Taking the little Amazon from the battlefield might not have been the best decision he had ever made, but Loke couldn’t change it now. He could only regret it, and even then he couldn’t manage to bring himself to truly feel bad about what he had done. He only regretted frightening her. It hadn’t been his intention.
He’d had only a split-second in which to absorb the vision he had seen of her blood-soaked and dying on that grim demonic land and consider what path to take in response.
Leaving her to die hadn’t even crossed his mind.
That troubled him.
As she had stated so vehemently, they were enemies. Enemies fought and died on battlefields all the time in this realm, hundreds of them marching to their deaths each day. He had stormed into the midst of the war between the Third and Fifth Realms knowing that fate might await him, just as she had.
Yet he hadn’t been able to see her die without reacting to it on a visceral level, one that had seized control of him and demanded he do whatever it took to stop her death from happening.
That same primal reaction flooded him whenever he recounted what he had seen, seeing flashes of her covered with blood overlaid onto her where she stood just metres from him, her pretty face set in grim dark lines that warned she was considering kicking him in a most delicate place again. His balls throbbed with the memory and he decided to keep his distance from her, at least until she had calmed down and felt more comfortable with her surroundings and situation.
Another thing he should have considered before snatching her.
Females didn’t like it when males seized hold of them and took them somewhere against their will. They had a tendency to think the vilest things of the male who had taken them, presuming they meant them harm. It was a reasonable assumption, he supposed, but one he wished she hadn’t pinned on him.
He had no intention of harming her.
He only wanted to protect her.
Once he was certain that whatever he had witnessed couldn’t come to pass, something that depended on him receiving word that the war was over between the Third and Fifth Realms of the demons, he would keep his vow and return her to her people.
He still refused to believe that she belonged to that race. She was too strong and brave to be a mortal.
He had never met one, but he had been told through the tales of the elders and his parents that mortals were a weak species without any redeeming qualities. Fodder for the dragons who had been old enough to walk the mortal realm and fly in their blue skies.
Loke looked up at the black ceiling of his cave, seeing beyond it to the dark grey sky of Hell, and then beyond that to imagine how blue and clear those skies would be.
Would they be spotted with white cloud as his mother had told him? She had heard the tales from her parents, dragons who had been to that world. They had flown in those skies. They had spoken to her of wondrous things. Thunderstorms. Rain. Sunsets.
The moonrise over a glittering sea.
A shiver ran down his spine and he reluctantly dragged his focus away from fantasising about a place he could never see with his own eyes. The little Amazon was watching him again, no doubt studying him for an opening she could use to reach his knife. They had struck a bargain, but he wasn’t about to lower his guard around her.
He wanted to believe she would keep her word, but she had yet to trust him and therefore he couldn’t trust her. Until she felt certain he wouldn’t harm her, she would keep attempting to escape.
He couldn’t blame her.
He didn’t see her as a captive, but he knew that was how she viewed herself and her situation. He wasn’t sure how to convince her otherwise either. Would making her more comfortable go some way towards assuaging her fears?
“Hungry?” he said and she lifted her head, causing the rogue strands of her blonde hair to brush her cheeks.
Her dark blue eyes held his, no trace of fear in them now. They assessed him, pierced him, leaving no part of him untouched by her scrutiny. She was sceptical of his offer.
“I will not poison you.” Her tongue was difficult for him, but he had studied it as all good dragons did, although he hadn’t needed to use it in a long time. It had been many centuries since he had bothered to trade with the people of the free realm or the elves. He had kept himself up to date with her language though, in case he needed it to communicate with others who didn’t speak dragon or demon.
“I was more concerned about you drugging me.” She pinned him with a glare he supposed was meant to be threatening.
It just made her look more beautiful.
His fierce little Amazon.
Definitely not a mere mortal.
A flash of her covered in blood and bleeding out overlaid onto her and hit him hard, knocking him back a step.
She scowled at him, but didn’t ask what was wrong, even though he could see that she wanted to voice that question.
He pressed his right hand to his forehead and cursed the aftershocks of the vision. Normally they died down by now, leaving him with only a memory of what he had seen. Almost a day had passed since he had witnessed her death. Something was wrong.
“I do not intend to drug you,” he muttered and grimaced as a swift hot stab pierced his head like a burning needle. It had been a long time since the visions had given him pain. His concern grew. “Sit.”
He waved to the pile of dark furs near the fire and she folded her arms across her chest and tipped her chin up. Perhaps he had been a little blunt and commanding, but the ache in his head and the aftershocks of his vision were wearing his patience down and his temper was getting the better of him. He drew in a slow breath and blew it out, attempting to ease his frustration and clear his mind so he could proceed without upsetting the female further or giving her reason to attack him again.
She eyed him, her blue eyes narrowed and her rosy lips compressed into a thin hard line.
He would have to learn to tread carefully around her. He wasn’t used to company, or females outside of his kind. Female dragons could be stubborn, but often deferred to the males.
He had a feeling that his little Amazon wouldn’t be submitting to him.
“Please, make yourself comfortable.” He gestured to the furs again, hoping she would do as he had asked this time.
She huffed and looked away from him, towards the back of the cave. “Is this your home?”
He looked around the wide cave. “Yes.”
Her blue gaze roamed it, sweeping over everything in it, which didn’t take her long. She looked at the fire in the middle of the widest section of the cave, at the stack of wood he kept against the wall behind him, his meagre stack of books beside it and then at the furs on her side.
“It’s not very comfortable. How can you live in such a basic place?”
He studied his belongings again, a frown etching itself on his brow as he realised that she thought his home was far below her standard of comfortable. Basic. It grated on him. He had never considered his home lacking before, not in all the centuries he had lived here, but in only a handful of seconds she had made him feel it was and had made him question it. He didn’t like that.
He had everything he needed in his home.
Yet she had made him feel it was lacking, and therefore he was lacking too.
She pointed to the furs. “I’m guessing that’s your bed and your seating area?”
He growled now, flashing his teeth at her, but kept them from changing as they wanted to. He wanted her quiet, not frightened.
“Touchy.” She meandered around his scant belongings, curling her lip at the furs, as if the thought of sitting on them disgusted her.
“Sit or do not sit. I do not care.” He folded his arms across his bare chest and glared at her.
She shot him a smile that was victorious and rubbed him the wrong way. She meant to provoke him. An unwise course of action. Provoking a dragon was not a clever thing to do.
“I’ll stand, thanks.” She nudged one of the rocks that surrounded the fire with her black boot.
She wore clothing as the others of her kind had. Black trousers, boots and a top that hugged her curves and her breasts. He kept his gaze away from them, unwilling to give her more reasons to prod and poke at him.
Her sigh filled the silence.
He had never heard one more overwhelmingly and intentionally dissatisfied sounding.
Loke scowled at her. He had no modern comforts to offer her, but she didn’t need to rub it in his face and make him feel he was a lesser male because of it. He had nothing he could give her that would satisfy her. He felt sure of that. No downy bed in a separate room. No bathing facilities other than the thermal pools he kept stocked with water.
Her blue gaze flitted to him and then skipped beyond him, towards the mouth of the cave.
He moved on instinct, blocking her view of the outside world, driven by the deep possessiveness that lived within him. Her eyes lifted to his face, locking with his again, stirring that possessiveness and breathing more life into it, making it grow stronger. It was his nature speaking, that was all. It had nothing to do with her beguiling beauty.
He was a dragon.
Dragons were all possessive creatures.
They were highly territorial too, and that was the reason he didn’t want her to venture near the cave mouth.
She couldn’t get down from the ledge, but another dragon might see her. That dragon might fight him for her or take her from him. He growled under his breath at the thought, his teeth all sharpening in response to the intense wave of emotions that rocked him—rage, fear, possessiveness.
The female looked at him, her blue eyes a little wider than normal as they met his, captivating him. Quelling his anger and fear. Those emotions instantly evaporated, leaving only the raw sense of possessiveness behind. She had looked at him that way on the battlefield. Right into his eyes. She had seen him. He had felt it then. She had really seen him. Not a glance or a fleeting look that only touched the surface.
She had looked right down into his soul, just as she was now.
She was a brave little female. He had never met a braver one.
Not even the female dragons at the village could contend with her.
“What do they call you?” he said, his voice distant to his ears as he stared deep into her eyes, picking out every fleck of black that marred deepest blue.
Would the skies of her world look like that? Would they be so deep and rich, or lighter?
Was she really mortal?
Could she answer his countless questions about her world and sate his desire to know more about the land his people had left behind, never to return?
“Anais.” She offered it with a slight smile that barely curved her rosy lips but added a touch of warmth to her expression, softening the harder edges of her eyes and entrancing him.
Not a trace of fear touched her gaze or her scent now. She flitted from afraid to calm, dancing between the emotions so quickly that he couldn’t keep up. He wasn’t sure how long this calm phase would last, but he meant to do all in his power to make it remain. He wanted her to feel at ease and to begin to trust him.
“They call me Loke.” He offered it with a smile of his own, one that felt foreign to him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had smiled.
“Like the mischievous Norse god?”
His smile stretched a little wider and he shook his head. “My name ends with an E in your tongue.”
She raked her eyes up him, from his bare feet, over his legs to his torso. It slowed from there, drifting at a leisurely pace, one that stirred heat within him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had experienced that either. What was it about this female that had him quick to smile and even quicker to hunger for her touch?
Her gaze finally reached his face and narrowed. “You are definitely mischievous.”
Before he could gather his wits to respond by saying that if he was mischievous then she was mysterious because he couldn’t get a firm grasp on her when she bounced so swiftly between polar emotions, she turned away and headed towards the back of the cave, her boots loud on the black rocky ground.
“Where do you go?” He started to follow her when she made it past the fire and didn’t stop walking.
She looked back over her slender shoulder at him, a wicked twinkle in her eyes. “You only forbade me from going near the mouth of the cave. You didn’t set out any ground rules about the back of it. I’m going to see where the tunnel goes.”
“It goes to chambers. Some where I store meats and things I have gathered, others where I bathe, and some go deep into the mountain to places where dangerous things lurk.” He frowned when she pouted, as if he had spoiled her fun.
Perhaps he had.
Perhaps he had also ruined a chance for her to become more comfortable in his home, and around him.
Would she like to see the rest of the cave?
He could join her in her adventure, although he supposed that would make it more like a tour. He didn’t want her to go alone though. He hadn’t lied about the dangerous things that lurked in the tunnels. They ran deep into the mountain and sometimes fissures opened where creatures could get into them. He had disturbed a nest of Hell beasts down one of the paths before and had barely come away with his life. The tunnels were too small for him to transform in, placing him at a disadvantage against the vicious creatures in close quarters combat.
“So none lead to a big hoard of treasure then?” The wickedness was back in her blue eyes and she flicked her blonde ponytail over her other shoulder as she came to face him.
She toyed with the ends of her hair as he frowned at her, trying to unravel the riddle of her, distracting him with a sudden desire to do that. He wanted to feel the strands wrapping around his fingers before slipping from them. Would they feel silky? He bit back a groan at the jolt of pleasure that ran through him as he imagined they would and brought his focus back to her and what she had said.
She meant to mock him again.
Loke huffed and grudgingly admitted it. “I have a little gold.”