The Dragon's Appraiser: Part One (3 page)

BOOK: The Dragon's Appraiser: Part One
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
CHAPTER FOUR

 

Madja made it through three appraisals before her stomach growled voraciously. Sevrrn glanced at her midsection and arched a brow. Madja pretended that she wasn’t embarrassed.

“I haven’t eaten anything in over a day,” she told him. “The guards didn’t bother wasting their rations on me because they thought you were just going to eat me.”

“I do not generally eat humans,” he informed her.

The ‘generally’ gave her pause.

Sevrrn went on to say, “Most of them are more bone than meat. I vastly prefer cows. You are fortunate to not be a cow, otherwise I would have most certainly devoured you.”

She offered him a weak smile. “Well, you wouldn’t happen to have any beef lying around here that I could eat, would you? This is an awfully big pile of treasure. I’ll probably starve before I appraise everything.”

Sevrrn appeared pensive and then finally nodded. “It is important that you not die.”

Thank the gods that we’re both in agreement on that.

“I will acquire meat for you. Stay.”

The command irked Madja, but her irritation was quickly forgotten as she witnessed Sevrrn shift for the first time. The golden scales of his robe seemed to become sentient. Melding to his skin, they swallowed up his large form and rapidly expanded.

In the blink of an eye, Sevrrn the man had disappeared, the gold dragon springing into existence in a silent explosion. She knew that there was more to it, that the shift happened quicker than her human mind could perceive it, but it was astounding just the same.

The dragon spared her a brief glance before expanding his enormous wings. He took a few steps forward, beating his wings once, and then twice, before he became airborne. She watched as he headed for the passageway she’d entered from the night before.

It seemed farther away than ever before.

***

After a meal of burnt chicken—deep fried in dragon fire—Madja resumed her appraisal of Sevrrn’s ‘trinkets’.

His word—not hers.

When he’d arrived back with her breakfast, the dragon had also brought with him a gilded throne. Madja initially assumed that Sevrrn wanted her to appraise it, but it turned out that he’d brought it to sit in while he watched her dig through his possessions on the floor.

Madja couldn’t help but shake the feeling that she was nothing more than a passing amusement to him. Very soon, he would become bored with her. She could only hope that by then, she’d figured a way out of this lair.

“If I were to guess, I’d say that this belonged to Vasyndru’s second wife,” Madja said, scrutinizing the flower pattern on a dress. “See here, it’s faded, but this was purple dye. His second wife was a Dvorian princess and purple is their royal color.”

“I want to see you wear it.”

Madja’s head snapped up to regard Sevrnn with confusion. He’d been asking questions whenever something sparked his curiosity, but this was the first time that he’d made a request of her.

“Um, okay.”

She stood and scanned the area, searching for a suitable place to undress.

Sevrrn snapped his fingers. “What are you waiting for?”

“What, do you expect me to just get naked in front of you? Here, I’ll go over there, behind that—”

“Do you possess a deformity?”

She folded her arms beneath her breasts. “What are you talking about?”

“I do not understand why you feel it is necessary to hide your body from me.”

“I’m not trying to hide anything, I—”

“If you have nothing to hide, then you will have no problem undressing before me. Why is your face so red?”

She resisted the urge to stamp her foot. “Men shouldn’t see women naked. It’s inappropriate.”

Madja had spent much of her life contesting conventions. She couldn’t believe that she was lecturing anyone on propriety—least of all a dragon.

Sevrrn served her a bored look, making it clear that he was not swayed by her argument.

She said, “Look, I’m not comfortable undressing in front of you. What if you, you know, became aroused?”

His dark eyes narrowed. “Like an animal?”

Genuinely perplexed, Madja asked, “Don’t tell me dragons are above arousal?”

“Not all of us,” he said. “There are those of my kind who have fallen prey to desires of the flesh, but I am not among them. I find the thought of debasing myself with a human to be most distasteful.”

Madja never thought she would hear a man sound quite so smug about being a virgin.

“All right, whatever, you win,” she said, shaking her head. She couldn’t believe that she was about the strip in front of a dragon.

She stalled for a moment, cracking her neck and stretching her arms. After receiving an impatient look, she heaved a sigh and tugged at the bindings of her gown. She let it fall to the ground and began working on her underclothes.

She watched his face as she undressed, searching for any sign of masculine awareness. His expression held, at most, a clinical interest.

A small part of her was disappointed. While she hadn’t expected him to salivate over her, it would have been nice to think that he found her body even moderately appealing. She’d always thought that, were it not for her height, she would have been quite pretty.

The dress was old, but not in a bad way. It was remarkably well-preserved and came from a culture that valued simplicity and freedom of movement over flamboyance. Aside from the hem being too high and the bust being a bit snug, it was a comfortable fit.

Smiling, she gave a twirl.

“How do I look?”

She halted at the sight of Sevrrn’s disapproving look.

“Do you not find clothing to be bothersome? Why do you even feel the need to wear it?”

Madja scratched her head, confused by the sudden change in his mood.

“Well, for starters, you’re the one who told me to put this on. That aside, I wear clothes because it’s the proper thing to do. Why do
you
wear clothes?”

He pinched his robe. “These are my scales. I fashion them into a robe so as to effect a more human-looking appearance. Would you like me to remove them?”

“No,” she said, holding her hands up defensively.

He somehow managed to look irritated and amused. “Do not bother lying to me. I am aware that this body”—he gestured at himself—“is a remarkable example of beauty and masculinity. There is no shame in admitting that you desire it. You are, after all, only human.”

Madja gaped at him. When she realized he being completely serious, her lip curled.

Dryly, she said, “You’re absolutely right. In all honesty, I can hardly contain myself in your presence. You see, that’s exactly why I don’t want to see you naked. I would just hate being able to see you in all of your glory and know that I couldn’t have you for myself. In fact, I bet the sight of you would simply ruin all men for me.”

Apparently, Madja was the first person who had ever been sarcastic with the dragon god, because he nodded as if her reasoning was perfectly sound.

“Yes, I can see how that would be… What is that word?”

“Frustrating?” she grumbled.

“Ah, yes.”

Madja took a seat on the floor and grabbed the next object from the pile, a jade necklace. As she examined the piece, she mulled over her interaction with Sevrrn.

Absently, she asked, “Haven’t you ever wanted anything you couldn’t have?”

As soon as she’d asked the question, Madja realized how naïve it was. If the legends could be believed—and they’d yet to be wrong—Sevrrn was quite nearly as old as time. In the span of her life, there had been many things she’d wanted that she couldn’t have. And being as old as he was, Sevrrn no doubt had countless—

“No,” was his blunt reply. “I would not know what that is like. I am not so weak that I could not take anything that I desired.”

Well, there goes that theory.

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Madja looked up and down, and then left to right, making certain that Sevrrn was nowhere in sight. He’d been gone for at least an hour, and now that the coast was clear, she was going to do what she’d been waiting to do all day.

Take a bath.

It had been nearly a week since she’d been left in Sevrrn’s lair, and aside from cataloguing the treasures of the ancient world, bathing was Madja’s favorite thing to do.

The lake was utterly breathtaking in the daylight. Much like the rest of Sevrrn’s lair, it was filled with treasures. A gentle tide lapped against the alluvial pearls that littered the shoreline. Several paces into the water, the pearls gave way to dense gemstones of all shapes and colors, which gave the lakebed its iridescence.

At noontime each day, Sevrrn would leave, giving Madja a few hours of privacy. She assumed that he went off to nap, given that she never saw him sleep. Even during the few hours each night that he allowed her to rest, she would often wake to the sounds of him digging through one of his piles. Each morning, when he woke her at the first whispers of daylight, the pile of items he wanted her to appraise had somehow managed to grow larger.

Madja shed her outfit—embroidered sheepskin slippers and a green dress of fine Kaletani silk—and all but flung herself into the warm lake.

After washing up, she floated for a while. Bath time was the only time she truly had to herself and as such, she should have been using the time to formulate an escape plan. Instead, she spent most of her bath times wondering why she had no interest in formulating an escape plan.

While Sevrrn still possessed the ability to terrify her, he rarely exercised it. Most of the time, she found his company to be quite enjoyable. He was the only person she’d ever known besides her father who was just as interested in history as she was.

And though she’d never admit it to him, Sevrrn was more than a little pleasing to look at. Oftentimes, Madja would become wrapped up in a long tale, only to glance in Sevrrn’s direction and become temporarily spellbound by his beauty, as though she were seeing him for the first time all over again. There simply was no getting used to his ethereal appearance.

Having a nearly endless array of treasures to catalogue was also quite enjoyable, but more than that, being able to work as an appraiser—even doing so at the mercy of a dragon—gave her a deep sense of satisfaction. It was the type of satisfaction humans could only attain from doing the thing that they were passionate about, and if there was one thing Madja was passionate about, it was appraising.

Her father, Jaren O’aer, had been a world-class appraiser. In his youth, he had studied history under several renowned Mandurian scholars. Then, he had travelled the world, studying cultures of the past and present while making a name for himself as a fair and knowledgeable appraiser.

Jaren had been in his forties when he’d wooed Madja’s mother, Latia, a bookish spinster only a few years younger than himself. The two had been all set to spend their lives sailing the world when Madja had been born, rather unexpectedly. Deciding that the seas were no place for a young girl, they settled down in Erda, using Jaren’s considerable fortune to worm their way into high society.

Neither of Madja’s parents had tried very hard to make her into a proper young lady. Madja had inherited her mother’s impeccable memory and her father’s love of history, making her a natural-born appraiser. They were proud of her and encouraged her talents, but after her mother’s passing and, later, her father’s execution, she had found herself adrift in a world where single women had few rights and even fewer prospects. Only a week before the chancellor’s guards had snatched her from her bed, Madja’s uncle had announced that he was arranging a marriage for her.

Madja did want to marry and she did want a family, but not if it meant sacrificing her passion. Perhaps that, above all other reasons, was why she was not eager to return to the city. There was nothing back there for her. At least, nothing worth the incredible opportunity that lay before her.

After a nice, long soak, Madja waded back to the shore, wringing the water from her hair as she went. After drying off, she turned to collect her clothes, only to find Sevrrn standing a few paces away, his dark eyes perusing her nude body.

On reflex, Madja’s hands moved to cover her breasts. Whether he wasn’t attracted to humans or he was just plain asexual, it still unnerved her to be naked in front of a man—especially one that she found so ridiculously appealing.

“How long have you been standing there?” she asked, reaching down to scoop up her dress.

“Why are you covering your breasts?”

Turning her back to him, she stepped into her dress. “Why are you so interested in my breasts?”

“I am only interested in them because you hide them,” he informed her. “I would not find them interesting if you would stop wearing clothing.”

As soon as her assets were covered, she turned to face him again. She waved at her breasts in a quick motion.

“They’re just regular, ordinary breasts. There’s nothing special about them.”

By now, she was growing accustomed to having bizarre conversations with Sevrrn. His understanding of her language was baffling when she considered how little he understood about humans.

“Then let me see them.”

She cast him a dubious look.

“I don’t understand why you’re so insistent on getting my permission.”

Realizing the statement sounded like an invitation, she hastily amended it.

“I mean, we both know that you’re stronger than I am. You could take anything that you want and I wouldn’t be able to stop you.”

He lifted one shoulder. “I am not interested in seeing them. I am interested in you showing them to me. It is part of the fun.”

It was the first time he’d ever mentioned anything relating to fun and she couldn’t help but be intrigued.

“Okay, I’ll show them to you.”

His back straightened, the only outward sign of his surprise.

She added, “But we’ll have to negotiate.”

Madja recognized, belatedly, that it sounded an awful lot like prostitution.

Sevrrn stared down at her through suspicious eyes. “I do not make deals.”

Flatly, she said, “You know, I don’t get how someone as disagreeable as you has lived so long.”

“I have survived because I am the most powerful being in existence.”

Her lips twitched. “In existence.
Really
?”

After six days of constant interaction with Madja, Sevrrn was finally beginning to recognize sarcasm.

With marked impatience, he asked, “What is this deal you wish to make?”

“All right. How about, for starters, you grant me my freedom?”

She didn’t really want to leave, but it would be nice to know that she had the option. Unfortunately, Sevrrn dashed that hope.

“No.”

She frowned. “Okay, well, how about when I do leave, you let me take—”

“You will never leave. Now, either offer a rational deal or stop wasting my time.”

“Because you’re clearly
so
busy,” she muttered under her breath. Before Sevrrn could respond, she threw her hands up. “Fine, how about you tell me where it is you go when you’re away?”

His reply was swift. “Deal. I don’t go anywhere. Now, show me your breasts.”

Madja put her hands on her hips. “You didn’t answer my question. Every day, around noon, you disappear. I want to know where you’re going.”

“I told you, I don’t go anywhere. I merely bend the light.”

“You
bend
the light?” she repeated, still not understanding.

Sevrrn sighed—by far, the most human gesture he had yet displayed.

“Observe.”

It was all he said before he vanished. Madja stared at the spot where he had just stood, her body rigid. Somehow, seeing him disappear into thin air was even more unnerving than seeing him shift into his dragon form.

Her tone uncertain, she asked, “Are you…invisible?”

“I am not invisible.”

Madja nearly jumped out of her skin as his silken voice manifested itself right next to her ear. He was so close that she could feel the heat from his breath as he spoke, but she saw nothing.

“You look pretty invisible to me,” she said, reaching out for him. Her hand connected with a hard barrier. She pressed against it, and upon a tactile exploration, determined that it was his chest.

All at once, he reappeared, standing next to her in all his golden glory. He no longer looked annoyed, and in fact, he seemed quite smug as he explained.

“To be truly invisible, one must be able to cloak themselves beyond all visual perception. There are none that I know of that are capable of such a thing, but tricking human sight is something that even a half-breed could do. Your human eyes are limited in their perception of light. It is easy for me to bend the light around myself, thus rendering you unable to perceive me.”

Madja was almost impressed, until she realized the implications. “Wait, how often do you do this? I mean, when you leave me alone, are you…watching me?”

He shrugged. “Of course.”

Madja felt violated.

And curious.

“Why do you watch me?”

Sevrrn’s patience wore thin. “Are you going to renege on our deal?”

Madja had forgotten all about the stupid deal. She was in no mood to make things easy for him.

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s not like you haven’t seen me naked plenty of times now.”

“That is irrelevant.”

Just as Sevrrn was coming to understand sarcasm, Madja was also learning that it was impossible to win any argument with Sevrrn. When arguing with a man who considered himself infallible, the best one could do was drag the conversation on long enough to annoy him out of spite.

“Fine, whatever.”

Rather than simply pulling her neckline down, Madja exposed herself in the most roundabout way possible. She tugged at the strings in the front of her bodice, loosening them one by one. Without the tight bodice to support them, her breasts dipped slightly. Sevrrn’s eyes followed the movement.

She suddenly felt self-conscious. While it wasn’t the first time she’d been naked in front of him, there was something different in his eyes this time. His usual detached interest was gone, replaced with deliberate scrutiny.

She shrugged off one shoulder of her gown, and then the other. The muscle in her throat bobbed as she finally reached up and gave her neckline a gentle tug, causing her breasts to spill out from her bodice.

Madja hadn’t realized she was blushing until she looked down at her chest. Color spread from her neck and down over the tops of her breasts. Sevrrn reached out to touch her.

His long fingers were tipped with sharp, pointed nails. He used the claw on his index finger to trace the boundaries of her blush.

“Rose gold,” he said quietly.

“What?”

He continued to trace without response.

Madja knew that she should push him away. Touching hadn’t been part of their deal. But for some reason, she was as transfixed on what was happening as he was. She tried to tell herself that it was nothing more than objective curiosity in his gaze, but his garnet eyes held an intensity that she couldn’t ignore. She couldn’t tell if he liked what he saw or not, but one thing was for certain—he was interested.

His eyes shifted down to settle on her nipple. “Sapphire.”

She cocked her head. “Sapphire?”

“Pink sapphires,” he clarified.

He murmured something about showing one to her later, but the words hardly registered in her mind as he drew his clawed finger down to encircle her areola. His touch was feather-light, but she sensed that if he were to press any harder, the pointed tip would break her fragile skin.

A shiver ran down her spine.

His gaze flickered up to meet hers. “My nail is not cold.”

Madja averted her eyes. “It wasn’t the cold. It…” she hesitated, “…it felt good.”

He said nothing, but resumed his exploration. After circling her areola again, his claw gently grazed her nipple. Madja sucked in a breath as the soft bud began to stiffen. The places he’d touched began to tingle, a feeling that spread outward and throughout her body. Warmth pooled in the pit of her stomach and she found herself leaning into him, ever so slightly.

Sevrrn maintained his silence as his hand cupped her breast. It was the first time she had felt his skin, and it was hot to the touch. He lifted her breast and squeezed, as if taking the weight of it. Despite the heat coming from his body and the heat now coiling within her, Madja’s body began to quiver.

“You should stop,” she whispered.

She expected him to deliver some sort of arrogant remark about how he does not take orders from humans, but instead, his grip tightened on her breast and he growled.

It was a low, menacing sound. Despite how comfortable she had become with Sevrrn, age-old instincts caused fear to spike her veins. Wincing, she looked down at his hand, which was clutching her soft mound in a vice grip. Pinpricks of blood appeared where his nails bit her flesh.

BOOK: The Dragon's Appraiser: Part One
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Endure My Heart by Joan Smith
Cupcakes & Chardonnay by Gabriel, Julia
Real Men Will by Dahl, Victoria
Wrangling the Redhead by Sherryl Woods, Sherryl Woods
A Little Harmless Addiction by Melissa Schroeder
Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin
Eyes of Fire by Heather Graham
Hollywood Scream Play by Josie Brown
Marrying Christopher by Michele Paige Holmes