Vampire Legacy (Book 4 of the Dragon Heat series)
Title – Vampire Legacy (Book 4 of the Dragon Heat series)
Author – Ella J Phoenix
Author – Ella J Phoenix
Publication date – May 1, 2015
Publisher – Self Publishing
Publisher – Self Publishing
Word count - 115,000
- Nook/B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/vampire-legacy-ella-j-phoenix/1121794511?ean=2940151883085
Here’s a little bit about me.
I was just nine years old when I discovered my passion for the paranormal world. That passion led me to a number of amateur theatre productions in my home town, and ultimately to a bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts.
It wasn’t very cool to have spent five years working my ass off for no money. But, I have to say, it was then that I made my first attempts into the literary world. The first ones were writing children’s plays for my family’s language school. After a couple of blunders, I decided to translate Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a dancing and kicking play. It was so much fun that after that, let’s just say that I caught the bug.
But it was really my mother who brought me into writing. I call her “my catalyst” – she’s always been the one who I went to for advice on my acting career, my travel adventures, my love life… And she was always the one to say, “Go for it!”
So, I did. I travelled around the world, lived in several different continents, met several great people and had not-so-great lovers. In one of my “go for it” adventures, I met my husband. And then my life really changed.
I’m not saying that my marriage is perfect, or that he is perfect. No, I wouldn’t lie to you like that, now, would I?
In the beginning it was fantastic. We were in love and living together after two weeks into our relationship. But as all of us – married girls – know, passion has a very bright but short blaze. After a few years, I found myself still loving him, but not wanting him as much as I used to. Around that time I started devouring at least two erotica romances per mouth. And, what do you know - my marriage went back in full swing again. I was in love, full of passion and energy! Of course that I was fantasizing about the vampires and werewolf heroes I read in the books, but did it really matter? What’s the difference between doing that and buying naughty-nun-and-priest outfits? It’s all about using your imagination to bring the spark back to your love life, isn’t it?
Well, actually it wasn’t that simple. Now, I have a clear conscience about it all –better erotica books than cheating, right? But in the beginning I tried to hide my “hobby” from my husband. Can you believe it? Yes, I did. And I think there are a lot of us who do it too.
One day I decided to try children’s psychology to solve my conundrum– if you don’t make a big deal out of it, the brat won’t realize you’ve just said the c-word out loud.
The strategy worked. I realized that my husband didn’t really care what I read – what he wanted was his passionate wife back. So, yeah, win-win.
A few months later, I started a project with my mom– did I mention she’s a fantastic writer? Yep, she is, but life wasn’t very kind to her, and after a handful of really nice books, she quit. So I made a commitment to myself to get her to start writing again. I promised that if she helped me out, I would find her a new literary agent and launch her favorite novel in Europe. While putting together the list of literary agents to be targeted (I even had them broken up into categories!), I discovered that a number of them were actively looking for new paranormal romances. But when I suggested it to my mother, she came back with – “Why don’t you write it?”
That made me stop and I asked myself, “Yeah, why don’t I write it?”
It wasn’t easy but after years travelling around the world, translating other people’s work and devouring paranormal romances, I finally took the courage to put my passion into words and start my first novel, Dragon Heat – Book One.
In less than two days I finished the full synopsis of Book One and the first thoughts for two and three.
Now, I am developing a new series, dedicated to one of my favorite characters I created in Dragon Heat but unfortunately could not give him the attention he deserved.
My mom is now back writing and working on her new novel. And my marriage is still going very very well.
I hope you enjoy your read and that my book inspires you to get out there and dare, the same way the novels I read inspired me.
By Apa Dobrý, go for it!
Contacting Ella J Phoenix
Facebook - www.facebook.com/ellaj.phoenix
Twitter - twitter.com/ellajphoenix
Sales Promotion for Sexy Book Blogs Tour
Vampire Legacy (Book 4 of the Dragon Heat series) and Dragon Heat (Book 1) will be FREE to download from AllRomanceEbooks & Amazon.com.
When Tardieh discovers a letter from his late father, he opens a door to old memories. The letter from Petran is a tale of intrigue, attempted murder, and betrayal, but leaves more questions than answers in its wake.
Petran, the King of Vampires, an ancient monarch known for his cunning ploys and many lovers, knows the animosity between draconians and vampires is brewing in Romania. Upon discovering his draconian neighbor has fallen ill with a strange Curse, Petran is determined to discover the cause, and a cure. In doing so, he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor’s daughter, a striking Draconian Duchess.
All Lady Natalia, the Duchess of Moldavia, wants is to save her people from a Dragon Lord’s tyranny but she’s only a woman, who has no place meddling in politics. With his health failing, her father has big plans for her, so when the King of Vampires agrees to help her find a cure for the Curse plaguing her people and her father, Talia begins to see him as more than an old family friend. He awakens desires in her she knows she should not have but cannot resist, or deny him.
***Warning: this novel contains hot, steamy, descriptive sexual scenes. Enjoy.***
Book Four of The Dragon Heat Series
By Ella J Phoenix
Copyright © 2015 by Ella J Phoenix
All rights reserved
Apa Dobrý – group of five gods, creators of life on Earth and the Universe
Apa Sâmbetei – the Land of the Souls, the afterlife
Calathor – someone who can cross to the Land of the Souls and return unharmed
Draco or Draconian – a dragon in human form
Hiad – the Underworld
Inmã – the soul
Konec – God of Death, Keeper of the gates of Hiad
Razbians – lizard people known for their lack of intelligence
Soartas – the three witches of Destiny
Sujha – a non-pure being, offspring of the union between two different races
Terhem Viahta – the Land of the Living, the Earth
Ucidhere – God of Death, lord of the Land of the Souls
Zmyzel – Goddess of Life
Wallachia, Romania, 1799
The Border between Vampire and Draconian territories
“Halt,” the driver shouted as the carriage jolted in place.
“For Hiad’s sake, what is it now?” Petran heard Arthur, his chamberlain, yell from a few feet ahead. He’d been riding at the front of the line with the other guards.
“The wheel got stuck again,” the driver answered.
Petran let out a long sigh and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. This trip was getting on his nerves. He loathed travelling by…well, he loathed travelling. Vampires didn’t have to depend on slow horses or carriages for transport, they teleported. Petran was a wizard at that skill, having mastered it far better than his counterparts. Diplomatic visits like this one, however, called for a more substantial method of arrival, as protocol dictated. He hated diplomacy but knew the world would be an intolerable chaos if its leaders didn’t follow minimum decorum. And so here he was crossing the Carpathian Mountains by carriage in a never-ending spring drizzle, going at an agonizing four miles per hour and getting stuck in every shallow hole on the road. It was pure torture.
“We must move before any outlaw dracos sniff us out here,” Arthur added from outside the coach. “These roads are full of them.”
“Nah, dracos ain’t allowed to shift no more in these parts, only with the permission of their lord,” one of his personal guards replied in a nonchalant manner.
“The very definition of outlaw, you door-knob, is one who doesn’t follow the law,” Arthur grunted in reply.
Great, now they were discussing grammar. “I do not care what it means or what is stalling us,” Petran growled from his cabin, not even bothering to open his coach’s window. “Just get on with it before we all turn into ashes with the coming sun.” His men were all vampires and could hear a pin dropping, so there was no need for wasting his energy with an elevated voice.
It worked. Arthur and his guards stopped the blabbering at once and got on with getting the task done.
When the carriage finally resumed the drive, Petran shifted uncomfortably on the hard leather seat. Next time he would teleport to the nearest spot then make the final distance by foot. It was better than enduring an overnight trip at turtle-speed surrounded by incompetent morons. He had to admit, however, he too had had his share of utter uselessness when it came to operating human inventions.
After a couple of excruciatingly painful hours of uncomfortable jostling, they crossed a draconian village, and then started their way up the hill toward the Dragon Lord’s castle. At last. Three quarters of an hour later, the carriage came to a halt—a planned one this time around.
Petran didn’t wait for the formal protocols but instead, he promptly stepped out of his cubicle and stretched his legs. The end of their journey was in the middle of a wide stone bridge, which connected two sides of a gorge. Its end landed on an elevated platform that hosted a colossal door, carved into sheer rock.
“We have arrived, your majesty.”
“I can see that, Arthur,” Petran replied trying to remind himself that butchering his own servant would be unwise. He took a deep, calming breath and admired the majestic wall before him.
The Dragon’s castle had been literally carved into the mountain. The only entrance was through the impossibly long stone bridge, which was adorned by intricate carvings. The symbols depicted an ancient story of war and victory, of the Golden Age of the Dragons. A colossal door greeted visitors at the other end and a few feet above it two towers stood as if poking out of the mountain itself.
“Who comes there?” the tower guard above them yelled down.
“It is I, Petran, King of Vampires, from the House of Basarab. I come to pay my respects to your lord Somenski the Truthful, Draconian Lord of Moldavia.”
“I was not informed my lord expected visitors,” the impertinent sod replied. “I must consult first with—”
Suddenly, the stone door creaked alive and an entourage of dracos emerged.
“Let him through,” a feminine voice uttered. It was soft yet full of confidence.
Petran narrowed his eyes trying to see who had voiced the command, but only managed to distinguish a lithe shadow among the many male bodyguards.
He waited in the drizzle as the tower guard nodded once and disappeared into his cubicle. After a short moment, the heavy door creaked alive again and slowly opened up to its full range to welcome the visitors. The female stepped forward and stopped at the mouth of the grand entrance. A couple of servants rushed after her, holding up some sort of tent in an attempt to protect their lady from the rain. She gently lifted her hand, indicating that there was no need for it. As the servants stepped back, she lifted her chin high and looked straight at Petran.
And his gut clenched.
He had no idea who she was, but this lady was by far the most striking woman he had ever laid his eyes upon. She wore a simple yet elegant dress made of dark blue velvet, which hugged her slender waist and molded her breasts in shape. Dark grey eyes were framed by thick lashes, and fiery red hair was plaited onto a high bun carrying no adornments or precious stones. She didn’t need any, her beauty was arresting enough without any subterfuges.
“Welcome to the house of Somenski the Truthful, Draconian Lord of Moldavia, your majesty,” she stated, going down on a perfect bow.
Petran nodded in acknowledgment, as decorum dictated. “I come to pay my visit to your lord. I trust you received my missive.”
“Yes, your majesty, we did,” she replied. “Unfortunately, we misread your message for it predicted your arrival after the rainy season.”
No, she hadn’t misread his missive for that was exactly what he had sent. He knew it, she knew it. But she had clearly decided to avoid embarrassing a royal visitor by pointing it out. Wise decision. He was too good a poker player, however, to think of explaining why he had unexpectedly pushed his visit forward. There was no need to ruin a good neighborly relationship with the truth.
“Please, let me provide you shelter from this drizzle,” she said flicking her hand in the air. At once, her entourage rushed to Petran’s side and lifted the small tent up, successfully shielding them both from the rain.
“Please follow me,” she requested with a short bow, then without waiting for any response, turned around, and started making her way into the mountain.
Petran narrowed his eyes at the slight sway of her hips. Who was she? In a formal encounter, one would introduce oneself declaring his name and rank in the household. Despite her obviously well trained manners, she hadn’t properly informed him of her lineage and position. It probably had not been on purpose but nonetheless it made him weary, maybe even irritable. He detested not knowing all the players on the table, or not having all the facts at his disposal at all times.
Petran shook his head and chided himself. He was overthinking things again, a habit which Arthur, his trusted Chamberlain, had subtly highlighted more than once. It was best not to assume the worst. This was a simple visit, official but of a kinder nature, from one neighbor to another. There was no point of seeing mischief in the shadows. It was best to simply ask for clarification. One always receives what one commands.
With that in mind, Petran accelerated his pace until he was side by side with the young woman. They had now entered a tall chamber which seemed to have been carved straight into the mountain. “Please accept my apologies for not having sent an emissary with the adjusted date of my arrival, Lady…”
“Oh, please your majesty, there’s no need for apologies. We are your servants,” she replied politely, without looking at him, and without stating her name. Again. She had simply ignored decorum all together.
Damn her. Was she Somenski’s new wife? No, occurrence of such magnitude would have quickly made its way to his ears. He hadn’t been advised of any matrimonies of late, either. Unless the old sod had decided to take on a mistress—a much younger one from the looks of it.
Petran ran his eyes over the lady by his side. She was worth taking, for sure. With marble skin, flaming red hair, and delicate features, her beauty was a marvel. Their society widely accepted royal mistresses—some of them were even better treated then the official wives, living a life of glamour and luxury, not having to carry the burden of the continuation of their house name or of having to protect their reputations.
A small smile lifted the corner of his lips as a tinge of jealousy enveloped his groin. If only he had found this red-haired gem before his draconian neighbor, he would have shown her what it was like to bed a true king—over, and over again.
The object of his lustful thoughts paused, then turned to face him, meeting him eye-to-eye. An obvious question was stamped on her face, as if asking for justification for such inappropriate staring.
Well, he too could ignore decorum. “My mind must be playing tricks on me for I could swear I have seen you before, milady. Did Somenski officially introduce you as his royal mistress in the last Open Games?”
Her eyes widened in shock and her jaw dropped. “Your majesty!”
At once, Petran realized that maybe he’d been too blunt, but tiredness from the long trip prevented him from finding apologetic words, only ones of perplexity reached his tongue. “Well, don’t look at me so bewildered, milady. I too find myself confused.”
She opened her mouth again, then turned on her heels, took a couple of steps and stopped facing the other way. Petran watched in amusement as she obviously fought to gain her composure. It was quite entertaining actually.
After a few heartbeats, she turned around again. “Apologies, your majesty, for my lack of manners,” she said in controlled somber tones. “I should have introduced myself.”
“Yes, you should have,” Petran replied curtly, not giving her space to evade him any longer.
A hot blush colored her cheeks but she took his reprimand in silence. Bowing low, she said, “I am Lady Natalia Somenski, Duchess of Moldavia.”
Now it was Petran’s turn to look astounded. Lady Natalia? As in Little Natalia, Somenski’s daughter who had been sent away to boarding school just a few years ago?
“It’s been three decades, your majesty,” she replied politely, and Petran realized he had spoken aloud.
“I hadn’t been informed of your return, milady, nor had I realized time had elapsed so fast,” he muttered gravely, trying hard to make it sound like an apology. He wasn’t one to make amends or justify his actions, but apologies were definitely in order. One thing was to ogle over Somenski’s mistress, but another one entirely was doing it so to his daughter, even if she was a delight to the eyes.
“Yes, time does tend to creep up on all sons of Apa Sâmbetei, no matter who you are—a mere vassal, a king, or even a royal mistress,” she replied softly, but her subtle derision was not missed in his ears.
Was she jesting with him? Petran stared at those grey eyes, his tired mind taking longer to find the right come back.
Before he managed to find his voice again, Lady Natalia resumed their walk. “Please, let me take you to your chambers. You must be in need of a rest after your long journey.”
He was indeed but—“I’d rather see your father first, if possible.”
She nodded once, acknowledging his request and carried on.
Petran followed the lovely Natalia along the endless corridors taking everything in. Somenski’s castle was a medieval fortress carved within the mountain. Impossibly tall chambers led to other even taller hallways. Maybe it was how enormous everything was, or maybe it was the earliness of the morn, but the castle looked rather empty. After a few minutes, they reached an alcove, which looked like the entrance to the kitchens.
“Your entourage may follow my servants to the stables, where they may take care of your horses.”
Petran nodded to his men, a silent order for them to comply with the lady’s suggestion. Arthur stared back at him for a flicker of time, as if undecided whether to comply or to rebel against his orders. That bloody chamberlain! Petran would have to teach him some manners. He lifted an eyebrow at Arthur, leaving no doubts as to which the right decision was. After a heartbeat, his servant got the gist of the message and moved along with the others toward the stables. Wise decision.
Petran had known Natalia’s father for centuries and trusted the old sod, even if he were a dragon. But the main reason he denied the safety of his guard’s company was to ensure privacy. There were disturbing rumors travelling around, too disturbing to ignore. That was why Petran had decided to pay his neighbor a visit, with the excuse of collecting the rent the draco owed him.
Now, accompanied by just one servant who lit the way with a single candle torch, his lovely hostess guided Petran along more corridors and chambers. This was no castle, but a maze of towering proportions. Finally, they reached a hollow alcove, which held a colossal waterfall without an end. Crystal chandeliers filled the steep walls surrounding the waterfall, which radiated rays of light in several directions, creating an eerie yet awe-inspiring effect. Several doors filled the ledge along the empty space, framed by verandas, which emerged out of nowhere, as if glued to the stone wall. Petran looked down, and saw only an endless pit into which the waterfall disappeared.
“This is our water view façade,” Lady Natalia said, probably sensing his curiosity.
“Do you mean that these balconies are the entrance to the royal chambers?”
“The back entrance,” she explained then turned to the opposite direction. “The front is through the heart of the mountain.”
After a few more minutes tailing Natalia along the labyrinth of soaring chambers, they reached a tall wooden door.
A faint come in reached Petran’s ears after Lady Natalia knocked. She opened the door and stepped aside to let him in.
A sudden putrid smell reached his nostrils.
The room was dimly lit by a single candle, but it was enough for him to distinguish his frail neighbor lying under heavy covers on the four post bed. The draco was the source of the foul smell. The smell of death.
Damn the Soartas, Petran cursed silently. The rumors were true. Somenski was dying.
“Petran,” his neighbor murmured with a straining voice. “How glad am I to see you.”
“Hello, old chap,” Petran replied lightly, stepping inside the room.
Natalia pulled a chair close and motioned for him to take a seat by her father’s bedside. Petran obliged, even though he desired nothing but to lift the covers and investigate what in Hiad had taken down a millennia-old dragon.
“Apologies for not having met you at the gates,” the draco said. “But as you see, the Soartas decided to teach me a lesson.”
“If I didn’t know better,” Petran replied. “I would think you sent your daughter to greet me on purpose, so I would be too smitten to demand the rent you owe me.”
Somenski’s wrinkled face lifted as he cackled without reservation, but the laughter soon turned into an ugly cough. At once, Natalia jumped to his aid, bringing him a glass of something, which smelled like rotting seaweed. As they both struggled to control the attack, Petran noticed in horror that the draco’s skin suddenly shifted from smooth beige to green scales, his eyes turned yellow, his irises thinned into slits, just to pop out again after a moment. It seemed as if Somenski had lost control over his mutation, as if his dragon was trapped inside and was struggling to come out. Merciful Soartas, it was painful even to watch.
Petran had never liked dracos, never trusted them—who could blame him after so much animosity over the centuries? His great-great-grandfather Vlad Dracul, had tried to make amends and even went as far as enduring the trials and became the first vampire member of the Order of the Dragon, but to no avail. He was soon betrayed and assassinated, giving Petran’s great grandfather, Vlad Tepes the perfect excuse to lead one of the bloodiest campaigns in their history. After all that, there was no trust, no peace between Vampires and Dragons. Just between neighbors.
Somenski was different though. His ill-timed sense of humor and love for self-scorn had managed to break through Petran’s prejudices. And when the old lizard had come to Petran asking permission to harvest a section of his territory in exchange for a small fee, he’d had no reason to refuse the request. Over the years, that simple exchange had turned into an unexpected friendship.
After a few moments of struggle, the coughing resided and Somenski managed to take a deep breath.
Still troubled by the disturbing sight, Petran leaned forward and rested his elbows on his thighs. “So the rumors are true. You have been afflicted by the strange Curse that is wiping out your serfs.”
Somenski didn’t reply straight away. He took a few more sips of the strange water Natalia offered then sunk back on the pillows. “I would entertain you with some fairytale as an explanation, but I’m afraid you’d want too many details and I’m not in an inventive mood tonight.”
“Good, because I, on the other hand, am in the investigative mood this eve,” Petran replied trying hard to keep his tone jovial.
His neighbor didn’t find it funny. A heavy aura had descended in the dark chamber.
“Somenski,” Petran said, breaking the silence, “I don’t believe in divine curses. I believe in facts, and the fact is that your country has been stricken by a disease that can bind a millennia-old dragon to a bed.”
The draco opened his mouth to answer but another coughing fit made him change course. Once again, his skin changed into thick scales and his eyes turned yellow, like a wave, which came and went. And just like before, Natalia was right there to help her father, promptly supporting him up as he contorted in agony.
“We don’t know what’s causing this ailment,” she replied cleaning her father’s chin then helping him drink the strange, smelly tea. “Some country folks believe we’re being punished by Apa Dobrý but these are just superstitions driven by ignorance. The only thing we do know is that the illness blocks dracos from shifting, therefore, locking them in human form.”
“How can that be?” Petran had never heard of such thing, and had he not seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed it.
She exhaled and shrugged weakly. “We need to shift to gain our strength, since he cannot...”
“He cannot gain enough strength to fight the disease,” Petran added, finishing the sentence for her.
She nodded affirmatively.
“What happens if you don’t shift for a length of time?” Petran asked, but the answer didn’t come from Natalia.
“Then our bodies deteriorate in a matter of months,” a male voice replied from the back of the room. “Like many have in the last year.”
Petran jumped to his feet at the sound of the new comer.
Kalaur, the Dragon Lord of the Eastern Mountains was standing by the balcony door. His imposing figure blocked the entire breadth of the frame.
Just like Somenski, the dragon lord owned a good chunk of East Europe, but unlike his old chap, Kalaur had never managed to gain Petran’s trust. He was cold-blooded and ambitious—never a good combination to have for a neighbor.
“Oh, my lord,” Natalia exclaimed holding her chest in her hands. “You startled us. I thought you had left when we came in and didn’t find you by my father’s side.”
Apparently Kalaur decided her remark was not worthy of his attention because he continued his statement as if he had never been interrupted. “Yes, it is a terrible Curse indeed but not to fear, I have my best physician developing an antidote as we speak.”
“Developing an antidote with what?” Petran asked. “I have never heard of anything like this disease before?”
“No disrespect, your majesty,” Kalaur replied clearly not meaning his words. “But this is a draconian matter.”
“The House of Basarab has been my neighbor for longer than you have, Kalaur,” Somenski uttered gravely. “Remember your place.”
“It’s alright, old friend,” Petran intervened quickly. He wanted to pin Kalaur’s tongue to the wall for his insolence, but held himself in check. Petran needed answers and apparently, the bastard had some. “I understand that in times like these, one’s patience is tested. Would it be too upsetting if you told me when this antidote will be available?”
“Soon,” Kalaur replied. “My physician is conducting the final tests.”
“On whom?” Somenski asked. A deep crease wrinkled his brow. “By Apa Dobrý, Kalaur, don’t tell me you are testing this drug on our own people!”
“How else would you like us to find a cure for your disease? Besides, they are just peasants,” the bloody lizard retorted with a short shrug. “There are plenty left still to work the lands.”
Petran never took kindly to blunt cruelty, but knew well that some lords in these parts of the world still saw their land as their kingdom and the peasants as mere serfs who should be grateful for a roof over their heads. Petran would never rule this way but unfortunately, as Kalaur had put it, it was truly none of his business.
“They are still our people, my lord, our flesh and blood,” Natalia commented. Apparently, she didn’t share Kalaur’s detachment. Despite her soft voice, her spine was as rigid as a rod, her jaw locked, and her pink lips pursed into a thin line. “I have been watching over the villages affected, and I believe there’s a pattern. After the first wave—”
“Nonsense,” the dragon lord barked interrupting her. “You are inexperienced and know nothing of the ways of this land, milady. Leave the serious affairs to those who know what’s best.”
Petran narrowed his eyes and fantasized about his fists connecting with Kalaur’s long nose. However, he came here to find out what was happening to his neighbor, not to start a fight with a powerful dragon lord, even if he were a deserving prick. So, he sat back down again and dared not intervene. He was also secretly hoping Somenski would come to Lady Natalia’s rescue, but the opposite occurred.
“He is right, my dear,” Somenski said, agreeing with his despot visitor. “You have been gone for a number of years.”
“And in London, the feeblest places of all! Once you are mine,” Kalaur added, “I will teach you how to be a true draconian duchess.”
Petran froze. Once she was his? What in Hiad? His eyes darted to Natalia, expecting surprise or revulsion but he found only stillness.
“And do not you worry, my friend,” Kalaur turned his focus to Somenski. “I will ensure your girl is provided for once you’re gone.”
“I’m not dead yet,” his neighbor replied without a hint of his usual lightness.
“So, are congratulations in order then?” Petran asked, testing the waters.
“We haven’t announced it yet, but—”
“Yes, Natalia will soon become the Duchess of Cossack, and my wife,” Kalaur said, confirming the horrible news.
Damn the Soartas. “And when is the happy date?”
“Soon,” Kalaur replied taking a seat at the feet of the bed. “And Natalia should start preparing for it. Running my castle will be a strenuous task and I accept nothing but perfection and precision. You shouldn’t have allowed her to live in London for so long, Somenski. She probably led a life of idleness and superfluity.”
“She was studying at the best boarding school for girls in our world, Kalaur,” Somenski replied. “The Mother Superior ensured me she spent her days either studying or working as a volunteer.”
As the two dragons discussed Natalia’s life as if she wasn’t there, Petran couldn’t stop his mind from wandering. Even though the times were changing and the word of revolution and female emancipation was spreading like fire, Romania was still virtually ruled under the feudal system, where one’s life decisions were not one’s own. Women were betrothed as soon as possible, sometimes even before they could walk, guaranteeing the continuation of wealth within noble families. Of course, Somenski would be thinking of ensuring his only daughter’s future with a good marriage, especially now that a strange disease had afflicted him. But Kalaur was far from being his best option, of that, Petran was certain. The bastard had never taken a wife before, nor had he ever showed any interest in doing so. Why was he so open to the idea of marriage now? The answer was obvious. Natalia was the catch of the century—wealthy, beautiful, young and his neighbor. Joining their wealth and lands would be no trouble. The problem was that Somenski’s lands were the only thing between Petran’s and Kalaur’s—a perfect barrier, which Petran was not ready to lose.
From the corner of his eye, he saw a slight change in Natalia’s posture. While the two dracos discussed what she should or should not do in preparation for her new life, Natalia kept quiet as tradition dictated, but Petran could sense her turmoil inside. Her eyes searched, her fingers twitched. It was clear that she was enjoying the conversation as much as he was.
Slowly, a plan formed in his head.
He had to protect his territory at all costs. If the marriage between the two draconian families brought them as one, Kalaur would have free passage to Petran’s lands, and that was too dangerous even to contemplate. No, he needed to stop the marriage, and there were only two means of doing so—finding another, equally profitable prospect for Kalaur, or making the lovely Natalia unfit for matrimony of high class. The latter seemed a much more attractive option. And why not? Deflowering such a beautiful rose was hardly a sacrifice in Petran’s mind. If any rumors of promiscuity would reach the ton, her future as Duchess of Cossack would be dismissed like a serf begging for money. Kalaur valued his reputation too much to jeopardize it with a disgraced bride. Poor Somenski would suffer the blow, of course, but there was little Petran could do to prevent that misfortune. He was fond of the old dragon, but not enough to risk his country for him. After all, losing a good neighbor was nothing compared to losing a crown.
“So, I’ll see you at the Open Games, Petran.”
Kalaur’s words brought him back from his machinations. “Yes, you certainly will,” he replied promptly. “Your opening ceremony has cost me a small fortune already.”
“My wife, Hillia, believes it is a fair reason to buy the entire dress collection from every single couture master in Paris,” Petran replied not bothering to feign his disgust. Then he turned his attention to his new target. “Are you planning on attending the games, milady?”
“I’d love to but I’m afraid my father won’t be fit enough to travel by then,” she replied softly.
“Nonsense,” her father grunted in disapproval. “I want you to go and enjoy your time there. This may be your last Open Games as a Somenski.”
“So may the Gods in Apa Sâmbetei allow you to be fit enough to go as well, old friend,” Petran added. “If Kalaur’s magician is as good as he claims, the cure is within reach.”
“Of course, he is as good as I claim him to be,” Kalaur barked, but didn’t explore Petran’s bait any further. “And I plan to officially announce the engagement at the closing ball, so you better be there Somenski.”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” Somenski replied. “I’m still considering your proposal, Kalaur. Don’t push me.”
“Fine but for once, my neighbor, time is not our friend.” Kalaur stood up and started making his way back to the balcony. “I must go now. Those godforsaken outlaws are driving my militia mad.”
“Are you still having trouble with the rebels?” Petran asked in a nonchalant manner, but he knew very well, Kalaur and his so-called invincible dragons were taking a beating.
“Not for long,” the draco grunted in reply. “They’ll soon feel what it really means to oppose their Lord.”
Petran nodded in acknowledgement and watched Kalaur step out of the balcony and jump. After a heartbeat, a large black dragon emerged from the shadows and disappeared into the waterfall.
“I thought dragons weren’t allowed to shift at whim anymore,” Petran stated with a blank face. “Shouldn’t he have asked your permission first, Somenski, since he’s in your lands?”
Somenski threw his head back and let out a loud laugh. Yes, of course it had been a joke, just like Kalaur’s reign.
“Kalaur’s laws apply to anyone but him,” Natalia muttered quietly.
So she does have a mind of her own. Interesting.
“Oh, my Talia, you won’t be doing me any favors by antagonizing Kalaur,” Somenski warned softly. “He may be my only chance for a cure.”
“I pray for Apa Dobrý every night, father,” Natalia replied. “They wouldn’t be so cruel to strand you this way.”
For a moment, Petran let himself admire the good daughter Natalia had become, and a hint of envy unsettled his heart. If only his own son was as compliant as she was. Tardieh refused to learn, to abide by Petran’s instructions. He was as indifferent to the rules as the rebels who ransacked the draconian states.
“Well, old sod, I too must be on my way,” Petran said standing up. “I don’t have rebels to deal with but I must find shelter for myself and my kind before sunrise.”
“Nonsense,” Somenski bellowed, then coughed furiously. When it subsided, he carried on. “You will spend the day here. I have enough dark rooms in this castle and Talia has already arranged proper accommodations for you and your entourage. I will not take no for an answer.”
Petran was counting on that. “If that is your will, your lordship,” he replied bowing low in friendly mockery. “I will not refuse.”
Somenski let out another loud laugh, and this time he managed to hold off the coughing fit. “You dare mock me in my own house, you blood sucking fool!”
“Of course, where else would I do it?” he replied with an impish shrug.
More laughter reverberated in the room and Petran’s was in the mix. His gaze met Lady Natalia’s for a fleeting moment. A shy smile lifted the corner of her cheeks. By Apa Dobrý, she was truly beautiful. He definitely understood why Kalaur was rushing to take her as his wife. But now Petran was in the race, and judging by the way her grey eyes gazed at him, Kalaur had a serious contender against him.