Authors: D'Elen McClain
Bastian is as concerned as I am. We decide that we will bring Ashrac with the adults so everyone can meet Pepper. Hopefully, Bastian can figure out the source of her magic.
Bastian whispers into my head as we fly. “Because a Goddess has helped three of us, it doesn’t mean that I trust her.” I understand his tone. We try to be careful when we speak against any of the Gods.
We fly side by side with Acasia and Ashrac slightly behind us. “Thank you for returning with me. It’s possible she’s simply dreaming and sleepwalking, but with the mention of Pegasus, I’m worried.”
“It would be quite a coincidence,” Acasia volunteers. “I just don’t understand why a Goddess would care about a human. Not that there is anything wrong with humans,” she adds quickly.
A strangled sound comes from Bastian’s throat. “Acasia has a soft place in her heart for our servants. I believe she acquired the habit from Meagan.”
I see the humor in this conversation and the mention of Meagan’s name doesn’t hurt as much as I would expect. I find this strange. I should still be held deeply in my grief. Maybe it’s because I blame myself for what happened to Pepper. It gives me much to think on and takes my mind from the loss of my bride. “Now that Meagan is gone, I plan to retrain my humans so they fear me again and have proper respect. I won’t be overly harsh, but they must be taught their place.”
Acasia’s laugh echoes through the canyon walls where we’re flying. “You may try, Tahr. Bastian threatens to do the same, but I like the humans knowing we would never harm them. Meagan’s memory will make your plan more difficult than you think.”
I grumble a bit under my breath because Acasia makes a fair point. Meagan loved the humans and thus spoiled them rotten. We continue our flight without much talking among the adults. Of course, Ashrac is rarely quiet.
“I want a traveling vehicle next. Father says a car won’t be easy to transport across the realm divide. I have mathematically worked out the technical difficulties and know it can be done.”
Ashrac is still rambling on about the technicalities when I see an image that stops my heart. “Hell,” I shout. Pepper is standing at the edge of my perch. We are too far away for me to catch her. My heart clenches and I can’t breathe.
Acasia yells, “Pepper, no!”
“She’s so beautiful,” Ashrac whispers. “She’ll make a lovely splat.”
I can’t take my eyes from Pepper, but I’m aware that Acasia wallops Ash with her tail.
“Sorry, Mother,” comes an unrepentant voice from somewhere below me.
Acasia whispers into my mind. “Speak to her, Tahr. Tell her not to jump.”
I throw my thoughts to Pepper. “Don’t jump you idiot female.” I order. This time Acasia’s tail slams into the side of my head and a grunt escapes my throat.
Pepper’s head comes up and she stares straight at me while slowly placing one foot over the ledge.
I lower my voice and plead. “Pepper, listen to me. Step away from the ledge… please.”
She shakes her head and this is when I realize she’s wide awake and she knows exactly what she’s doing. I add an even greater burst of speed pumping my wings with everything I have. I’m not sure if I’m near enough when she raises her arms, leans forward, and dives. “Noooo,” I scream as I attempt to intercept her fall. I grab her within my talons no more than twenty feet from the ground. The magic between us is so intense that I can barely breathe as I rise higher. What is this connection that exists when we touch? Her magic flows through me and I feel more alive than ever before.
My friends swoop down when I land in the shadow of the tower. I open my talons and Pepper falls out. I feel the loss of our connection immediately. She squeezes herself into a tight ball and her shoulders shake. With one sharp claw, I gently roll her over.
Tears. She’s sobbing after I’ve saved her life?
“Mother, why do humans cry so much?”
Acasia gives a loud sigh. “Hush, Ashrac. She’s sad and humans cry no less or more than anyone else.”
“She should be thankful that Uncle Tahr saved her. Father says women are rarely thankful for anything.”
I’m not sure where to look. Bastian is about to get blasted with angry female dragon fire and Pepper’s chest is still heaving while tears stream down her cheeks. At any other time, watching Bastian get his ass kicked would be my primary choice, but Pepper’s tears split my heart in two. What does she think would happen if I hadn’t caught her? Not so lovely splat covers it better than Ashrac’s rendition.
Seeing her this way brings me unaccustomed internal feelings. I want Pepper happy. I want her beside me each day. Hell, I just plain want her. How could this happen so fast? She isn’t a bride.
I can hear Acasia and Bastian bickering, but I’m completely focused on Pepper. I shift and walk forward and bend down beside her. “It’s okay, Pepper,” I say as I rub her shoulder. She looks up and I see grief so bare that I want to wrap her in my arms and never let go. I adjust her headpiece so it rests evenly on her head. “I cannot allow you to fall. Don’t leave me like Meagan and all the brides before her. I need you in my life.”
The talking behind me stops. I know what I’ve said. I know the rules for our humans. They are in our care, they do not have free will. We do not take advantage of them. It’s one of the promises we made Dmitri and in return we have servants to care for us. What we do with our brides is wrong. It’s the instinct and our selfishness that guides our need to possess and steal treasure even if it’s a terrified woman from the human village. So, we have a deal with a vampire and do not force ourselves on the humans we bring over.
And I can’t stop the longing that swells within me now that I’ve given it voice. I want her… need her… and I dare anyone to take her from me.
Bastian grabs my upper arm. He has shifted, though I wasn’t aware. “You cannot, Tahr. It’s forbidden for a reason and we swore an oath.”
My gaze is locked on Pepper, who continues crying. I don’t look at Bastian, though my question is directed his way. “Tell me the reason so it makes sense,” I say as a low snarl escapes me.
Bastian breathes heavily and I know he’s trying to contain his smoke. “Don’t you realize how much Sarn has suffered for going against the curse? He’s lost everything. Do you want that?” Bastian continues without giving me time to answer. “These humans are not meant for us—not to pass the time, not to have sex with, and most definitely not to love. You are stronger than that, my friend. If she tries to jump again, it’s the Goddess’s will and you need to let her go.”
That turns my full attention to Bastian. He’s serious, I can see it by the tense set of his jaw and red sparks shooting through his eyes. “You don’t understand. She will make the days and nights easier to bear. She suffered at my hands and now I owe her.” I move a bit closer to Pepper while keeping my gaze on Bastian. “At least Sarn is happy. Yes, he suffered to get there and I don’t agree with what he gave up for love. You cannot deny he’s at peace with his decision even if it’s not the one we would make.”
Bastian looks to Acasia and his eyes blaze a deeper red. “I would have made the exact same decision as Sarn.” He turns back to me. “This is wrong and you owe this human more than a passing tumble. Leave her be and allow the Goddess to decide her fate. You’re confused and lonely right now, Tahr. You must abide by the curse or you will never break it.”
Bastian would truly give up his ability to shift to dragon for his mate’s love. I see it in his eyes and I don’t understand. I want Pepper near me. I want her taking my mind from the loss of Meagan. I don’t love her as Bastian loves Acasia. I would never give away my ability to shift. I return my gaze to Pepper. Bastian is right; she is not meant for me.
“I hear you, Bastian, and I will do my best.” I pick Pepper up into my arms and carry her around to one of the lower doors of my castle. The others don’t follow.
“But, Mother, I want to meet this human and see why she’s so special. The Goddess has chosen her for some reason.”
Ashrac’s voice fades and I focus on the beautiful crying woman in my arms. “You cannot do that again. We will discuss this and I will even learn your hand language so I can understand you. If you jump, you will die. Please don’t leave me,” I beg in a gruff whisper as I squeeze her tighter.
Her face is wet with tears and her eyes puffy. She adamantly shakes her stubborn head. And damn but she’s alluring. I’m pulled to her and I can’t do as Bastian says. I will not allow her to jump. Ashrac made a point, though. The Goddess chose Pepper for a reason. Could it be so I suffer more than I already do? I’m the last dragon without a mate, so now her focus must surely be entirely on me. Caring more than I already do for Pepper could be my undoing. “Tread carefully,” I tell myself and then I look down at the woman in my arms.
The dragons speak of me as if I’m not present. Just because I cannot use my voice doesn’t mean I can’t hear them or understand what they’re saying. I have no way to convince Tahr that the woman on the Pegasus is no dream. She came to me while I was awake. For some reason I don’t think she wishes me harm. I feel more alive beneath the light she casts.
The young, red dragon mentioned a Goddess. Is that what she is? I agree with him—what makes me so special? A yearning for scales and wings is not enough.
Tahr’s arms comfort me. He says he wants me in his life; so what exactly does that mean? I’m here and fully healed. It’s time to begin my duty and serve him.
What if he hadn’t caught me? As I fell, a painful burn erupted across my back along with the pressure under my skin. When Tahr grabbed me, his energy burst between us and soothed the pain. And I was devastated. Something waited and it was so very close. How stupid is that? I’m nothing to a Goddess.
“You will begin teaching me your hand language immediately so we can communicate. You will not allow me to stop even if I become frustrated. If humans can learn this language, so can a dragon.”
He carries me up the high flight of stairs while speaking the entire time. What has changed? I can feel the strength of his arms, the power of his thighs as they lift with each step. A vibration travels through my skin. He’s also naked. I’ve seen him thus so many times, but now, it’s affecting me more. I enjoy the feel of his skin against mine. My dress is hiked up and caught between me and his arms. His skin is in direct contact with my upper thigh. I shouldn’t have these thoughts. The older dragon was correct. Earth humans are not meant for dragons. We have our place and that is serving the dragon’s needs while putting our own needs second.
The human wing of the castle is fine-tuned so the dragon and his bride are kept happy. Pride is rampant when the dragon casts a smile our way—hard earned and greatly cherished. We worship him and I am but a blink in his never-ending universe.
We reach Tahr’s private rooms and I don’t see Betty. I instantly become worried about what the dragon will do to her for falling asleep. He has a temper and Betty doesn’t deserve his scorn. He releases my legs and I slide against him until my feet touch the floor. I wipe my tears and then place my palm flat to his chest and push back slightly. My fingers tingle. He’s immovable.
Dropping my hand, I walk to the table and take the pen and paper. My fingers shake as I write.
I was awake. The woman on the Pegasus caused Betty to sleep. It was not Betty’s fault.
He reads the note before looking up at me again. “I will not punish Betty for her lapse of duty. We need to talk about this woman who keeps appearing before you. This is not a good thing, Pepper. If you jump, you will die. Is that what you want?”
I can only shake my head no. There are so many things I want to say to him. I turn when I hear Betty’s footsteps. Her eyes are huge and glued on Tahr.
He speaks before I can explain what’s happened and put her at ease. “I’m aware this is not your fault, Betty.” Her eyes shift to mine and back again when he continues speaking, “Pepper will no longer be serving me. You will go to the human tower and choose someone to help you up here. I don’t care who it is as long as it isn’t Henry.”
My stomach tightens at his words. He’s casting me aside and breaking my heart. Betty quickly shuffles from the room after a quick, sad glance in my direction. She warned me but she knows how this must hurt. My dreams come crashing in around me as I realize this is a greater punishment than being locked in the cellar. I love my dragon and I will pay for these feelings until the day I die.
I turn and walk to the door with my head down. I don’t want Tahr to see me cry again.
“Where are you going?” he asks as his large hand circles my upper arm. He’s still holding the pen and paper. I place my trembling hand out without looking up at him. I must get through this and allow my heart to completely crumble in privacy. He hands the writing utensils to me and tries to see what I’m scribbling so I cup my hand slightly and block him. Then I hand the note over and gulp in a breath of air to hold back sobs. My lower lip quivers so I bite it between my teeth and wonder how I will survive.
I’m returning to the human tower. I will find a proper job and serve you from there.
His hand tightens fractionally and his voice lowers. “You will no longer be serving me, Pepper. I wish for you to be my…” He looks around the room before returning his gaze to mine. A brief flash of silver alights within his eyes. “Your job is to be my friend.”
His friend. My heart rate increases until it’s a steady pound within my chest.
He speaks again while his word swirls through my mind. “I want you to teach me your language. I don’t wish for you to serve me in any other way. I won’t ask anything more of you, I promise.” Now the silver in his eyes shines brightly and doesn’t dispel. “No, I demand that you stay away from high ledges. I cannot bear for you to leave me.”
He pulls me closer and I want so badly for him to kiss me. The blaze of his silver eyes intensifies the longer I take to answer. I place my hand out and he slowly rests the pen and paper on my palm. I write fast and wonder if he will even understand my scribble.
I wish to be your friend.