Copyright © 2012 Bianca D'Arc
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Is this seat taken?”
The feminine voice was strong and not at all flirtatious, but Drake almost dreaded turning to find another of the cooing maids at his side. That the female had been able to sneak up on him at all was a testament to his distraction. With an inward sigh, Drake turned to face the woman.
And stopped short.
This was no maid. This was a warrior woman, in the gray uniform tunic of the Castleton Guard. She was an enforcer of the law, a keeper of the peace, and she was clearly on duty, though apparently on her dinner break.
She looked tired. There were circles under her pretty gray eyes and a weary set to her shoulders.
“I was saving it just for you, milady.” Drake’s charm was automatic and the fire that entered her eyes was his reward. It wasn’t a spark of interest, but rather of battle. Drake was intrigued. He looked at her more closely as she sat next to him at the now-crowded bar.
Her jaw was set in a stubborn line, and her features were strong. Some might say her features were unfeminine, but Drake would not. No, he’d always preferred strong-willed women over the more meek style many men seemed to favor. This girl was beautiful in a harsh sort of way that appealed to him greatly. Sleek muscles moved under her close-fitting tunic, and she wore her badge of office with clear efficiency and pride.
She wasn’t armed that he could see, but then that didn’t mean much. Each of the town’s Guards was armed in some way, carrying the weapon or weapons of their choice. For some, that was a sword or even a bow, but others had different specialties. He wondered idly what hers was while he finished off his meal.
The serving girl who’d replaced Devyn behind the bar greeted the woman with a friendly, familiar smile. Apparently this Guardswoman was known to the people in Devyn’s employ and welcomed by them. That spoke volumes for her character, as far as Drake was concerned. Jinn didn’t usually accept outsiders easily, and Drake read not only acceptance, but genuine friendship, in the serving girl’s words and actions toward the other woman as she served up a healthy portion of stew and a lighter beer that would leave the Guard with a clear head after her hearty dinner.
Drake observed, not intruding on the bundle of feminine power sitting next to him while he finished his own meal. She ate with neat manners, though it appeared she was used to rough living, as most warriors were. Often, women didn’t choose professions where they would be in the thick of a fight, though there were a good number of female Guards who worked in administrative ways or who dealt specifically with domestic issues and violence against women or female prisoners. This woman, however, showed every sign of being a patrolling Guard—one of the most dangerous of the Guard jobs.
“Quiet night so far?” Drake asked conversationally when it looked like she was finishing up her meal. It had been far smaller than his own, considering her much more petite size compared to him. She was trim and lithely muscular in a way that made his mouth water.
She looked at him with resignation, and Drake got the distinct impression she’d rather be left alone. Too bad. He had no intention of leaving the puzzling beauty to her own devices. He wanted to get to know her and then he wanted to bed her. It was that simple.
Suddenly, learning the feel of her body beneath his became of paramount importance. He had little doubt he could charm his way into her bed. He’d perfected his art over five lands, so why should his homeland be any different?
“It was a quiet day,” she said with the beginnings of annoyance in her tone. “We’ve yet to see about the night.”
“You’ve been on duty all day?” Drake was surprised and more than a little alarmed. No wonder she looked so tired. He felt a crazy impulse to protect her from the long and potentially dangerous night ahead.
She nodded wearily. “We’re shorthanded with all the new sectors to patrol. Excuse me.” Her gaze brightened as she slid from the stool and headed over to the far corner of the big tent. Drake followed her movements, his gaze glued to the enticing roll of her hips. She had a great ass from what he could see, and he looked forward to seeing it bare and ready for his desire.
He was so entranced by the way she moved, he almost missed the action going on across the tent. A drunk was getting a little too forward with one of the serving girls. She was struggling to free herself from his groping hands, to no avail. Drake was on his feet and moving across the crowded room before he thought about his actions.
But by the time he got there, the Guardswoman already had the serving girl free and was escorting the unruly drunk outside. Drake followed hot on her heels. He didn’t like the look of that drunkard and feared the man might not go peacefully on his way.
He was right. The ruffian was putting up a fight, but his attempts to knock the Guardswoman out were met by neat blocks and counterstrikes meant to disable the big man. But he was drunk and stronger than he ought to be with the pain-deadening effects of strong ale running through his system.
Drake stepped forward, into the man’s line of sight. The woman’s back was to him as he made sure to get the drunkard’s attention with a quick flash of steel. Drake always had a blade or two hidden on his person for situations just like this.
“Clear off, man. This is your last warning.” Drake used his trained voice to advantage, projecting to the drunk who’d seemed to give up the fight suddenly. The man’s jaw went slack and his eyes grew round with fear as he stumbled away with nary a flicker of complaint.
Drake smiled in satisfaction as the drunk let the Guardswoman be. He felt smug as the woman turned to him, a trace of annoyed respect on her face. Then her eyes widened as she stepped forward.
Drake didn’t quite understand why he apparently looked particularly fearsome tonight, but he wasn’t asking questions. Whatever it was about him had scared off one ruffian and had the little Guardswoman looking at him with new respect as she moved closer. Moving closer was good. It was, in fact, much better than having her move away. He wanted to get much closer to her before the night was through.
She stopped a few yards from him and raised her gaze upward as Drake’s stomach sank. What a fool he’d been!
“Friend of yours?” Her eyes lit with humor as she stared at a spot well above his head.
Drake followed the woman’s gaze upward though he could very well guess what he’d find waiting over his shoulder—or rather who.
“Jenet.” He tried to inject sternness into the thoughts he projected to the dragon, but it was no use. “I thought we agreed I could handle this night’s work on my own.”
“You said that nonsense, but I never agreed.”
Drake sighed with exasperation, looking back at the beautiful woman still awaiting an answer.
“Lady Jenet.” He made the introductions. “And what is your name, my lovely?”
The Guardswoman snorted with laughter, her easy manner delighting him anew. She looked up at the dragon and bowed low, though there was a smile on her full lips and her gaze never lowered.
“I’m Krysta of the Wayfarer Clan. It’s an honor to meet you, Lady Jenet.”
So she was Jinn. No wonder she’d been welcomed in Devyn’s so easily. But what was she doing working as a Guard? Those answers would come later. He’d make certain of it.
Krysta scored big points with Jenet, Drake could tell, by her respectful words and actions. Dragons dwelt on tradition and respect, and favored humans who showed the same thoughtfulness, whether they could communicate with dragonkind or not.
“She is very pretty for a human, isn’t she, Drake?”
Drake let the observation pass without comment. Jenet had sounded just a bit too hopeful there—almost like his mother when she was trying to matchmake.
“Wayfarer Clan?” Drake addressed the woman. “I had dealings with Rulu, the old clan leader, several seasons past, but I heard he retired in favor of his daughter, Malin.”
“You heard right. Malin is gathering the remainder of our clan and sending them here. Rulu is already in residence though. He set up camp on the Southern boundary.”
“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” Drake admitted with what he hoped was just the right amount of sorrow. “I only arrived today and haven’t had a chance to explore yet.” He moved a step closer, encouraged when she held her ground. “Perhaps you could give me a personal tour?”