Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(7)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(7)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“Diplomacy isn’t my strength.”

“Were you to travel to Xynar Sun Dhar as a greeter, the natives would cut your tongue out, roast it over a fire, and dice it for one of their soups.”

“This sounds like a lovely place to vacation. Get me a brochure, will you?”

He grinned, and my breath caught. Why had he chosen to shape-shift into such a handsome human? Staying out of trouble with him would have been much easier if he turned into an orc or ogre.

“You have not given me a reason to mistrust you,” he repeated, “but I have told you about my past.”

“Yes, and I get it. It’s fine.”

“It is not, given that we have bonded, but… it is difficult for me to get around. And my sister has been reminding me of the many mistakes I made with Lyseera—the princess. I have forgotten none of them. I do not appreciate my sister lecturing me on this matter, but I believe she cares and her fears are genuine. I do not know how to assuage them or convince her to leave you alone. I asked her to depart from this world, but I do not believe she intends to listen. She is female.”

“Problematic.”

“She believes she knows better than all males, even older and wiser ones.”

“She seemed a little uppity to me.”

The grin flashed briefly again. “Yes. Perhaps in time, she will realize that you intend no ill-will toward me.”

And will you, too, realize that? I wondered to myself.

“Yeah,” was all I said.

Zav hadn’t relinquished his grip, and his thumb rubbed the back of my hand. I couldn’t quite feel my heart pounding in my chest, but I knew its beats had gone from a sedate plod to a sprint.

“Val,” he said softly, his gaze holding mine.

For a wild moment, I thought he would ask if we could go back to my place and explore the limits of our trust for each other. Naked.

“Yes?” The word came out raspy.

“I require more meat.” Zav let go of my hand and held up one of the bare bones.

“Oh.” I laughed awkwardly and looked around for a waiter to wave over.

He had disappeared. The diners at the nearby tables had fled, either because they also had tickets to Hobosexual or because Zav was oozing his aura all over the place and making people uneasy. Was it strange that others fled his presence and I had to remind myself not to lean in too close?

I had to go back to the kitchen to find someone and place an order. The food came out a lot more quickly than it had before Zav showed up. Three orders of ribs. It was just a hunch, but I assumed dragons had hearty appetites. When he had mentioned eating sheep, he hadn’t referred to mutton chops or a rump steak. Sheep might mean everything but the wool.

Zav’s eyes lit up as the trays were set down by the bewildered waiter. He hustled away without waiting to see who was going to eat all that food. Zav squinted back toward the kitchen, perhaps using his senses to check for dark elves or other suspicious people who might be waving vials of poison over the smokers, but he must not have detected anything alarming.

This time, when he ate, his focus was on the trays as he ravenously dug in.

I searched this city and all the nearby ones for signs of dark elves, Zav spoke telepathically as he devoured his meal. I still have the pants-fastener you found that belonged to Baklinor-ten and have attempted to use it to locate him. If I am within ten miles of him, I should be able to tell, but I flew even into the wilderness to the far north and down to the area on the coast where we first met. Unfortunately, dark elves are good at hiding themselves and their lairs from even a dragon’s senses.

Maybe that was why I hadn’t been able to find them either. The dark elves might have caught wind of Zav searching for them and were hunkering down now, waiting until he left to put their plans into place.

I didn’t know what those plans were, beyond using their pleasure orbs on people, but since returning to Seattle, I’d been having nightmares of a dark-elf apocalypse that put the entire city in danger, including Thad and Amber. In addition to the dreams, the worry that I’d made a mistake in reuniting with them, and that they would be hurt because of their association with me, kept me up nights.

I also searched the remains of their lair underneath this city. Human workers walled off or filled in many of the tunnels, but I could tell that the dark elves themselves had removed their belongings and destroyed their laboratories and anything else they didn’t take with them. Zav looked up, barbecue sauce smearing his jaw and conditioning his short beard. You are able to use the technology in this world more aptly than I. Have you discovered any trace of them?

I handed him a napkin and pulled out my phone. “I’ve checked the internet countless times, but I’ll see if I can scrounge up anything new. So far, I’ve only found references to where they were.”

Zav gazed at me, and I thought he might comment on how poor at researching I was. He always seemed to believe that a couple of hours should be enough to discover everything he wanted me to look up for him.

“I’m also questioning people that I know have dealt with the dark elves. I don’t know where Rupert the troll disappeared to, but I have the address of the Northern Pride headquarters. That’s next on my list. The shifter brothers are gone, but their allies may know where the suppliers of that now-defunct orb live.”

Zav kept considering me. Judging me? Or waiting for me to say something more brilliant and useful? Why did I always feel like he was some aloof professor that I longed to impress?

“I require more meals,” Zav said.

I sat back. Maybe he hadn’t been judging me at all.

“More?” I wondered if I’d brought enough money along for this. “You didn’t eat the cornbread. Or the coleslaw or collard greens.” I pointed to the untouched sides next to the tidy piles of clean rib bones.

“You may eat those items if you wish. They are not meat.”

Sighing, I flagged down the waiter. He was keeping an eye on our table.

“Can we get more ribs? Just the ribs? And a few boxes for these.” I waved at the sides. I would be eating cornbread and sides for the rest of the week.

“We don’t usually do the ribs à la carte,” the waiter started, eyeing Zav warily.

Zav’s eyes flared with inner light. “You will bring more meat.”

The waiter stumbled back. I caught his arm to keep him from going down when he tripped over his own feet, then tried to pat it reassuringly when he recovered.

“More ribs and a couple of chickens, too, please.” I gave him my best smile.

“Yes, ma’am.”

When he left, I nudged Zav under the table with my boot. “Don’t bully the waitstaff, please.”

“Bully?” His eyebrows rose in indignation. “I am not a bully. I simply requested more food. A dragon should not have to ask twice to be served.”

“You didn’t ask twice. I asked and then you got grumpy.”

“A dragon’s mate should also not have to ask twice.”

“He doesn’t know about our relationship.”

“Humans.” Zav curled a lip not dissimilarly to the way his sister had. “They could not recognize a magical mark staking a claim if its wings beat them around the head.”

“Maybe I should get my status as your mate printed on a T-shirt for those without magical senses.”

He scrutinized me, probably looking for sarcasm; he must have missed it. “Yes. Do this.”

I rubbed my face, imagining what the shirt would say. I’m with followed by a picture of a fire-breathing dragon holding a rack of ribs?

My phone buzzed.

“Hey, Willard. Is there any chance you know where a grumpy dragon can find some dark elves on a Friday night?”

“Does that mean you didn’t find anything at the bar?” she asked.

I am not grumpy, Zav spoke into my mind. I am pleased with this meal and not yet ready for it to end.

Indeed, his eyes brightened—with interest, not with glowing magic—when the waiter brought three more trays out containing ribs and whole barbecued chickens. After depositing them, he gave me a wary look and slid the bill onto my corner of the table. I was afraid to check it.

Instead, I described the abandoned bar to Willard and told her I’d sent that shard off for Zoltan to look at. “Do you know anything about that health inspection sign?”

“I’ll look into it. You should have brought the shard here. We have a doctor and a scientist that work with us.”

“Yeah, but Zoltan has more than a hundred years’ worth of knowledge in his head.”

“Doesn’t he charge you thousands of dollars for that knowledge?”

“Sometimes only hundreds.”

“Bring it here after he examines it. And Val?” Willard’s no-nonsense Southern accent took on a weird note. If Zav hadn’t been sitting across from me, I would have thought he’d walked into her office. “Can you come to the office in the morning?” Maybe she remembered it was Friday night because she tacked on, “What are you doing this weekend?”

“Currently, I’m feeding Zav.”

Not literally. He had no trouble feeding himself. But my hand could have disappeared into his mouth if it got caught between him and a rib.

“I’m imagining him on a couch and you dropping grapes into his mouth,” Willard said.

“Close. It’s a table and ribs.” I took a picture of the mostly demolished pile of trays and sent it to her. “Grapes would have been a lot more affordable.”

“You’re paying?”

“Dragons don’t have money.”

“I didn’t know you were so affluent. I must be paying you too much.”

“I’m not and you’re not. Trust me. What’s at the office?”

“I want you to meet a new informant. She’s asking about an internship.”

“She doesn’t have purple hair and nose rings, does she?”

“No. Should I ask you about that?”

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