Ok, so I’m not being very patient. I can’t wait to share these with you. So, I’ll be posting a new chapter every two weeks on Saturday until the book is published. (Don’t forget, comments really do inspire me to write faster…just saying…)
Find previous chapters HERE
April’s scratchy toes pierced her bodice and rasped against her skin as her feet pounded the ground. Little matter if it meant she was away from Collins faster.
Dreadful, dreadful man, thinking he could simply order her to give up dragons and all mention of them. The audacity! The pomposity! It was not as though he were her husband and even had that authority in the first place.
The woods embraced her with open arms, closing around behind her, obscuring the view of Collins and all the things she did not want to think about right now. Lungs burning and legs protesting, she leaned against a sympathetic tree and gulped deep, heaving breaths.
April peeked above her hand and looked around. “Is he gone?”
“We are, my dear, which is nearly as good.”
April hopped to her shoulder, fluttering until every feather-scale was back in place. “I do not like him.”
“Neither do I.”
“You should tell Longbourn that and inform him of what has just happened.” April poked Elizabeth’s ear with her sharp beak.
Had she any idea of what a very, very bad idea that was? As much as Longbourn wanted her to marry Collins, if the wyvern thought him any real threat …. She shuddered.
A loud squawk resounded among the trees as wings crashed through the branches and stirred up dead leaves. Rustle flipped his wings to his back and bobbed his head. “We saw you running into the woods. Your father sent me.”
She dragged her hand down her face. “I suppose I am directed to return to the house straight away?”
“I am not a messenger bird, and I do not answer to him. You have heard no such thing from me. I would thank you not to say so. Gardiner, though, was concerned. He would see you away from the house until you are able to restore your equanimity.” Rustle waddled toward her, head cocked.
He stretched out his neck. No doubt he was itchy.
She crouched and obliged his request. “Then it may be weeks before he sees me again.”
“Do you wish me to tell him that?” His tail twitched and as he turned his head in her hand, exposing the underside of his beak, his most vulnerable area.
“If only I could do so.”
He cawed and pulled away, rattling his feathers in draconic contentment. Little made a dragon happier than a good scratch. Were it only that men were so easy to please—and distract.
She leaned her head back against the tree trunk.
“I saw Collins with you. What did he do?” Rustle extended his wings, dry leaves kicking up in their wake.
Such a sweet, protective gesture. No doubt he would put Collins’ eyes out if she asked. Perhaps a bit more violent a reaction than she would have preferred, but sweet and loyal, nonetheless.
April swooped down and hovered in front of Rustle. “He wants to see me banished to a cage and for her to give up all things draconic.”
Rustle squawked—not a conversational squawk, but the one that preceded a hunt. Often the last sound his prey would ever hear.
That was a cry of pain!
Rumblkins crashed through the bushes, nearly landing on Rustle. He hissed, beating his wings and rising a handspan off the ground. Rumblkins’ fur stood on end, and his serpentine tail swelled and lashed the ground.
No! They could kill each other!
Elizabeth jumped between them, raising her cloak to block their sight of each another until they regained their senses enough to recognize their Keep Mates. “Step back, both of you. I will drop my cloak, and you will greet each other properly, as friends. Do you understand?”
Elizabeth lowered the edges of her cloak.
Rumblkins crouched low and touched his forehead to the ground. “Forgive me, Rustle. I did not look before I leapt.”
Rustle squawked and plucked a hair from the back of Rumblkins’ neck. “I receive your apology.”
One more near-disaster barely averted. Could the day get any worse?
She crouched beside Rumblkins. “What sent you running nearly blind into the woods?”
He turned his side toward her and licked his serpentine scales. A dark bruise spread over his ribs. “Collins. I crossed his path whilst he stalked inside. His boots are very hard.”
She held her hand out to him. “Pray, let me see. How badly are you hurt? Might there be something broken?”
He permitted her touch, grumbling as she ran her hands over his side. “Not broken, I think. It hurts, but not that badly.”
Thankfully, she agreed. His side was hot and swollen—never a good sign in a cold- blooded creature—but the bones seemed sound and the swelling was not the kind that implied bleeding within.
April buzzed and circled over them. “This is bad, this is very, very bad. Violence against a dragon, even an unrecognized dragon, is a very serious act.”
Unfortunately, she was right. Accidents were one thing, but this was certainly no accident.
Rumblkins licked his side, looking for all the world like a cat. A cat with a forked tongue and scales. “Mrs. Hill saw him do it.”
Elizabeth sat back on her heels and gasped.
“She swung her rolling pin at him. Told him he had no business kicking her friend and she had half a mind to kick him herself.” He looked so satisfied as he licked his thumbed paw.
Hill was a good Dragon Friend even if she did not know she was one.
“Good. I hope she hit him.” April zipped between them.
“I hardly think that a good thing. Papa would have to dismiss her. She might even be jailed for the assault, and then where would we be? I should like to put a poultice on this when we return to the house, and I will make you some special tea as well. It should be better in just a few days.”
Rumblkins bobbed his head.
“The fluffle-bit is right.” Rustle waddled nearer. “This is a very serious business.”
Serious and complicated. Very, very complicated.
She squeezed her eyes shut and clutched her temples. “He does not know your true nature, so it was not an intended act against dragon kind. A fit of temper, absolutely, but nothing more.”
What was she doing? Now she was defending Collins? This was too much.
“That might be a mitigating consideration; however, it was against a creature with whom he was familiar, with whom he knew the family was affectionate. If he had kicked a random creature in his path, it would be different, but this—no, it is abhorrent.” Rustle rocked from side to side, wings slightly extended. “A Keep Conclave is warranted.”
This was too much! Rustle was not even part of the Longbourn Keep—only a guest!
She pinched the bridge of her nose. Now was not the time for a burgeoning headache. No, not at all. “Whilst I understand why you say that, pray let us not go to that extreme now. I can manage this without involving Longbourn.”
“Why?” April hung in the air before her face. “After all he has said, and all he has done today, I think it exactly the right time to escalate this to the local Laird.”
“Longbourn has been much agitated as of late. Bringing more to him right now cannot end well. I am quite certain it is something I can deal with among myself, my father, and Mr. Collins.”
“You have not been able to manage either of them very well so far.” Rustle scratched at the ground.
Dragon directness and dragon stubbornness. What a truly delightful combination.
A dull thud reverberated in her feet. No! Of all times—now?
Dry leaves crunched, and branches snapped. Longbourn poked his enormous head through the trees. “What is abhorrent?”
His voice rumbled in her bones and caught in her ribs.
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with.” She hurried to his side and scratched under his chin.
“Ah, yes, right there.” Longbourn cocked his head and exposed his ear. “You have been away too long. That is so good!” His heavy tail swished through the underbrush.
“Turn a bit, you itchy creature, and let me reach the other side.” She pushed him slightly.
He shuffled sideways and contorted himself to give her access to his other ear. A solid, two-handed scratch elicited more happy groans and decidedly canine foot thumping.
“He most certainly should concern himself.” April pecked Longbourn’s nose.
“Pray do not bother him with trivial issues. All is quite well.” Bulging eyes did nothing for her headache, nothing at all.
April squawked and landed on Longbourn’s muzzle. His eyes crossed as he tried to focus on her. She paced up and down his snout. He flicked his ears and grumbled.
“All is not well, ask Rumblkins.” April pointed with her wing.
Rumblkins approached. How did he manage to limp through his funny tatzelwurm spring-and-hop?
Longbourn sniffed at Rumblkins bruised side. April had to hop over the wrinkles that formed on his snout. His huge, bulgy eyes turned on Elizabeth. “You are able to help him?”
His hot, acrid breath raised sweat on her cheeks. “I will take him back to the house and tend him there. He will be fine, I am certain. Perhaps I should take him with me how. I can carry him—”
No, not Rustle, too!
“Do you not wish to know why we would trouble you with something like this?” Rustle extended his wings and touched his forehead to the ground.
Elizabeth glared from Rustle to April. “We did not come to trouble you at all. You were the one who came upon us, remember? Perhaps for a nice scratch? Here let me—”
Longbourn shook his head and sent April flying. “No scratching until I hear this out.”
Nose to nose with her, he snorted in her face. Botheration! She had been neglecting his teeth. That would not do.
“Those of my Keep have presented a complaint. I will hear the full account. What happened to the fuzzy, hopping one?” He pulled up to his full height and towered over her.
What was it about dragons and men that they employed that same tactic when they were trying to intimidate her? It was not endearing in either incarnation.
“Can you not trust me when I tell you it is nothing for you to be concerned about?” She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.
Calm. Remain calm.
He sniffed her, from the top of her head to her feet and up again. “I smell…” he snorted, “… fear! That is fear! Who has made you afraid?” Longbourn stomped and the branches rattled. “You all smell afraid. What made you afraid?”
Rustle and Rumblkins jumped over his whipping tail.
“Pray calm yourself before you hurt someone! That is what I most fear right not. The other is nothing I cannot handle on my own. You do not need—”
“I will make that decision, not you. I have asked you a question, and I expect an answer.” He reared up and beat his wings, roaring.
It was a soft roar, for a dragon roar, but it reduced her innards to jelly.
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