
in this time. It couldn’t be a
Slayer
. Alexander chose to distrust his impression. Cetos must have visited some foul place on his travels and that was the scent that clung to him. A horrible one, but not
Slayer
.

Despite his rationalization, the scent put him on edge. He felt himself hovering on the cusp of the shift, ready to fight to defend his mate.

One thing was for certain: Alexander wasn’t leaving this house again without ensuring Katina’s safety forever. He would see justice served, even if it meant revealing his secret to her abruptly and without explanation. He wished too late that he had told her the truth years before, but Pelias had always counseled secrecy.

He had the power to set her free of this man and he would use it. Whether Katina wanted him as her husband afterward was something he couldn’t anticipate.

But it didn’t affect his resolve.

 

* * *

 

Katina knew she’d made a mistake in welcoming Alexander with such passion. Her excuse was that she’d been overwhelmed by her love for him, and her relief that he was returned. She’d never been able to hide her emotions well, and with Alexander, she felt so much that she couldn’t contain her feelings at all.

She knew though that no explanation could excuse her infidelity.

One look at the expression on Cetos’ face filled her with dread. He was a merchant who didn’t abide any situation in which he received less than his due. Katina saw the glint in his eyes and knew he suspected her of cheating him of his full measure.

Katina raced to take his cloak from his shoulders, doing her best to appear demure. That usually pleased him, although it wasn’t an easy manner for her to adopt.

“Where is your son?” he asked with impatience. “Doesn’t he come to greet me?”

“Lysander is gone,” she admitted, hoping the news would improve his mood.

It didn’t.

“What is this?” he demanded, seizing her arm.

Katina didn’t understand his anger, although she didn’t doubt it. He’d never grabbed her so roughly before and she didn’t like the change. “They came from Sparta...”

“Who?” Cetos shook her. “Who came from Sparta?”

Katina pulled her arm from his grip and took a step backwards, unable to explain his attitude. “A man named Pelias. He came to collect Lysander for the
agoge
.”

Cetos exhaled mightily, as if mastering his fury. Katina was perplexed. Cetos didn’t usually like to have Lysander around. It made no sense that her son’s absence was making him more angry than she’d ever seen him.

On one wall of the courtyard were a number of shelves, upon which were displayed Katina’s pots and bowls. Cetos went to the display, picking up a pitcher and acting as if he intended to make a purchase. She thought his mood improved. Maybe his journey had been arduous. “And you let the boy go with him? A
stranger
?”

The thrum of anger underscored his words, against all expectation. “He said he’d known Alexander. He told me several stories to prove it. I had no reason to doubt him.”

“He might have lied!” Cetos snapped.

“I thought you would be glad Lysander was gone.” Katina realized she was still holding Cetos’ cloak.

Cetos turned her pitcher with such deliberate care that his move drew Katina’s eye. He’d never looked so closely at her work, and she doubted that particular piece deserved such scrutiny. “And when was this?”

“Three days ago.”

“Three days. And they went to Sparta?”

“I believe so.”

Cetos abruptly spun and flung the pitcher across the courtyard. It smashed against the opposite wall, near the doorway to the bedroom. Zeta appeared in the arched opening to the kitchen, her eyes wide, but Katina dismissed her with a curt gesture. The girl fled with obvious relief.

“Worthless bitch!” Cetos roared to Katina’s shock. “How dare you send the boy away without consulting me first?”

This was ridiculous. “Lysander isn’t your son,” Katina retorted. “His fate was mine to decide, and I always believed he should follow in the tradition of his father. It’s what Alexander would have wanted for him...”

Cetos seized the shelves suddenly and pulled hard, sending the entire structure cascading to the ground. Katina’s pots shattered with a deafening noise as she watched in astonishment and dismay.

She took a step toward the shattered ceramics, then halted when she saw the rage in Cetos’ eyes. She backed away from him warily, knowing that something critical had changed between them.

She wondered if she would live to tell of it.

“You think yourself so clever, don’t you?” he snarled, stalking her across the courtyard with steady steps. “But the only time the boy might have been of use to me, you sent him away.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” Katina backed away.

“I found him a paid position! I found him employment in the retinue of a man as wealthy as a king, a man with a son the same age as Lysander. I found him a
future
.” Cetos dropped his voice. “Now I must go and beg forgiveness of this man of influence, and admit to him that I am not in command of my own household.”

Katina couldn’t stop herself. “You are
not
in command of my son...”

“You dare to defy me, when I have done so much for you?” Cetos roared, then back-handed Katina across the face. His heavy blow sent her reeling against the wall.

She hit her head. Her hand rose to her cheek and she tasted blood.

He had struck her.

She eyed his angry expression and knew he would kill her, without remorse. She didn’t know what had happened to Cetos or why he had changed, but she wouldn’t cower before him.

“I thought a wise man never left a visible mark,” she whispered.

“Oh, I will leave you black and blue,” Cetos snarled. “I will beat you until you learn your place.” He spat at her. “And then I will toss what’s left of you out into the dirt.” Cetos seized Katina, tugging her back into the middle of the courtyard by the hair as she struggled. He flung her to the ground, wound one hand into her hair to hold her captive, then raised the other hand.

But instead of him striking a blow, Katina saw a flash of brilliant light and heat. She heard Cetos swear in astonishment. A massive dragon raged into the courtyard, teeth bared and talons outstretched.

For a heartbeat, she and Cetos stared at the creature in astonishment. Cetos’ grip in her hair loosened in his surprise, and Katina pulled herself away from him.

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
9.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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