Dragon’s Confession was published last week. But the serialization will continue. This week is Chapter 8 of 10. Ingrid and Victor smooth out a few more bumps in the road to their HEA. And discuss their future.

CHAPTER EIGHT

  Her body felt as if she had fallen down the mountainside. Make that two mountainsides. She cracked an eye. Victor stood by the bed holding a glass of something foamy. He was freshly pressed and gleaming in contrast to the way she felt. She sniffed. Yup, that ripe, rank odor was her. Rode hard and put away wet. She clutched the sheet to her breasts and hitched herself painfully into a sitting position.

“Here.” He held out the glass as if it were gold.

It looked dubious and smelled vile. “What is it?”

“Protein shake. Down the hatch. It’ll put hair on your chest.”

Ingrid shook her head. Her hair moved as a single unit. She explored with one hand. It was one great, coarse, matted mess. “As enticing as that visual is, Lindorm, I don’t think so. Drink it yourself.”

He grinned at her. “Don’t be a sissy. I’ve had mine. You need to replenish your muscles. This can’t be nastier than that stuff you drink for breakfast.”

“What do you know about what I drink for breakfast?” Somehow the glass was in her hand. She held it very steady so as not to spill it.

“Drink up. You did an interview for Ski Europe last year. The reporter had you discuss your kale smoothies. This is better.”

“That was the publicist’s idea. I actually don’t own a blender.”

He shook his head disapprovingly. “Fibbing. What is journalism coming to? Come on, toss it back. It’ll restore your electrolytes and help with the soreness.”

“About that. Just what did you do to me?” She rolled her shoulders painfully.

“You’re sore from flying and fighting the waves. You did too much for one day.”

She didn’t know if she should believe him. She recalled some mighty fierce pelvic action. And her pussy throbbed. But she could tell he believed every word. She sipped. It tasted like eggnog. She drained the glass and handed it back. “Satisfied?”

“Nope. But you’ll build up your stamina.” His self-confidence was completely restored. He was flirting with her Lindorm style.

“What have you been up to?” she asked. “I’m a wreck and you look like a poster boy for GQ magazine.”

He shrugged. “I don’t need a lot of sleep. I got up before dark, showered and ate. Don’t worry, there’s lots of food left. I did a perimeter check. Ran some diagnostics on the security system. That sort of thing.”

What was this? Battle station San Michaela? “Turn up anything?”

“We have hummingbirds.”

“Hardly news, they were dive bombing each other in the gardens this morning. Or is that yesterday?”

“Sighting confirmed and feeders deployed. It’s nineteen hundred hours. It’s still today. Sun goes down promptly in the tropics.”

She smiled as she knew he intended. “Wait a second, I thought San Michaela was just a holiday retreat for your family?”

“It certainly is. Why?”

“Why does your vacation home need a security system?” She plumped up the pillows and made herself comfortable. His drink was indeed making her feel better.

“San Michaela is ours to defend.” He sounded surprised.

“So you need elaborate security?”

“We are dragons. We amass treasure. And what we gain, we keep.” His voice was hard and sure.

“Is that the Lindorm family motto?”

He nodded. “Sounds better in Latin.”

“So San Michaela is full of treasure. What is it? Gold? Jewels?”

His handsome face went blank. Her question had utterly flummoxed him. As she had thought, aside from the pretty beaches, there was no treasure. He dropped down onto one knee and took her left hand where a giant ring weighed down her ring finger.

The sapphire was so large even his big thumb couldn’t entirely cover it. And the diamonds that encircled it flashed brightly. “You,” he said simply. “I have no greater treasure in the wide world.”

Who said he didn’t have a way with words?

She tugged her hand away from his. “What is this?”

“My great-great-grandmother’s betrothal ring.”

“And it got here how?”

“You said,” he stopped, jaw clenched, cheekbones blazing.

“There are rituals involved,” she reminded him.

His face cleared. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I sealed it to your hand.” He kissed her knuckles.

“Sealed. It. To. My. Hand?”

He looked as guilty as a toddler caught with crumbs on his chin. He nodded. He seemed unable to speak.

“I was referring to that quaint modern custom of asking a girl to wear your ring. You know, with moonlight and flowers and poetry. And freedom to choose.”

A flush of red followed by ashy white. “Oh. You said you would marry me.”

Her anger melted. Her doofus cared. He was just clueless. “It’s beautiful.” She allowed herself to admire it.

“And you have agreed to marry me?”

“I have.”

“Good. No other dragon can claim you with that on your hand.”

“And that’s why it’s there?”

He nodded. “Certainly. You are a prize beyond price, and mine to guard.”

Which was less than poetic. “It’s time for a shower.”

Her doofus smiled slyly. “I like to be squeaky clean. I can join you.” He began to unbutton his shirt.

“What happened to your tattoo?” As if she couldn’t see that the pale rosebud had bloomed into an open scarlet rose.

Victor placed her palm over his heart. “You made me yours.”

“Your tat reflects me?” Her voice was a squeak. “You had a tattoo made of a rose for me?”

He shook his head. “No. It appeared just after your transformation. It gave me hope that you were my destiny.”

“No needles? No ink?” She let her doubt show.

“I would not have picked a rose to decorate my chest,” he assured her. “And ink would not change as this tat does.”

“Oh. Got teased a lot?” she asked.

“Just a bit. But how could I object to teasing, when it was my proof that you were in truth my mate?”

“Are you saying that rose symbolizes me?” How cool.

“It does indeed. You rule my heart.”

“Who said you couldn’t do romantic, Lindorm?”

“My love for you is great; you are my fated mate,” he intoned solemnly.

“You can do romantic, Victor. Poetry you should stay away from.”

“So long as I can do this.” He swept her into his arms and carried her off.

* * *

Next morning… “Where will we live?”

He frowned. “I’m not sure. Karlskorona would be easiest for me – that’s where I am stationed. But I don’t expect you to give up skiing for me, so that might be too remote for you. But nowhere in Europe is far when you have a helicopter. And I do. I’m sure we can work something out.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” she said.

“What?” “Coach Lutz used my accident as an excuse to remove me from the Olympic team without having to alienate his anonymous philanthropist.”

Victor literally swelled. “Why?” He was furious.

“I’m too big. Too tall, too heavy. Not agile enough. I haven’t stopped growing. Aside from Christina van Waals, there’s no other female skier as big as me.”

“Christina has been off the competition circuit for years.”

“You know who she is?”

He smiled. “I’m something of a ski groupie myself. I know all the top skiers. But Christina is my sister.”

“I thought there were no dragonesses-born. Isn’t that why you guys are all hung up about turning virgins?”

He nodded soberly. Took a deep breath. “Christina is a fluke. And a deep secret. The first dragoness born into the Lindorm House in seven centuries. To the rest of the world, she is our adoptive sister. One of our mother’s orphaned cousins.”

“And your mother was a van Waals, isn’t she? The van Waals and the von Schwalms have been supplying brides to dragons for years.”

“They have indeed. But let’s get back to this rubbish about you being too big to ski competitively. Who told you so, Lutz?” He might as well have said, ‘I’ll kill him.’

She patted his arm. “He’s right. I can see it myself. My times are rising. My reflexes are good. Better than ever. But my turns are slow. And although my acceleration is faster, it doesn’t compensate. Not when the difference between good and great is milliseconds.”

She shrugged. “I’m as big as the guys, but with a lot more stuff.” She slapped her belly and jiggled her breasts. “But without the upper body strength. And with a woman’s low center of gravity. My competition days are done.”

He didn’t look convinced. “You are perfectly fine. I’ve seen you naked. You’re lovely. Muscular. Strong. What about slalom?”

“Even more turns. I’m like a mastiff competing in agility with border collies. Those narrow hipped collies are always going to win.”

“Aerial?”

“Too dangerous.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Biathlon?” He was triumphant.

She wrinkled her nose. “Cross-country skiing is not my sport. And I don’t like shooting.”

“It’s fun.”

“I’ve seen your press. You could have been on the Swedish Olympic team.”

He nodded. “The Eldest said no.”

“More punishment?”

He was surprised. “No. He wanted me to apply to Special Forces.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the elite arm of the Swedish military. We do the stuff that is too dangerous and too secret to be publicized.” He smiled. It was a threat. “You have to marry me now that I’ve told you.”

“I already agreed. So just what does this corps do that is so secret?”

“Counter-espionage. Secret missions.” He grinned.

Her heart clenched at his obvious joy. “Is it dangerous?”

He looked surprised. “Exciting. We’re well-trained.”

“But you could be killed.”

“Don’t fret. Lindorms are lucky. And we make our own luck by being prepared. Also we heal fast.”

“Am I likely to be a widow?”

He sobered. “Do you want me to resign my commission?”

“Would you? For me?”

His face was carved alabaster. Deathly pale and set. “Yes.”

“I won’t ask it of you. But I expect you to be careful.”

“I always am. But if you’re not going to ski competitively, what will you do instead?”

“Make babies?”

He shook his head. “That’s no substitute for your passion, sweetheart. Kids are wonderful. I want as many as we can manage – dragons don’t generally have big families – but we can try. You’ll need something to do when I’m on active duty.”

“It’s not as if Sweden is at war.”

He smiled. A predatory, humorless flash of white. “So I’m told. And yet Command keeps us busy.”

“You’ll think this is crazy, but I always wanted to design ski equipment.”

“Why would I think that was crazy? Who better than a skier with a degree in chemical engineering?”

“Horst says.”

He interrupted her. “I thought we had established that, much as you love your brother, the man is an ass? We are not going to spend a single minute dwelling on what he thinks.”

“I would have to go back to school to study business and industrial design.”

“I want you to be happy. If designing is what you want, go for it.”

“I thought you wanted firelings?”

“Of course. But even if we have a dozen kids – and that is deeply unlikely – you can follow your bliss.”

“Another Lindorm motto?”

He threw his head back and laughed. “Not so you’d notice. Ours would be more like: Be happy, but do your duty first.”

* * *

Later that day… “What are you doing?”

“Reviewing the security footage.”

“Again?”

“Again.” He heard the terseness in his voice and turned. “Sorry. I’m twitchy. I can’t decide if it’s because I sense a real threat, or if six years without a break has made me a workaholic.”

“What do you mean six years without a break?” She sat down on his desk and swung her legs.

He paused the feed. “I was confined to barracks until further notice.”

“Which means?”

“That if I had leave from the Navy,” he used scare quotes on leave, “I was on duty as a sword bearer. Or sleeping.”

“I thought you said you didn’t need much sleep.”

“I don’t.”

“So what did you do in the barracks?”

“Cleaned my gear. Volunteered for stuff.” He shrugged.

“What sorts of stuff?”

“Three-day hikes. Training with the Olympic Biathlon team. Expeditions to the Arctic to test equipment.”

Her eyes were round. “What did you do for fun?”

“Three day hikes. Training for biathlon.”

“Expeditions to the Arctic,” she finished for him.

“Yup.”

“No cushy holidays in the Loire?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t even get assigned sentry duty when there was a betrothal or an engagement. Certainly I was never again permitted to attend Aunt Inge’s house parties. But the Eldest’s medals have never been shined so often.”

“For six years?” She was appalled.

“Let the punishment fit the crime,” he said lightly.

“For sleeping with a girl?”

“For transforming a maiden under the protection of the House of Lindorm. You still don’t get it, do you? Without the cooperation of the van Waals and von Schwalms, we Lindorms would be doomed to barren bachelorhood. Any violation of the unspoken rules threatens these arrangements. You must have heard the saying, ‘The betrothal makes the match, the transformation makes the marriage’.”

“I heard it. What does it mean?”

“It means that before I touched you, I should have had your father’s permission as well as my father’s and the Eldest’s. Your family was entitled to a bride price before any engagement. Before any transformation.” He shrugged. “I knew the rules.”

“So did I,” she whispered. “How come you take all the responsibility?”

“You were entitled to be formally asked if you wanted to be turned. I skipped all those steps. If what I had done had become general knowledge, how eager do you think other families would be to accept Aunt Inge’s invitations? My brothers and my cousins might never find wives.”

“My father pushed me into your path,” she confessed.

He nodded. “I know. I knew it then. But I was the one who succumbed to temptation.” He kissed her hand.

“So you’ve spent six years living with soldiers? Never going to the movies? Never dating?”

“Sailors. And a married man does not date. I was permitted to watch movies and to read. So long as I did not leave the barracks.”

“Harsh.”

“I deserved worse.”

“You were just a boy.”

He tried to explain. “My cousin Lars is not much older than me. He fell in love with Annalise van Waals when he was nineteen. He didn’t behave dishonorably as I did. He spoke to her parents. To his. To Uncle Thorvald. They all agreed it was a good match.”

“How old was Annalise?”

“Sixteen, I think.”

“So they got married?”

He laughed. “You have got to be kidding! They were permitted to conduct a discreet courtship under the interested eyes of their families. When Lars turned twenty-five, they were permitted to declare their engagement.”

“So when did they get married?”

“They still haven’t. Annalise wants to finish med school.”

“Are you saying that we won’t be allowed to marry yet?”

“Depends on you – which was my point. Lars has to wait until Annalise says yes.”

“Oh. So no nookie for Lars until then?”

“I don’t know. Theo says they went sailing together on Lars’ last leave. Since they are engaged, no one is asking questions.”

“And the van Waals got their bride price?”

“I guess so. All I know is that Lars got to spend his youth talking to Annalise and walking along the river holding hands and I got to spend mine shouting at recruits.” He laughed. “Water under the bridge, beloved. I have to wait until you agree to marry me. You have. Right?”

“I have.”

“You want to help me go over this footage?”

“Sure. What do I look for?”

His brows snapped together. “Anything you don’t expect. A boat. A plane. Any anomaly.”

“O-kay.” It was obvious she thought he was daft. All the same she was the one who spotted the flier.

“Is that a hawk?”

“Not so much. That’s a dragon.” He zoomed in on the image.

“One of your kinsmen?”

“Not one I recognize.” His fingers tapped violently on the keyboard.

©Isadora Montrose, 2017