Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas) (7 page)

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
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The dragon’s scales were the hue of ebony and gleamed as if polished individually by a hundred slaves. The scales on his chest looked to be silver but with proximity, Katina saw they were the color of smoky amethysts. His teeth were enormous and sharp, and his wings stretched nearly the entire width of the courtyard. He appeared as if conjured of nowhere, but then attacked Cetos with savage force.

The dragon roared and breathed a torrent of fire at Cetos, then struck him down with fierce blow from his front claw. Cetos fell to his knees and cowered, folding his arms over his head. Katina scurried toward the wall, uncertain of the creature’s intent.

She turned her back to the wall and looked back. The dragon turned his gaze upon her, his expression both hungry and knowing. She caught her breath and toward the kitchen, wondering if there was any escape from this beast.

She was fiercely glad that Lysander was gone and safe.

In that instant, Cetos seized a shard of pottery and flung it at the dragon, apparently aiming for the creature’s face. The dragon roared and he thrashed his tail, his blow sending Cetos flying into the opposite wall. The dragon’s eyes flashed, then he arched his neck and breathed a stream of fire at Cetos. Katina smelled burning cloth and singed flesh. She heard Cetos scream in agony and turned her face away to avoid seeing his fate.

She supposed a better person wouldn’t have been glad that Cetos suffered.

Katina didn’t see the dragon approach until she felt the heat of his presence. She glanced up just as he snatched at her. She struggled when his talons locked around her waist in a fearsome grip. She fought against his merciless grip, knowing it was futile to even try to match his strength, then cried out when he took flight.

With her securely in his grasp.

Katina looked down into the courtyard of her home, unable to make sense of what was happening. She’d been captured by a dragon. The dragon was flying through the air. Was he one of the gods, having taken this form? Or was he some strange beast, created by the gods to serve some whim? Where would he take her? And why?

She was still holding the cloak she had taken from Cetos’ shoulders. She stared at it as if seeing it for the first time. Then she glanced down at the village that was dropping away beneath her feet.

The courtyard of her home was filled with broken pottery and flames. She saw the slaves run to Cetos and pour a jug of water over him, then she couldn’t see him anymore. She saw the neighbors come from their homes, leaving the warmth of their courtyards to investigate the noise. Several looked up, and their jaws fell slack in surprise.

Then the dragon beat his wings hard, carrying her high into the sky and away from all she had known. Katina looked up at the darkening sky, out over the hills, then back down at the village below.

She was astonished to realize that she was glad. She dropped Cetos’ cloak and let it flutter toward the earth, a part of her past and not her future. The sight of it falling pleased her so much that she removed Cetos’ gold ring and threw it after the cloak.

For the first time in years, Katina felt free.

She owed a debt to a dragon for that. She couldn’t help but look up at the impressive creature and wonder what price he’d demand as his due.

 

* * *

 

Alexander could have gnashed his teeth and screamed in frustration.

Because he’d not only possessed Cetos’ wife, but he’d attacked the man in his own home. He’d burned Cetos with dragonfire and left him writhing on the ground.

Homes should be sanctuaries and not be filled with violence. There was no doubt that Cetos shouldn’t have struck Katina, but still Alexander had been wrong to take vengeance for that in the man’s own home.

What price would he be compelled to pay for his transgression? Alexander feared it might be more years of service. He could lose all the promise brought by the darkfire, because of his own impulsive choice. All the same, he couldn’t have done anything differently. He couldn’t have stood back and watched Katina be beaten. He didn’t even regret that Cetos was dead.

But Alexander did regret that he would have to pay for his crime, for he feared it would cost him all that he had been poised to regain.

How could he leave Katina again?

How could he ever win her love and trust, if he couldn’t pledge to stay with her?

Why had he been sent back to this time, if not to be united with his mate?

 

* * *

 

Cetos could smell roasted meat with sickening clarity and only gradually realized that he was the meat that had been roasted. His body was consumed by pain, scorching hot pain that drove all thought from his mind. The slaves had drenched him in water, and now knelt beside him, but he couldn’t answer their questions.

“Step aside,” commanded a man, and Cetos nearly fainted at the accented voice.

The rich foreign merchant.

The one he had to disappoint.

Of course, the merchant had arrived as arranged, in order to collect the boy. Even though he couldn’t keep the bargain, Cetos didn’t want to return those gold coins.

He also didn’t want to tell the merchant the truth.

There was something terrifying about this foreigner, something Cetos had found easy to dismiss when the man had offered him so many coins. Now, he recalled the strange cold blue of the foreigner’s eyes and the yellow gold of his very short hair. Such coloring was seldom seen in these parts, so seldom that it seemed unreal. The merchant had spoken in an odd way too, impatient and quick, and his choice of words had made him even harder to understand.

And there’d been something else. Something Cetos didn’t want to remember.

He kept his eyes closed and pretended to be oblivious to all around him. He heard the slaves move away and felt the attention of the merchant bent upon him. Yes, that was part of it. The stillness. The focus. The intensity—as if the stranger could read Cetos’ very thoughts. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t right. Men couldn’t be so still as this. Cetos could have sworn that the merchant knew he had a son before the question was even asked.

He wondered again if the merchant was a deity in disguise, a god come to walk amongst men for some purpose of his own.

To collect young boys, perhaps.

Why had he wanted to buy Lysander? It was too late to ask.

Cetos’ heart pounded as that man walked around him, the soles of his sandals very close, then bent over Cetos.

Cetos heard him sniff.

The sound so startled Cetos that he shuddered involuntarily. His eyelids flickered, too, revealing that he was conscious. He had time to hope that the merchant hadn’t noticed, then the visitor chuckled.

It was as terrifying a sound as Cetos recalled. Cold. Merciless. As if the merchant enjoying injuring others and took pleasure in pain.

“Where is the boy?” the stranger demanded in his oddly accented speech. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten our bargain?”

There was something about the merchant’s voice that made Cetos want to respond, something that compelled him to try. It was an enchanting voice, so melodious and musical. He looked up and saw once more the flames dancing in the blue eyes of the merchant.

He’d seen those flames before when he’d talked to this very same man, although he hadn’t wanted to remember them. They were unnatural and wrong, but as soon as Cetos looked at them, he couldn’t even blink, much less look away.

Instead he stared more deeply into the merchant’s eyes.

“The boy,” reminded the merchant, his voice low and insistent.

“Gone,” Cetos managed to whisper.

“Gone?”

Cetos heard the displeasure in the merchant’s voice, but the pain of his burns was overwhelming him. The merchant glanced away, and freed from his gaze, Cetos felt his own eyes close.

Then something sharp locked around his neck, like a claw.

He gasped and his eyes flew open. A dragon held him by the throat, those same strange flames dancing in the pupils of his eyes. It wasn’t the same dragon as had burned him before. This one was enormous and brilliant yellow, the hue of topaz trimmed with gold.

A second dragon. If anything, he was more terrifying than the first one. He seemed cold and merciless, while the other had been passionate.

Where was the merchant? He couldn’t look for him, not when those flames in the dragon’s eyes danced so brightly that they fascinated him.

“Where have they gone?” the dragon demanded.

His voice was identical to that of the merchant. Cetos was shocked. Was he in the clutch of Zeus? That god dearly loved to change forms, to toy with mortal men, and to inflict punishment for no reason beyond his own amusement.

“Where?” demanded the dragon again, giving Cetos a little squeeze of encouragement.

Cetos realized a little bit late that this exchange was about more than the gold coins he’d coveted.

“Sparta,” he confessed, then choked as the talons dug more deeply into his skin.

“Are you sure?” The dragon’s voice was low and silky, inescapable.

Cetos started to agree, then had a realization. Katina had left his house. He knew she would pursue the boy to retrieve him. He knew he’d introduced doubt into her mind about her decision to send the boy to Sparta, and he knew what she would do as a result of that doubt.

He shook his head, then tried to draw breath to correct his answer. The dragon loosed his grip slightly and Cetos inhaled shakily. “Maybe Delphi,” he managed to say.

“Delphi,” the dragon repeated with a low hiss. He took a deep breath, his nostrils almost pinching shut with it and his mailed chest swelling. He turned, his eyes glittering, then abandoned Cetos.

Cetos dared to take a breath in relief. When he opened his eyes, the dragon was holding something in his talons. It looked like the scales that covered the dragon’s hide, but it was a purple so dark that it was almost black. Was it from the other dragon?

“You’ve had a guest,” the yellow dragon said, then bared his teeth in a vicious parody of a smile.

Cetos wondered what had pleased him so much, but the dragon returned to his side and he didn’t dare to ask. The dragon removed Cetos’ purse, spilled its contents into his claw and counted the gold coins. He kept the coins, tossing the empty purse at Cetos.

The gold. He’d taken back the gold. Cetos moaned in disappointment.

He had no chance to argue, because the dragon opened his mouth. Cetos saw down the great dark gullet of the beast, then screamed as he was engulfed in flames for the second time in rapid succession. This blaze was hotter and brighter. He was dimly aware of the dragon laughing as he spewed more fire, clearly delighting in burning Cetos to a crisp.

He knew he wouldn’t survive this assault.

A boy cried out in dismay, then the dragon set the entire house ablaze. Cetos heard the slaves scream as the dragon hunted them down.

There were more screams, then an eerie silence—punctuated only by the sobbing of a boy. The slaves were dead, Cetos knew it, and he soon would be as well. On every side, there was fire and heat, brilliant light and smoke. He heard the house creak then collapsing around him, becoming an inferno that would never be extinguished.

Cetos rolled to his back in agony and opened his eyes. The last thing he saw was a dragon taking flight into the night sky, something Cetos couldn’t identify clutched to his side.

The boy.

The one he said was his son.

It was too late for regrets, but Cetos had more than one.

 

Chapter Three

 

There was something soothing about the rhythm of the dragon’s flight. Katina managed to slow the racing of her heart as the dragon carried her into the hills. Her face still hurt and the backs of her elbows stung where the skin had been scraped away, but she didn’t care. She was away from that horrific situation, one she had never expected. Cetos had never been violent before, and it made no sense that he’d been so distressed about not being able to surrender Lysander for some apprenticeship, even if the other man was wealthy.

It was as if a different man had come home from his routine journey.

Was he dead? Katina wasn’t sure and she didn’t want to think about it. Not yet. She could still smell that awful smell of flesh burning and it made her bile rise.

She was more worried as to what had happened to Alexander. Had the dragon attacked him first? Was he still hidden in the bedroom, or had he managed to escape?

Would she ever know? She couldn’t help feeling that she was reliving the past in losing Alexander again and being uncertain of his safety or survival.

It wasn’t any easier the second time.

Katina spared a glance upward at her captor. She probably should have been more frightened than she was to be in the captivity of a dragon. His grip upon her wasn’t painfully tight and she had the sense that he’d been saving her.

But why? A dragon was unlikely to speak to her, much less confide in her.

She’d never believed they existed, but this dragon was clearly real. Was he exactly what he appeared to be, or a god in disguise? How could she find out?

BOOK: Kiss of Danger (The Dragon Legion Novellas)
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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