My Beta Team is awesome. They made so many excellent suggestions and caught so many errors in my new novella, that Dragon’s Confession is now 2k longer. Woot! This paranormal romance is now 25k. I have put it in pre-orders while it is being reviewed by my editors. Release date is April 5. Cannot wait!
Full disclosure: Confession will not be in Kindle Unlimited. It will become my first in series (Book 0) at 99c. I hope it will be my very first book published with other vendors.
Last week a reader shared that she hated to read the first chapters of books not yet for sale, because when she had an opportunity to buy, she would mistakenly believe she had already read them. No worries. Order Confession now. Amazon will email you when your book is ready to download, and only then will they charge you for it. That is one awesome, risk-free service.
This week I am sharing Chapter 2 of Confession with you. Six years have passed since Victor Lindorm decided to seduce his fated mate Ingrid von Schwalm. He has become a captain in the Swedish Royal Navy and his family has allowed him to Declare his Mate Hunt. Ingrid is being considered for the Austrian Olympic Ski Team. (If you did not read Chapter 1 last week, it is still posted.)
Present day, Norway
Her phone beeped four times while she was showering. And played chimes twice. It began to ring while she was drying off. Ingrid’s nerves twitched each time, but she managed to continue her routine. Whatever it was, whoever it was, the phone could wait while she took half an hour for herself. It was not going to be Victor. His emails, never frequent, had cut off entirely.
Her mirror told her that this evening she needed to spend some time on her hair. It needed cutting again. It had always been thick and wavy, but since that night in the Loire it grew like a jungle vine and curled as luxuriantly. It wasn’t that it couldn’t be tamed – it responded beautifully to whatever she did to it. But it took time to manage. Time she could spend on the slopes. Or watching video of her techniques. Or studying. Or sleeping.
She could have cut it off, of course, but she never could bear to. Victor had admired it. She was the worst sort of sentimental fool.
The blow dryer provided by the hotel was deeply inadequate, but she had not brought her own heavy-duty appliance to Norway. Ingrid wrapped her head in a towel and began to smooth lotion into her skin. A glance in the mirror told her that she had grown again. She was nearly twenty-three and still growing. Another thing to blame on Victor Lindorm.
Coach Lutz suspected her of using steroids. At least she thought he did. Even though she always passed the tests after every win. As if it were anything so benign. But she could hardly confess that, like her preternatural reflexes, her statuesque body and layers of muscle were a result of her change into a dragoness. She hardly believed it herself. And she had endured the agony of her physical and mental transformations.
At least her DNA did not seem to be any different than those of other women. Or maybe the geneticists were looking at the wrong markers. She neither knew nor cared, so long as she could ski.
Damn Victor Lindorm and all who sailed in him. Why was she still dreaming of her first, her only, lover? Had he not shown in a thousand ways that he had lied when he told her she was his one true love? His fated fricking mate. He had spent a delirious night kissing and licking her all over and telling her how delicious she was. Delicious! As if she were an ice cream cone.
But, come dawn, he had been all too eager to get rid of her. She had left the castle in her father’s car and returned to the Schloss Schwalm to grow up. Victor had arranged for her father to stop pressing her to marry a fricking dragon. And an anonymous donor paid her skiing expenses directly to the organization. She presumed that was Victor.
But everyone knew – at least everyone who knew that dragons weren’t mythical – that all dragons were rich and the House of Lindorm fabulously, unbelievably wealthy. Victor Lindorm had deflowered and dumped her and paid Vater off for the privilege of popping her cherry and ruining her for other men. And the proof that his pledges of undying love were so many dumb pickup lines was in those terse emails he wrote her occasionally. No, ‘you are my heart’s desire’. No, ‘you were made for my cock’. No, ‘your hair smells of desire,’ Which, clichéd as they were, was better than, ‘Your scores at the World Junior Nationals were not reflective of your true abilities. Recovering from a norovirus takes time. You will be better than ever once you have done so. Always, Vic.’
And that was one of his more personal notes. Of course, the money for her skiing and school kept flowing. But money was easy. Writing the occasional email was child’s play. Apparently visiting his supposed fated fricking wife was too much of burden for a guy rolling in money.
The Lindorms were rich but they weren’t exactly frivolous, pleasure-seeking jetsetters. However, they made the news now and again. Kapten fricking Lindorm was too busy earning medals in the Swedish Navy by risking his fricking life on stupid missions to pay her a visit or pick up his phone.
Anyone would think that a sensible woman with a reputation for practicality would have long since moved on. But not Ingrid von Schwalm! That brain-dead fool still dreamed about Lindorm’s body. Still woke flushed from intense orgasms, having relived yet again his caresses.
He had fricking ruined her for real love. Her only boyfriend was Jon Avon. And she was only playing pretend with Jon. She needed a friend. He needed a beard. She was happy to provide a blind for him. Otherwise his uberconservative parents would have cut off his allowance. As if skiing caused homosexuality.
Her phone buzzed again. Ingrid ignored it. Her roommate Suzanne pounded at the bathroom door. “Coach wants to talk to you.”
“Did you tell him I am showering?” Ingrid infused cheerfulness into her voice and turned on the blow dryer. Whatever it was, it had to wait, while she took care of herself.
Her naked body taunted her. She grimaced. She was too darned big. She weighed too much. At nearly six foot she was at the upper end of height for female skiers. But the real problem was that she came with big breasts and broad hips. No matter what she ate, her body kept packing muscle onto her bottom and thighs. Women naturally possessed a low center of gravity. Hers was low and growing lower.
Coach undoubtedly wanted to discuss her numbers. She already knew what he would say. She had reviewed the tapes herself and done the math. Her turns were getting slower and slower, and this was not being balanced by her accelerations. She was strong. Plenty strong. But when the difference between first place and twentieth was measured in milliseconds, she was not strong enough. Just another craptastic side effect of screwing a dragon lord.
Only after she had tamed her hair and dressed and tidied up the bathroom for Suzanne did she pick up her phone. Coach Lutz had texted, emailed and phoned. So had her brother Horst. There was still nothing from Victor. It had been over 260 days since she had heard from him, 266 to be exact. But who was counting?
Between her duty to Horst and Lutz, she picked her coach. “Herr Coach,” she said politely two seconds later.
“Will you come down early, my dear? I need to speak to you.” He would meet her in the bar.
Coach had a lot of virtues, but patience was not in that catalog. After trying to get her for half an hour, he should have been ready to rip her a new one. It took a major effort to conceal her astonishment at his mildness. She sent silent thanks to her late mother whose rigorous training in deportment and etiquette kept her shock concealed behind sealed lips.
Lutz was sitting at a table by himself. The hotel bar was practically empty, and he had secured a table far from the few patrons. His beaded beer glass was untouched before him. His face was grave and he did not smile.
She schooled her face to blankness. Obviously tonight was the night when he intended to cut her from the team. But Coach stood up as she approached, clicked his heels, bowed slightly, and held out both his hands.
“Good evening,” he said formally.
Ingrid returned his greeting just as properly and slid into the chair across from his and waited for the ax to drop.
“I have bad news for you, Grafin,” Lutz continued.
She stared. Coach Lutz never but never called her by her courtesy title. She was Ingrid when he was pleased with her. Schwalm when he was not. Never countess. Never.
“Your father had a heart attack this morning,” he said gently. “Your brother asked me to contact you. He says you do not respond to his messages.”
Her older brother Horst had never respected the time she spent training, or the time she spent studying. She had learned to ignore his continual interruptions. And now she had missed the one truly important message. “How is Vater?”
Coach looked even graver. “They lost him,” he said. “I’m so sorry to have to be the one to tell you.”
Impossible. The Graf von Schwalm was still a young man. Sixty wasn’t old any more. He was fit and healthy. Aristocratic and dictatorial. How could he be dead?
Lutz patted her hand. “Your brother says he has arranged transport for you. Of course you must return home at once.”
“Of course. I should call Horst.” Suddenly she had no idea of the correct order in which to do all the things it seemed imperative she do at once. She gazed around her blindly.
“You will need to pack,” Coach instructed. He stood up. “You can call your brother from your room.” He escorted her from the bar leaving his untouched beer on the table.
The lobby was bustling with patrons who had just returned from the slopes and those checking into the hotel. The opulent furnishings were a blur of dark colors and glittering lights. Something plinked softly onto the carpet.
Damn, she had lost control of her talent. Nowadays, she could cry real tears when she needed to. Not that she ever cried. Hastily she brushed her cheeks with a hand that shook and bent to pick up the diamonds.
Coach turned. “Did you drop something?”
“Nothing important.” She stuffed the handful of tiny crystals into her pants pocket and followed him to the elevator.
As the elevator doors closed she noticed a slim, blond man standing across the wide lobby. Her lurker was back. His mocking blue eyes bored into hers. She shivered. He inclined his head and his lips curved slightly as if she amused him. The elevator bore her away.
* * *
Anteroom at the Chateau de la Ghilde, Chartres, France
Kapten Victor Lindorm accepted the sky blue tunic his older brother was holding out. It had no zippers, buttons or other fasteners. “Are you sure this is the front?” he demanded from inside yards of suffocating satin.
“I’m sure. The neckline has to be pinned. Then the surcoat goes over that, and the open robe covers everything. Then we add the jewelry.” Theo did not disguise his amusement. “At least when we’re done, no one will be able to see that you are wearing tights.”
Victor found the slit at the neck and surfaced. The narrow arrow slit in the stone outer wall of the robing room supplemented the single electric fixture in the timber framed ceiling. The headquarters of the Council of the Guild of Dragons had been modernized over the centuries, but retained aspects of its medieval origins.
He peered into the mirror. The frame of the Victorian looking glass was heavily carved from dark wood that pivoted on ornate brass hardware. His reflection was blurred and age-spotted. His complexion faintly yellow.
He pulled at the tunic and grimaced. “I look deranged.”
“How not?” Theo’s big hands grasped the shoulders of the satin tunic from behind and positioned it across Victor’s shoulders. “Put your arms through the holes.”
Victor obeyed. “I’m wearing a fucking sheet.”
In the mirror the long loose sleeves of his yellow undergarment poked through the square armholes of this celestial blue layer. Lindorm blue. He stuck out his feet and morosely surveyed the splendor of his green and yellow hose, which were now mostly hidden by this long robe.
“Our ancestors did not like to waste fabric. They did not cut, they adjusted fit with stitches and brooches.” Theo produced some very modern safety pins.
“Tell me those are not diaper pins?”
“They are not diaper pins,” Theo responded meekly. He jabbed pins tipped with blue and pink into the tunic. The boxy blue silk acquired elegant, glossy folds. “No one uses diaper pins any more. Babies are wrapped in paper with Velcro tabs.”
“I knew that.”
Theo handed Victor the richly embroidered, knee-length baby blue surcoat. Diamonds and silver thread had been worked into elaborate patterns on the front of the pale silk. The back was almost as fantastical. “Be careful with this. Remember that you can’t sit down in it.”
“Shift.” Victor slid the heavy garment over his head. The stiff surcoat made his already broad shoulders jut out like shelves. Even in the dim lighting of the robing room the embroidery sparkled and the animals that pranced from collarbones to knees glittered like living beasts.
He whistled. “This must have been a real trip by candlelight.”
“Probably. It’s still pretty magnificent even under electric lights. One more piece, little brother. Hold your arms out to the side.” Theo eased another sleeveless robe over Victor’s arms. This one was a deeper blue and made of heavy velvet trimmed with dark fur.
In the showy Lindorm ceremonial robes, he looked like a magnificent, barbarian clown. He turned sideways. The velvet outer robe fell only to his ankles and the long train skimmed the floor. He probably ate better than his ancestors had. The sable trim at the front edges and at the hem was moth-eaten, but shit like that was inevitable after a thousand years.
Gusts of mothball made Victor’s eyes water. “Splendid is as splendid does. This thing stinks. Couldn’t this have been aired out before I had to wear it?”
“It was,” Theo rejoined. He brushed invisible lint from Victor’s shoulders and guffawed.
He opened the second of two wooden caskets with a massive iron key. The larger one had contained Victor’s garments and was now empty. On the smaller one carved and brightly painted images of saints and mythical beasts were inlaid with gold and set with glowing jewels. When Theo raised the lid more gold and more jewels flashed.
“I don’t have to wear all that, do I?” Victor gazed awestruck at the hoard. He had heard about it all his life, but this was his first glimpse. “Holy shift.”
“Every scrap.” Theo handed him a golden circlet set with rubies and garnets. “Stop whining. This is only the Lesser Lindorm Hoard. But it is the prescribed costume for a Declaration.”
“Shift.” Victor adjusted the circlet over his hair.
It was heavy. Heavier than it looked. His hair was several shades paler than the rosy old gold. Like the jewels on the casket, those on the circlet were unfaceted. Cabochons they were called. When the Lindorms had acquired these jewels, cutting facets into precious stones had not been dreamed of. Jewelers could only round and polish gems. Apparently the Lindorms had kept an army of craftsmen busy doing just that.
Shift. He looked like a fucking fool in this crap. As if he needed more finery, Theo passed him a pair of heavy gold armbands six inches wide. Dragons chased their undulating tails and bit them ferociously with teeth like jagged daggers.
“Tastes change,” Theo pointed out dryly. “Slide these on. Once we get the ends of your sleeves inside, you push them up to your biceps. I’ll hold the fabric taut.”
In the distorted yellowed glass, a medieval lord glared at his modern day squire. Theo was dressed in his naval uniform. Victor sighed. Kapten Theodor Lindorm got to wear a dignified costume complete with medals. The blue sash of a Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim crossed his uniform. The glittering star of the order blazed on a bow on his right hip. The light blue sash should have turned him into a sissy. Instead he looked like a hero. Unlike Victor-the-fucking-jester.
“Surely you and Lars shared?” Victor pointed out. Their cousin Lars and Theo had made their Declarations on the same day.
Theo chuckled. “Not so much. The Eldest produced another chest for Lars. We looked like twins.”
“Probably. Here. You won’t be the only one. The Eldest says there are four other bachelors making their Declarations today.” Theo handed his brother a heavy chamois bag, rubbed to leather by centuries of handling. “We Lindorms take our Declarations seriously. That means adhering to all the traditions. The Eldest wants you to send a message that even today the House of Lindorm is still the mightiest in Dragonry.”
“He is to be obeyed,” Victor intoned solemnly.
“Always. Now put on your rings.”
Victor had big mitts and long fingers but even he could not hold all the rings that tumbled out. “I can’t wear all these. No one could. Not enough fingers.”
“You wear them on your thumbs too. More than one on each finger, bro.” Theo was implacable.
“Shift. They’re huge. How the hell did Bujold-the-One-Eyed wield a sword wearing this crap?”
“These are later than Bujold,” Theo said absently. “And our ancestors wore this stuff in the safety of their banqueting halls, not in battle or on raids. All of them. Every last one, my friend. You must wear the entire ensemble to appear before the Council.”
“Did you?” Victor took the last two rings out of the bag and held them to the light. Rubies as big as pigeon eggs winked at him.
“Without all this bleating, brother. Declaring your Mate Hunt is an important occasion.”
“Where?” Victor asked plaintively holding out his hands. Even in the dim light, multicolored rays flashed against the whitewashed walls. From knuckle to knuckle gold and jewels proclaimed the wealth of the richest House in Dragonry.
“Forefingers,” Theo said.
“Too small,” Victor said triumphantly.
Theo snickered. “As if.”
Of course, the moment Victor tried to cram his forefinger into the tiny circle, the gold expanded and the ring slid down to the second joint as if it had been buttered. It would have gone further but below it two bands set with pearls and emeralds nestled together. “Flashy.”
“The forebears preferred flashy. The gaudier the better. They wore their jewels to demonstrate their power and status. You know this stuff, Victor. Stop pouting and get it on. We’re going to have The Treasurer pounding on the door demanding to know why you are holding up the ceremony.”
Victor put on the other ring. His hands felt stiff and useless. “We done?”
“You wish. There’s still half a dozen chains and brooches, brother.” Theo produced a set of chains with enormous circular bosses at each end.
“What are those?” Victor asked. “More bracelets?”
“Fasteners. They hold the edges of the outer robe together so it can’t slide off your shoulders.”
The worn places in the fur indicated exactly where they went. Theo pinned the bosses to the robe so that the chains formed a bar between the edges. Four chains each with three strands crossed Victor’s chest. He turned from side to side looking in the spotted glass. “They don’t go with the silver embroidery,” he observed.
Theo snorted. “Goes with is a modern concept that those first Thanes of Lindorm would have scorned.” He pinned a brooch the size of his palm to the top of Victor’s yellow undershirt.
A giant red stone surrounded by a rainbow of cabochons made it impossible for Victor to lower his chin. “You know that is some ugly, don’t you? Clashes with the blue.”
“You haven’t seen the showstopper yet,” Theo said. He flung a heavy gold chain with links set with more colored stones over Victor’s head. The circlet caught and tipped. They both grabbed for it.
Victor snagged it before it hit the stone floor. He stood up and gazed into the mirror again. The ugly older brother of the brooch at his throat hung from the necklace. “Jesus,” he whispered. He crammed the circlet back on.
“He wouldn’t be caught dead in this crap. Last one.” Theo girdled his brother’s hips with a belt of flat gold links set with a buckle yet bigger. He pulled his arms out from under the over-robe and waved them at Victor’s reflection.
“Wow.” Victor gawked. A dragon spread its wings and opened its mouth in defiance from the buckle. “You know this crap weighs more than full body armor?”
Theo grinned at him. “I know. Our forebears were mighty warriors.”
“That fucker looks like the tat on Lars’ back. Only jewels instead of ink.”
Theo raised his eyebrows. “Duh.” He shook his shaggy head.
Victor knew his brother had done his best to look well-groomed for this ceremonial declaration of his brother’s Mate Hunt, but he still looked unkempt. Theo’s long hair was escaping from its man bun. The dirk that held it in place was crooked. And his yellow beard was curling as if it had never been trimmed or combed. When he raised and waggled his brows, he looked like one of their Viking forebears. More so than Victor dressed in this ancient, barbaric splendor.
“Well, it does.”
“That’s no coincidence,” Theo said gravely. “Unlike your tat.”
Victor covered his heart where a pale pink rosebud dappled with dew or tears or diamonds lay under his finery. It had appeared a few days after he had transformed his mate. No one else in the family had anything like it. It changed constantly. Sometimes paler. Sometimes more saturated. Sometimes there were more diamonds. Sometimes fewer. And always it felt as if it had sunk roots like needles deep into his heart.
He showed Theo his teeth. His family might know about his dishonored bride, but he never, but never, discussed his tat. Or Ingrid.
“Damn. We forgot the shoes.” Theo reopened the trunk on the floor.
“There’s shoes too?”
“Of course. Can’t have a scion of the House of Lindorm, going stocking-footed to his Declaration.” He clapped Victor on his shoulder and displayed a pair of dark red leather tubes with pointed toes. “No sword. Not for appearing before the Council.” His blue eyes met Victor’s in the mirror. He knelt to let Victor slide his feet into the shoes.
“Relax. It’s just a formality, Victor. You already have a wife.”
This is material not previously published. ©Isadora Montrose, 2017
This week’s jigsaw has a few more pieces than usual. Time to beat: just under 4 minutes. Thanks to everyone who shared their times last week. Let me know how you do. And what you think of Chapter 2. I love to hear from you.