Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(6)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(6)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Dimitri opened his eyes. “I agree with the assessment of sinister. I also wouldn’t want to incorporate it into any of my work.”

“Will you take it to Zoltan and see if he can figure out anything more concrete? I’m trying to learn where the dark elves went, what they’re up to, and how I can find them and kick their asses.”

“And you’re expecting this to tell you?” Dimitri held up the shard.

“Not expecting. Hoping.”

“Zoltan will charge you his hourly rate.”

I grimaced. “Lawyers and prostitutes don’t charge as much per hour as he does. What if you, his business partner who’s going to do all the work in your collaboration, ask him about it without mentioning me?”

“Is this the reason you’re buying me dinner?” Dimitri asked.

“I’m buying you dinner because I enjoy your wit and company.” I pushed his macaroni and cheese toward him.

“I can’t believe you can say that with a straight face. I have no wit.”

Nin poked him again. “Do not be falsely self-effacing or you will begin to believe you are flawed. Entrepreneurs must be aware of their weaknesses but optimistic overall and able to rely on their strengths.”

Dimitri opened his mouth, as if to protest, but he closed it, considered, then said, “Okay.” He pocketed the shard. “I’ll ask him about it.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll come and buy something for my apartment when you open your shop.”

“What would you like? I’ll make sure it’s on the shelves when you come in.”

“An electric fence and a giant attack dog.”

“Does that mean you’ve had another break-in?” Dimitri asked.

“Not since I got back from Idaho and installed the doorbell alert camera, but it’s only a matter of time.” I’d checked the camera several times on my phone app that day, certain Zav’s nosy sister would be by to snoop.

“Do freelance assassins also need to be optimistic overall?” Dimitri asked Nin.

“I am less familiar with that career,” Nin said.

I sensed Zav flying in the area and sighed. “Trust me, pessimism is more typical for my line of work. It keeps you paranoid and alive.”

5

I chewed on my ribs, wondering if Zav would come into the restaurant or order me to meet him on a rooftop in the neighborhood. My apartment was nearby. Maybe he expected to find me there. I wasn’t at his beck and call, which I would remind him if he demanded my presence, but I ate quickly anyway, in case he had compelling news about the dark elves and I voluntarily wanted to go.

But he didn’t send any telepathic demands. A minute later, he strode through the front door, somehow dry despite the rain pouring down outside. He didn’t make a sound, but every diner at every table turned to look uneasily at him.

Zav strode toward me, the hem of his black robe swishing around his ankles like the wardrobe of a badass wizard, the rainbow-colored shoes squeaking on the floor like the wardrobe of… a second-rate basketball star who couldn’t afford to say no to a sponsorship deal.

Are you still experimenting with shoes because you’re worried your usual slippers are effeminate? I asked silently.

You said high-tops are masculine. The purveyor of footwear where I acquired these assured me they are high-tops. And that I could pull off the look.

Ah. I decided not to argue that nobody could pull off that look and that it dropped his badassness rating from ten to a max of three.

Zav reached the table, met my eyes briefly, then looked at Dimitri and Nin. “Leave us.”

“Okay.” Dimitri stood, and Nin was right behind him.

Unlike most of the people in the restaurant, who vaguely grasped that Zav had an alien and dangerous presence, Nin and Dimitri could sense his dragon aura and knew he was alien and dangerous.

“No, no.” I held up my hand to them. “Zav, these are my friends. I invited them to dinner. You may join us, if you wish.” I waved to the open spot on the bench next to me and tried not to think about the last time we’d sat shoulder to shoulder. Fewer clothes had been involved then and more bubbles.

Dimitri and Nin were both out of their seats, though Dimitri was still bent over the table, shoveling in his mac and cheese now that he knew he would have to leave. But he didn’t have to leave. I pointed to his chair, hoping he would sit again. Zav couldn’t tell them what to do.

All right, he could, but he wouldn’t if he wanted my cooperation.

“We will speak about the dark elves,” Zav said. “This is a private matter. They must leave. You may have recreational time after the scientists are captured and taken to the Justice Court.”

“May I? That’s considerate of you to allot me free time.”

“I am not a tyrant. My mate may pursue human friendships.”

Dimitri choked on his food.

“After the dark elves have been removed from this world,” Zav added.

“Did he call you his mate?” Nin whispered.

“No. You misheard.”

“I have claimed Val as my Tlavar’vareous sha,” Zav stated. “She is now my female and under my protection.”

I swatted him on the chest. “Knock it off. There aren’t any dragons here.”

He gazed down at my hand without humor. Their minds are simple and easy to read. If they believe a different truth than the one we have presented to my people, any dragon who encounters them will see it in their thoughts and question us.

I sighed. “Fine. It’s true. Zav and I are mates. Also, he’s a thorough and attentive lover.”

My sarcasm didn’t go over well. Zav’s stare was frosty, and I’d never seen Nin and Dimitri look so uncomfortable.

“Can we go now?” Nin whispered.

“Yeah.” Maybe I should have shooed them away as soon as I’d sensed Zav.

“Come on, Nin.” Dimitri patted her on the back. “Do you want to go to Tractor Tavern? I have tickets for the music tonight.”

“Who is playing?” She hurried toward the door with him.

“Hobosexual.”

“Homosexual?”

“No, Hobosexual. It’s a band. And a trend. You need to watch out for men who live in their vans and try to woo you.”

I didn’t hear Nin’s response to that, but I hoped it was suitably ironic.

Zav sat, not next to me but across from me, so he could continue giving me his cool disapproving glare. Usually, I would glare defiantly back at him, but I felt a little guilty so instead picked at the food on my plate. But I wasn’t being unreasonable in not wanting to weird out my friends with this claiming stuff, was I?

“Let’s not talk about it in front of people who can’t guard their thoughts, okay?” I met his gaze. “Then it won’t become an issue.”

“Will they not find it suspicious that I am regularly in your presence?”

“I’ll tell them you claimed my boss and she assigned me to work with you.”

“Is that a joke?”

“Yeah. It was hilarious too. Feel free to laugh.”

He did not. Though his eyes had lost their frosty edge.

I plucked the remaining ribs off my plate and handed them to him as an offering.

He eyed them, then eyed me, then eyed them.

“Do they smell offensive or are you suspicious of me because I might be poisoning you? I was just eating them myself. Look.” I stuck my tongue out and licked the barbecue-sauce-slathered side.

“You have not offered me meat before.”

“No, but I guess I should have. You don’t like sweets, and you’re a predator.” I remembered discussing the unavailability of sheep-flavored ice cream with him in Idaho. “If the barbecue sauce doesn’t bother you, then you might like this.”

Did dragons cook their meat? Or prefer it raw and fresh off the carcass?

He sniffed and looked at the ribs again, then back at me. My shoulders sagged. He was suspicious. Was this why he’d been so reticent to take food from me? He’d only taken a lick of the ice cream cone I’d given him. Because he didn’t like the taste, I’d assumed, but maybe he’d thought I’d sprinkled some poison on top before coming out with it.

“I’ll finish them if you don’t want them.” I tried to sound like it didn’t matter to me, but his suspicion stung. After the battles we’d been through, I wanted him to trust me. I trusted him. Not to be tactful or considerate but to be honorable and protect me.

As I was pulling the ribs back to eat, he caught my wrist. For a moment, he simply held it and gazed at me. No, he was gazing at the ribs again. Maybe they smelled appealing to him.

He took the ribs and raised the meatiest side to his mouth. Using the hand that was holding my wrist, he pressed my forearm to the table, pinning me there. What, was he afraid I would make a dash for the door now that I’d successfully foisted the supposedly poisoned ribs off on him?

I sighed dramatically, propped my other elbow on the table, and waited for him to eat. He chewed on a rib while watching me with that intense gaze of his. It was kind of… hot actually. Hell if I knew why. I was pretty sure I’d never gotten excited watching a guy eat. But being watched so intently by a predator—by him—was kind of flattering. Assuming he wasn’t thinking about eating me too.

The ribs must have been acceptable to his picky palate. He cleaned the bones, leaving them in a pile on the tray. Then he wiped his fingers on a napkin and released my arm but only to capture my hand with both of his. His grip was gentle, and his gaze also grew gentler.

“I don’t want to mistrust you, Val.” He closed his eyes. “And you have not given me a reason to.”

The admission surprised me, but I was glad to hear it.

“Even though I cannot read your thoughts, I believe you say exactly what you are thinking.” His eyes opened, the first hint of humor crinkling the corners. “Even when it is clear you shouldn’t.”

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