Authors: D'Elen McClain
She hates me. What a joke! And I can’t help my large grin at her feistiness. I like when a bride challenges me. No! Not a bride and I must remember that.
I’ve decided the best way to care for Pepper is to have her care for me. That way I can keep an eye on her. Seeing her standing so close to the ledge terrified me. I slice my fingers through my hair wondering what the hell she was thinking.
Then, there is the magic that flows between us when we touch. Magic, I can no longer overlook. I wonder if her parents were more than what they appeared. As far as I know, earth shifters and vampires don’t become ill. There’s no denying she was very sick when Meagan and I fetched her as a child.
I pull a large section of my hair in frustration this time. I really need to visit Sarn and his mate, Sierra. It took a long time to forgive what he did to Roxy and Ashrac. Now I’m just relieved he’s finally happy. And living in the earth’s realm, he or even his mate might understand what Pepper is. Because I know she’s more than human.
I smooth my mussed hair down as best I can. I can’t seek out answers in earth’s realm until I’m sure Pepper is fully healed and ready to take on her responsibilities to care for me. I’ve decided to wait on allowing her to choose a husband. Her duty to me comes first and I like the idea of her serving me.
I walk to my perch and dive. I need to spread my wings and spew some fire to relieve this pent up energy. I don’t like the uncertainty I feel—I have no idea what Pepper is, I’m drawn to her in a way that is improper. And, most of all… I’m lonely.
I return to my tower a few hours later. Pepper has fallen asleep on the sofa with a book in her hands. It reminds me of Meagan and I can’t stop the sadness that fills me. I also realize since I found Pepper, I haven’t thought of Meagan as much. That in itself is sad.
Pepper’s body jerks in her sleep and her eyes open. I haven’t put on clothing, which is of no consequence, but I expect her to at least take notice. I like when her eyes travel over me and her face pinks. It’s very strange that she’s staring through me but doesn’t see me at all. She stands from the sofa and heads into my room. I follow closely as she goes straight to the window and walks out on the ledge.
She lifts her arms and actually dives off. I launch myself from the tower, shift, and grab her in my talons. A moment later, I feel her small fists hitting my inside claws. I fly away from the castle and find a soft patch of grass. She rolls to the ground when I spread my talons.
I shift for the added pleasure of yelling in human form. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You can’t fly and you can’t possibly hate me that much!”
Her hands fly in rapid response. Of course I don’t understand a word. Her eyes are incredibly large and her anger evident by her expression. What the hell is she angry for? I saved her life… again.
I also know I’m being unreasonable. She wasn’t awake when she threw herself from the perch. Well, not exactly threw... she dove with the grace of a dragon. This crazy human may be the death of me.
I place my hand out and grab one of her fists, which is creating a sign that isn’t so hard to interpret. I ignore the instant energy that flows between us. “Okay, I get the point. I think you were sleepwalking.” I give her a moment to absorb what I’m saying. “Is sleepwalking a problem you’ve had before?”
She shakes her head sharply. The damn stupid headpiece is slightly askew. I reach out to remove it, but she jerks away when she sees where my hand is heading.
“Just let me adjust the damn thing,” I grumble my patience at an end.
Obviously that was the wrong thing to say because she kicks my shin. I’m surprised fire doesn’t burst from her throat she’s so angry. She immediately starts hopping on one foot and my ire rises to match hers. She’s hurt herself and the foot could possibly be broken. I sweep her off her feet and lower her to the grass. She tries wiggling away, but I don’t give her the chance. I have a tight hold on her uninjured leg and move her dress away with my other hand while pulling her foot to my chest.
“I only want to check that it’s not broken,” I snap as I run my fingers over her soft skin. She huffs out a breath and stops fighting. Her skin has an effect on me that I didn’t expect. I silently count to twenty then thirty to tame my cock. This shouldn’t be happening. I’ve shouldn’t see her as anything more than one of my humans. What the hell is wrong with me? “I think your foot and ankle are uninjured, but kicking a dragon isn’t wise,” I add as soon as I have myself under control.
She rolls her eyes and my cock gives a jump. I’m certifiable.
My anger is gone, my desire a steady throb but the eye roll helps. She’s quite entertaining. “Teach me one of your hand phrases so I can learn what you are saying to me.”
She stares at me for a moment and then does something absolutely ridiculous. Her fist comes up in the same sharp motion she used earlier.
I can’t help the laugh that roars from my throat or the smoke that comes with it. She’s priceless. I watch as her lips curve in a very small smile. She points to her chest, touches several fingers together, and lifts those fingers to her temple.
I try making the same sign and for something so simple, my fingers decide to rearrange the order. Merriment shines in her eyes as I fumble it again. She holds her sides in silent laughter when I repeat it once more, this time getting it correct, I think. It feels good to make her happy.
“Teach me another,” I demand once more.
She thinks for a moment and then her hands roll one over the other, twice, and then she brings one finger to her nose. I follow her lead and soon I combine both signs. She lies back in the grass and curls on her side because she’s laughing so hard. I wish she had a voice so I could hear the sound.
“You will write down what you’re teaching me when we return to the castle. We also need to come up with a way to keep you from sleepwalking. I’m worried you will go over the side again and I won’t be there to stop you.”
Her expression changes from delighted to worried and I wish more than anything that we could truly communicate. “Come on, it’s time we return. I will pick you up in my talons and carry you back.”
She adamantly shakes her head no and begins walking back to the castle. It’s my turn to roll my eyes in exasperation. “Stubborn human,” I mumble under my breath. I could shift and carry her anyway, but for some crazy reason I decide to give in. I walk beside her until we reach my tower. Her neck stretches back as she gazes up to the top. I can’t help but notice her irritation when she realizes I’ll be carrying her anyway. I bite my lip to keep from grinning. Pepper huffs, which is absolutely adorable, and places her hands on her hips. Her headpiece is tipped low over one ear again but I wouldn’t dare try to adjust it. It’s her large, expressive eyes that hold me captive for a long moment. What is this hold she seems to have over me? A human. A human with something more.
I back away so I can shift and end the connection I feel with her. This is not good and nothing good will come of it. I launch upward, swoop around, and grab her in my talons. The energy is still there and maybe even stronger. I must seek answers and discover what is going on.
I release her on the perch and watch her walk inside and head straight for her room. She doesn’t meet my eyes. I mentally give Betty a list of what I wish served for dinner. It’s one of my favorite meals. I’ll be happy when Pepper takes over this duty and takes it on herself to see that everything is perfectly prepared. I’m tired of making these minor decisions when I have more important dragon duties to worry about.
I busy myself by looking over a plumbing book from the earth realm. I’m thinking about adding pipes to the human tower and providing them with running water. I am not an ogre. It will also give them added work to keep them busy. Humans like staying busy and doing my bidding. I want their obedience along with their happiness. This new project will provide both.
I put away the book and head in to check on Pepper. She’s sleeping again, which is a good thing. As I watch, she begins tossing and turning. This is not a good thing.
I send my thoughts to Betty, “Have a ten foot length of rope delivered to my tower immediately.”
Humans are a lot of trouble, especially this one with her shining green eyes. A short while later, the rope is delivered and I dismiss the man who brings it. He’s the perfect age for Pepper and I don’t want him here. I also don’t want to examine my reasons.
I gently tie the rope around her ankle and then to the bedpost. She sleeps through the fuss and I feel better that the rope should wake her if sleepwalks again.
Betty and another woman deliver dinner. I haven’t heard a sound from Pepper’s room. Right before the servants leave, Pepper comes striding in with the rope circled around her hand. She doesn’t see the two women standing at the door because her angry eyes are pinned on me. She tosses the rope to the floor and begins yelling with her hands, using exaggerated stilted movements.
I feel slightly uncomfortable that the women see her behaving this way. It’s inappropriate for a mere human to take a dragon to task.
“Enough,” I finally roar as I stand.
Betty drops the empty tray she’s carrying and Pepper’s head snaps in that direction. I watch blood race into Pepper’s face as she realizes others have seen her display. “Leave us,” I tell Betty and the other woman. Betty hesitates and I feel my temper rise. I give her a sharp look and know that silver flashes in my eyes. She turns and rushes after the other woman. My attention goes back to Pepper.
“I tied you to the bed so you would not leap over the ledge and die. You were not tied tightly and obviously had no problem extricating yourself. I will have the window barricaded and lock you inside the room if that’s what you prefer.”
She looks to the open doorway of her room and her face drains of color. She gazes back at me, admonished, and nods. I nod back thinking the discussion finished. She begins waving her arms in rapid movements.
I’m frustrated all over again. “Grab the damn paper and pen so I can understand you. If you keep this up, I will forbid you from using your hands to speak at all.”
Her hand movements stop and her eyes narrow. She has no fear of me, which is a novelty. It took Meagan many years to discover my bark is far worse than my bite. And speaking of Meagan… this is all her fault. Now that she’s gone, I must reshape my humans and show them how to give me proper respect. Retraining them only adds another item to my growing list of work. Damn frustrating is what it is.
Pepper turns away and retrieves the pen and paper. I can’t help but notice her shapely bottom outlined by the dress. And again I wonder what in the hell is wrong with me? I guess there are two reasons to visit the earth realm—a willing woman for a sexual dalliance and some possible answers to what type of creature Pepper is.
I wait impatiently for her to hand me the note. When she does, I stare in astonishment at the first two lines. The little she-devil.
Earlier you used hand signals to explain that you are a fool. You should practice them because you’ll be needing them quite often.
I need to spank that shapely bottom and teach her some manners. Then I read the next line, which changes everything.
During my dreams, a woman on Pegasus tells me to jump from the ledge.
My gaze lifts from the paper. Pepper stands there with her arms crossed tapping her foot. I remember Sarn telling me about the Goddess riding Pegasus when he went to his final claiming. He’d come to say goodbye before he gave up his dragon.
Pepper’s precisely written message makes no sense and my worry for this pint-sized female escalates as I think about what this could mean. Me, who has lost countless humans and never cared. It’s why I refuse to grow attached to them. Pepper has wormed her way into my heart and I don’t like it.
The bigger question is why the Goddess wants Pepper dead?
Tahr hasn’t said a word since reading my note and I’m worried. I finally got tired of waiting for his response and went to my room to lie down. He followed me in a few minutes later with the rope in his hands—still silent, still running his fingers through his hair, and still as gorgeous as ever. He’s dressed in tight trousers and no shirt. There’s nothing about his body I don’t like and in his current state of silence, pacing and making no eye contact there’s nothing for me to do but scrutinize him.
None of the humans I know have muscles quite so defined. They flow under his skin and make my mouth water. Other parts of me water too but it’s embarrassing. Meagan told me of such things but I didn’t believe her at the time. “It’s like an itch that needs scratching,” she once said. Now I know it’s more like an out of control fire that needs extinguishing.
Is his silence because I called him foolish? Or is it telling him of my dream? He must think I’m crazy and it’s actually a good possibility. I’m unable to resist the woman’s persuasive voice. An ache expands across my back and I actually feel something pushing against my skin. Wings? Yes, I’m crazy.
Tahr finally stops pacing and walks toward me. His mind is miles away as he methodically ties my foot to the bedpost without meeting my eyes. The cord is soft and he’s careful that he doesn’t cut off my circulation or tie it so I can’t unravel the knot. It’s possible the weeks in the cell did things to my mind. It’s really the only explanation. Finally his gaze lifts and his expression grows even more intense.
“Sleep,” he whispers.
I quickly drift off thinking of Tahr’s eyes and how much silver is streaking through them.
The woman appears in my room; her beauty is almost too incredible to gaze upon—too ethereal to describe. The Pegasus is pure white, its wings made of thousands of feathers. Wind blows the woman’s dark hair although she’s in this windless room—riding a Pegasus—gazing down from above me.
“It’s your heart that will save you, but you must believe.”
The rope tugs at my leg when I try to walk to the window. The impulse is too much to fight. I slowly untie the rope, gazing out at the moons and feeling their draw. The knots give beneath my hands and that’s when Tahr lifts me in his arms.
“What am I going to do with you?” he whispers as he carries me to his room and places me in his bed before crawling in beside me. I’m tired and he’s so very warm. I snuggle against him and fall back to sleep. Maybe this entire night has been a dream.
I wake up and stretch my arms above my head. I smell the dragon on the pillow and I know I’m in his bed. The warmth inside of me that resonates when he’s near is missing, so I know he’s not here. I open my eyes and Betty is gazing at me from a chair beside the bed. She smiles, her eyes crinkling at the sides. Even with her reassuring grin, I’m suddenly irritated that she watched me sleep. Something is seriously wrong with me and it’s causing my emotions to jump all over the place. Betty loves me and has comforted me since I was young. Meagan spent so much time with her dragon and I was often lonely. Betty entertained me, groomed me, and offered her warm arms when I needed them most. I inhale slowly and release the angst I feel.
Her hands flow as she signs an explanation for her presence. “The dragon bid me stay with you and watch over you while you sleep. He says you are in danger and he seeks help. You are not to leave my sight.”
That answers the question of what upset Tahr last night. I respond rapidly. “Did he tell you of the woman on the…” Darn, I don’t know how to say Pegasus with my hands. “The winged horse?” I finally ask.
Betty shakes her head, so I tell her of my dreams. She reads my hands patiently and a worried expression replaces her soft smile. It sounds ridiculous as I relay the tale. Once finished, I’m relieved that she doesn’t immediately reply that I’m insane. Her expression doesn’t change, though her eyes take on added determination. She’s taking her guard duty seriously.
I wonder who Tahr went to for help and why he seems afraid of my dreams. I decide I need to bathe and then I’ll figure out what to do about the dragon’s dictate. I love Betty, but Tahr is being ridiculous. I don’t need a keeper.
My irritation grows when I must lock Betty out of the bathing chamber. I explain there isn’t a window and I can only get to one by walking past her. Her eyes fill with tears and I’m frustrated with the dragon all over again. And ashamed at myself for hurting her feelings. Betty finally steps back with a forlorn look. Her image stays with me while I guiltily luxuriate in the large bath. Hunger and shame make me rise from the water sooner than I’d like.
There’s a large looking glass in the chamber and I wipe it free of steam and gaze at myself for a moment. I smooth my palm over my head hating its egg-like appearance. I feel ugly and always envied Meagan her beautiful hair. I imagine the dragon wrapping her long tresses around his wrist and… and…. Damn, I know so little about sex and my imagination has no reference for what actually takes place. It never stopped me from having sleepless nights with dreams of Tahr. I imagined it was me in his arms and not Meagan. I’m not a good person and I know that’s why I deserved the time in the dungeons.
I slowly place the headpiece over my scalp. Because I slept in it, I have a few sore spots and wince slightly as I pull it down to rest against my ears. I’m a vain, horrible person. It matters not that I’m bald. The dragon will never look at me as more than a servant. I leave the bathing chamber wearing one of my loose gowns. The rough material reminds me of my place.
Breakfast is waiting and I insist that Betty sit down and join me. She protests, but finally gives in after I tell her I won’t eat. I’m being spoiled with good food and grand accommodations that I don’t deserve so the least I can do is share when the dragon isn’t around. I finish my meal when I can’t possibly get another bite of food in my belly and rest my fork on my plate. Betty watches me as she’s only picked at her food.
I sign a question that has been bothering me. “Where is Henry?”
Betty’s lips form a scowl. “He is fine, though quite scared that the same punishment he forced on you will be given to him.” She rests her hands in her lap and her lips lift in a satisfied smile.
I shake my head then sign, “No. I will not allow it. Henry must not be punished.”
Betty quickly responds. “You are too generous to the idiot. He deserves a very bad punishment for what he did to you.”
I decide I must be truthful so she no longer blames Henry. “I went into the dragon’s bedroom while he slept and touched him. He had a right to be angry and I deserved the punishment. This is not Henry’s fault, it’s mine.”
Betty’s eyes grow wide in horror and her hand movements are sharp. “Why would you do such a thing?”
I exhale slowly and shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. Meagan wanted me to watch over him after she died, though that is no excuse. I’m drawn to him for some odd reason.”
Betty stands so she can lecture me with more than a wave or two of her hands. “We are human and only here to serve the dragon. It is dangerous for you to have any notions that you mean something more to him.” She shakes one finger at me to add emphasis then starts back and continues her sharp motions. “You have romanticized the dragon for far too long. We are nothing in this world. He stays young as we grow old. Dragons love dragons, which means they love themselves only. He has no heart. Even Meagan was but a passing fancy. You will be alive when he claims a new bride and you will see what he does to her. Feel her terror that she is taken from all she’s known and is at the dragon’s mercy. Your feelings for him will change when you see what a monster he truly is.”
Was she right? Have I romanticized Tahr because I see him as a hero who cared for Meagan? I stand and begin pacing while signing my response. “I watched him for years with Meagan. He loved her. She explained the curse to me and spoke of the dragon’s suffering.” My anguish builds. “You forget that they bring us to this realm to save us.”
“No,” Betty signs as she shakes her head emphatically. “They bring the children across so they have servants… slaves. They care nothing for us as long as their lives are comfortable. Even after he ordered you punished and you almost die, he sees you only as a servant. Maybe a plaything for a short while, but it won’t last. His generosity won’t last. You weren’t around when the purple dragon burnt his friend’s bride to a crisp, I was. They are wicked creatures and they only think of their brides as treasured possessions. You must be careful. No more tantrums and your infatuation must cease.”
I hate that she is afraid. She did not see Tahr through Meagan’s eyes. I can’t just stop these feelings I have. The dragon has been my prince for too long. Shame washes over me. In one thing, Betty is correct. The dragon does think of me as a plaything. I’m occupying his time and that could very soon come to an end.
I help her clear the table over her objections. I don’t want her waiting on me. I settle on the sofa afterward and Betty takes the chair across from me.
“What does everyone think about what’s happened? They gave me small, insincere smiles when I went to the tower.”
Betty’s gentle smile is back. “They worry for you, Pepper. None had the relationship you had with Meagan. She spoiled you. Some may feel a bit of jealousy, but they want the dragon happy. If he’s content, so is their life.”
I think on her words and remain quiet for a long time. I give a silent sigh. “You cannot just stare at me all day,” I tell her. “Grab a book and read. I can’t believe how tired I still am, but I promise to stay awake. We will watch over each other.”
She nods, walks into the library, and comes back with a book. I pick up the one from the table that I was reading the day before. I do everything I can to hold off sleep as a yawn spills from my lips. My eyes grow heavy and I blink. The woman is here. I don’t think I’m asleep this time. I turn to Betty. Her chin is resting on her chest and her eyes are closed.
It is time. You must trust your heart
,” the woman whispers into my mind. She smiles at me with gentle encouragement. I stand and make my way to the ledge.
I’m not afraid.