Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(4)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(4)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

His gaze shifted from his sister to me, his eyes smoldering. They reminded me of when we’d been nude in that hot tub and where things might have gone if that goblin hadn’t shown up.

You don’t need to make this quite so convincing, I thought quietly in my mind, worried Zondia would be as apt to hear my thoughts as Zav.

He did not look away. The intensity of his focus should have been off-putting to someone like me, who saw a stare as a challenge and didn’t care for hugs, but I found myself stepping closer to him, resting a hand on his chest. To convince Zondia that I had feelings for him, nothing more.

Zondia rolled her eyes and snapped her fingers, trying to pull Zav’s attention back to her. A petty part of me liked that he was ignoring her now. Let her see how it felt.

“Of course she is pretending to be loyal to you for now. Wasn’t your elf princess the same way? She let you bed her for months before she tried to kill you.” Zondia gave me a triumphant look, as if she thought the information was new to me and it would make me angry to learn that Zav had enjoyed the embrace of some previous lover. No, what made me mad was that the elf had pretended to care for him while secretly plotting to kill him. Who would do that and why? There were so many more obnoxious dragons one could plot against.

Not that Zav didn’t have his obnoxious moments, but he wasn’t cruel, just arrogant. And, as I’d learned, he cared about doing the right thing.

I reached up and ran my fingers along his jaw, rubbing my thumb over his short, neatly trimmed beard. Zav froze, his gaze growing even more intense. His mouth wasn’t far from mine now. It would be easy to kiss him.

Zondia made an unfeminine noise akin to hacking up a loogie. “How can you not see that she’s using you, brother? You are supposed to be older and wiser than I, but you are being a fool in this matter. What will Mother do if she loses you as well?”

“She will not lose me.” Zav glanced at his sister, and some of the spell that had held me captive weakened.

I lowered my hand from his face back to his chest and put notions of kissing out of my head. This ruse was going to end up getting me in trouble. I didn’t think Zav was intentionally using his power to compel me to want to kiss him or please him—I well remembered what it had felt like when he had magically coerced me to do his wishes—but a dragon’s magnetic allure was problematic even without magic being involved.

“She will if this mongrel drives that blade into your chest when you’re in the middle of some gross human sex act. Have you seen into her mind? Has she let you? Do you have any idea what her plans truly are?” Zondia turned her glare on me, and her fingers twitched, as if she wanted to rip me out of Zav’s embrace.

“Whatever her plans,” Zav said, “they are mine to worry about. I have claimed her. You have no right to question her or force your way into her mind. If you do so again, I will challenge you.”

I expected Zondia to sneer again and tell him to bring it on. Her face was flinty. But it softened slightly, the glow fading from her eyes.

“I do not want to challenge you, brother. I want you to be safe. Treachery is all over the Cosmic Realms now, and you better believe it is also on this backward vermin-infested planet.”

“I am aware of that,” Zav said.

“I do not want to lose another brother. Even a self-important half-brother with delusions of the virtues of nobility.”

“Meet me at the spire. We will discuss this further. In private.”

“An excellent idea. Leave your female prize out of the affairs of dragons.” Zondia shifted back into her natural form and sprang off the roof as if the wet cement were burning her feet. She flew west, toward the Space Needle.

I almost laughed, imagining a dragon tête-à-tête in front of the windows where people were dining. Inevitably, one or two people with the blood of magical ancestors would be able to see them, and start screaming and pointing. Until security carted them out of the place.

“Val,” Zav rumbled.

I still had a hand on his chest and felt the vibration of his voice. Though I might not admit it, it pleased me that he’d stopped calling me a mongrel and now used my name.

“Zav.” I patted his chest and shifted to step back. With his sister flying away, we didn’t have to pretend any longer.

His arm tightened around my shoulders, keeping me close. His gaze was locked on me again with that same intensity.

“We are just pretending, right?” I patted his chest again, though a wild, terrified part of me wondered what I would do if he didn’t let go. If he pulled me closer and tried to claim me for real. “Because we both know I vex you as much as I vex your enemies. So you said those things just to fool your sister. Because if she reports back to your mother that you were lying, other dragons would come after me, right?”

He snorted softly, his grip loosening. “You do vex me.”

“And the rest?”

He hesitated.

I glanced at Sindari, wondering if he would comment, but he was sitting patiently and not looking at us, as he had been since Zav showed up and we embraced.

“It is important,” Zav said, “that all dragons believe you are mine. For your protection, until Dobsaurin’s death is forgotten or something else has distracted all those with perches in the Dragon Justice Court.”

“Would your sister happily turn me in if she figured out this isn’t real? Or would it make sense to tell her the truth and bring her in as an ally?” I would have a hard time trusting Zondia, since she’d been clear she thought I was orc piss, but she did seem to care about Zav. Maybe she could be brought around. “I ask because she’s been collecting my medical records and who knows what else. She’s determined to find proof that I’m planning to betray you. Or that I’m unfit or something.”

Was that a possibility? That if someone had medical issues, they would be disqualified from being claimed by a dragon? Sorry, no asthmatic mates for a high lord of dragondom. They’re not worthy.

It was silly, but I’d always been careful not to use the inhaler in front of him. I hated this weakness that had only started plaguing me this last year, and I didn’t want anyone other than my doctors to know about it. It was bad enough that Willard knew. But I’d seen her in a hospital bed almost dead, so it seemed fair that she know my problems too.

Zav raised his eyebrows. “Is there something she could find that would lend proof of that?”

“No. That’s not the point. She’s invading my privacy.”

His eyebrows remained up, reminding me that, no matter what Zondia said, Zav hadn’t forgotten his past experiences. As he’d already told me, he didn’t fully trust me. He might like it when I vexed his enemies, but it bothered him that he couldn’t read my thoughts the way he could most humans, and even though he’d never said it, I suspected it worried him that I had a weapon that could harm a dragon. Technically, Chopper had even killed a dragon, though that had been an extenuating circumstance.

“Whatever.” I moved to step back again, and this time, he let me, his moment of pretending we were more than we were forgotten. “I guess it doesn’t matter. I just don’t appreciate someone diddling with the minds of people I know to gather information about me. I do have a lot of enemies, you know.”

“My sister will not be an enemy to you as long as you are not an enemy to me, but I will instruct her to leave this world. There is no reason for her to be here.”

“Good.” I wasn’t confident in his assessment of his sister’s threat level to me. “Thank you.”

“And later, we will discuss our plans for finding the two dark elves that I seek. And that I have instructed your employer to make you seek at my side.”

“We were already seeking them. They’re up to no good in our city.” I didn’t want Zav to believe he could order Willard to give me assignments that aligned with his interests.

“Your employer will obey my wishes.” Zav nodded firmly and walked toward the edge of the rooftop. “She informed me that she sees the immense value of having a dragon in this city.”

“That’s because she’s diplomatic.” I noticed his colorful paint-spill sneakers again as he walked away and added, “And because you weren’t wearing those shoes. Otherwise, she would have been too busy falling out of her chair laughing to acknowledge your immense value.”

Zav gave me a hard-to-read look over his shoulder, then shifted into dragon form. He sprang into the air, flying off for that chat with his sister.

Why do you insist on goading him? Sindari asked.

It’s called teasing, not goading. I tease you too.

But I cannot incinerate you with a thought.

You threaten to bite my foot off on a regular basis.

You can live without a foot. Incineration is forever.

4

When Nin and Dimitri approached my table at Bitterroot BBQ in Ballard, I smiled warmly at them. I was relieved to have dinner with normal, non-threatening human beings instead of dealing with dragons, trolls, angry homeless people, or anyone else with ill-will toward me. Admittedly, one-quarter-gnome Nin and one-quarter-dwarf Dimitri weren’t entirely normal, but their magical blood and enhanced crafting abilities meant they understood my world better than most.

“Thanks for coming.” I had taken the bench seat against the wall so I could see the door and waved them into the chairs opposite. “Order anything you want. It’s on me.”

“Sweet.” Dimitri plopped down, the chair creaking under his big frame.

“You do not need to pay for me, Val.” Nin’s tiny frame barely moved her chair. “I am a successful entrepreneur.”

“I know you are.”

“I’m not.” Dimitri smiled, but as with most of his smiles, it had a glum cast. “Not yet.”

“I asked you to join me so I can ask your opinions about something,” I said. “Paying is the least I can do for your time.”

“I actually want to ask you about something too. Both of you.” Dimitri pointed at my chest and at Nin’s. “I have an opportunity to improve my status as a successful entrepreneur, but I need to make sure I don’t screw it up.”

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