He expected her to tremble with desire in his arms.
She kneed him in the groin.
“Ye black-hearted bastard! I’m not here for swiving! I’m here to die for my village.”
She backed away while Draknart breathed evenly and deeply against the pain. The weakness of his cursed human form still caught him by surprise now and then, and it enraged him each time. As a dragon, he was nigh indestructible. He found his nightly turns as a human a gross indignity. Although, he did not mind it so much tonight.
He calmed himself before he spoke, so as not to frighten his amber-eyed visitor. “Why the rush, Sweetling?”
Once again, she wore one of her brothers’ shirts and britches—probably to ease her journey. The hillside was steep in places, the bushes thick and thorny. He took a moment to admire her fine form. If the gods were kind, mayhap they’d see to it that britches would catch on among the young maidens.
For a moment, he envisioned a world where the lasses ran around in the same tight leggings as the lads, and he paused to savor the image. Should that ever come to being, he might be tempted to leave his cave.
She eyed him with suspicion and undisguised loathing. “So ye’re half man then?”
“All the man a woman can handle and then some,” he reassured her.
She blinked. “But before, ye were a dragon.”
“I am a dragon. Cursed to take human form from midnight to dawn each day,” he admitted his great shame.
For a moment she only stared, then her voice grew unsure as she asked, “Old magic?” Her amber eyes grew wide, luminous. She eased back a step. “To have been cursed by an ancient power… What have ye done?”
Regaling her with old tales had not been among his plans for tonight. But she appeared disinclined to disrobe at once for his pleasure. He turned and strode into the cave. “Come in.”
He walked to the cavern’s farthest corner. Since he resented his human form, he didn’t indulge it much. A pile of furs on a rock ledge was his only concession. He turned back before he reached it, pleased that she followed, no matter how reluctantly.
Her hips swayed as she moved. He could still taste her on his lips, ached to taste her again, ached to have her on those furs, under him. He pulled off his dragon-scale reinforced leather tunic and tossed it aside, leaving only the linen shirt he wore underneath.
Mayhap his sleeping ledge would be too soon. He sat on a natural rock formation that resembled a throne he’d once admired in a church whilst eating the congregation.
She stood before him, careful to remain out of reach, her delicate jaw clenched tight. Although the cave was shrouded in near darkness, his human eyes retained the ability of his dragon vision and he could see her clearly.
She was well-shaped, her body likely formed in fights with her brothers and in hard work. Slim, but strong arms, lean, but strong thighs. The roundest breasts he’d ever seen. Yet it was that spark inside her that drew him the most.
How she’d fought him just a fortnight before! But now he wanted to tangle with her another way.
His body stirred as he watched her. “Submit to me.”
Her chin came up a notch. “I’m in yer power. You have the strength to take me. But know this, I will never submit to ye willingly.”
Heat pooled in his loins at the fire that burned in her amber eyes. “You are mine, Einin, by your own pledge. I will claim your body every way possible. If you plead with me, you’ll be pleading for more.”
Her eyes flashed. “Never.”
He let his gaze travel over her, thoroughly investigating every inch. “Take off your boots.”
Her hands fisted at her side. Her eyes flashed. Her hands fisted. She was angry, but she was scared, too. He could smell her fear.
He meant to have her in another mood and soon. “I merely wish to see that you’re not hiding any weapons.”
She did have that hidden kitchen knife the last time. A longer blade, and she would have been the end of him. Dragons were tough bastards, but a direct hit to the heart would have been lethal. And his human form had a number of annoying weaknesses.
She held his gaze as she kicked off her boots then kicked them away.
“Now shed your britches, Sweetling.”
Her lips thinned as she pressed them together. But she untied the britches then let them drop. The worn material pooled at her ankles. She stepped out and behind them, another step away from him.
Her coarsely-woven shirt hung low enough to cover her arse, but as she moved, he did catch a glimpse of lean, naked thighs, and his body hardened.
“Come here,” he ordered.
“I have pledged to return,” she said, standing immobile. “I have come to the dragon’s lair. I’ve come this far, but I will go no farther.”
She challenged him by disobeying him. The blood rushed in his veins.
He sprung from his throne and closed the distance between them, then lifted her unceremoniously into his arms and carried her to his sleeping furs.
He was large, even in his despised human form, and she a slight maiden but, to her credit, she didn’t tremble. His body was hard and ready. He sniffed at her, frowning when he couldn’t smell sweet, womanly arousal. Ah, well. He didn’t mind a short wait.
He looked forward to softening her, filling her body with heat. He very nearly smiled at the thought. He’d never before met a woman he wanted to savor. At least, not this way.
* * *
The soft furs of his bedding stood in stark contrast to the hard muscles of the man, as they lay next to each other. Einin hadn’t fought him when he’d carried her. She might get a chance to escape, but this wasn’t it. He was too alert to her every move.
Patience. That he turned human every night was an unexpected boon. Killing a man would be easier than killing a dragon. For the first time, she allowed herself to think that she might yet succeed.
She felt little guilt over her plotting. She had kept her word and returned in a fortnight. She had never promised that she’d let the dragon do as he wished with her. She had never promised not to finish trying to kill him.
If she could kill the dragon…
The fish-gutting knife hidden in her braid was slim, but long enough to reach a dragon’s heart. Certainly long enough to reach a man’s. If she didn’t succeed tonight, she’d try again tomorrow night.
Einin bit her bottom lip to keep from whimpering as the knight drew a single finger down the middle of her shirt, between her breasts, from her neck to right above her bellybutton. He stopped there.
She could feel the heat of that single fingertip through the roughly-woven cloth, and a slow, insidious heat spread across her skin inch by inch. She had feared the dragon, but she loathed the black knight. The dragon could roast her. But the knight… She was beginning to think he was even more dangerous. She couldn’t look away from his eyes as their bottomless dark pools swirled with fire.
He was determined to reduce her to begging. She was determined to resist him. She would allow enough to distract him, then she would go for the blade.
The knight nipped her lower lip. “Yield to me,” he demanded.
This time, when his mouth took hers, ‘twas no mere brushing of the lips as he’d done in front of the cave. He caressed, nibbled and tasted, he suffused her with heat, and made her dizzy. And when she opened her mouth to protest, he delved in.
His tongue was hot, insistent, and wicked. The buzzing sensation spread from her mind to the rest of her body. The heat that seemed to originate in him began to fill her, spreading all the way to the tips of her limbs.
His large hand came up to her throat. The pad of his thumb rested against her frantically beating pulse before he moved his long fingers down to work the wooden buttons on her shirt.
She tore her lips from his to draw air, and to protest. “Nay!”
He held still, dark storm clouds crashing in his gaze. Then gave a small nod. “When you’re ready.” And took her lips again.
Now! She thought and went for the blade.
He must not have been as distracted as she’d hoped, because he disarmed her easily and threw the fish knife clear across the cave.
“Maybe later, if we still feel like it, we can spar a bit,” he offered with a smile. Then he sighed. “Aye, lass. You make me happy.”
She stared at him, the strange thought that he didn’t altogether mind her attempts on his life entering her mind. She could not entertain the strange thought long, as he kissed her again.
No village boy had ever kissed her like this!
When she felt like her skin was too tight, her body swollen, especially the part between her legs, to the point where it could no longer be borne, he dragged his torturous lips to her neck, and a new wave of sensations washed over her. By the time he made his way to her ear, licking and nibbling every nook and cranny then, gasp, sucked her earlobe into his mouth, she was certain she was going to die, that this was some ancient dragon magic with which he meant to kill her.
“Submit to me, Einin,” he rasped into her ear, his hot breath sending shivers of pleasure down her spine.
Every ounce of strength she had was needed to produce a weak, “Nay.”
* * *
Draknart watched her sleep next to him on the furs, a strange feeling awakening inside his chest. He’d never slept with a woman before. ‘Twas a strange experience. Worrisome, but not altogether unpleasant.
A shame that she hadn’t submitted, although he’d done his best to seduce her, all through the night, and he did not regret the time spent. The exercise had been plenty entertaining.
The first light of the day reached through the cave’s opening, and he shifted his great dragon body. Lifted his head. Adjusted himself. Licked the bottom of Einin’s feet, letting his tongue play with her toes.
She gave a soft moan in her sleep.
He loved the feel of her skin on his lips. He sucked her into his mouth up to her knees. Then up to her waist, saying a silent good-bye with true regret that surprised him. But she was a woman like no other he’d met before. He’d never imagined there could ever be a human like Einin.
He stilled as the taste of her womanhood spread on his tongue. And the next instant his insides turned to liquid fire. The man inside him wanted her still and demanded a mating. He hesitated. What would another day matter?
Just because he hadn’t kept anyone before, it didn’t mean he couldn’t keep her, at least a little longer. His dragon blood stirred at the thought of another swordfight today. And then another round of seduction on the furs tonight.
But she woke just as he was about to release her, and she assessed her situation correctly, damn near kicking out his hind teeth.
He roared and spit her across the cave.
She was on her feet the next instant, her shirt stuck to her thighs. A fetching sight she presented. Even as she swore like a swineherd and threw old chunks of armor at him.
He pulled to his full height and sent a small cloud of smoke her way. “Cease!” he thundered.
She didn’t. Once again, she found a rusty sword in the rubble and charged at him. Her breasts heaved beneath the shirt. Damned if part of him wasn’t distracted. Which made it possible for her to cut into his wing.
And she roared back at him. “Ye cowardly bastard! Ye were going to kill me in my sleep!”
She could be mad for the oddest things. He narrowed an eye at her. “Would you prefer to be awake for it?”
She bent suddenly and smashed the pommel of the sword into his foot, nearly breaking off a talon.
But instead of his dark dragon temper washing over him, he found himself thinking with pride, That’s my Einin, giving as good as she gets.
He caught himself. Shook his head. What in blazes was wrong with him?
He backed into the middle of the cave where he could maneuver more easily. Sometimes, in a fight, his tail would swing on instinct. He didn’t want to hurt her. Although, he wasn’t about to tell her that the thought of harming her bothered him. If he lost his reputation—he’d be left with nothing. Dragons were very much like maidens in that one way.
She swung the weapon in a wide arc in front of her.
“I was just taking a wee taste,” he said in as a reasonable tone as he was capable. Then thought—mayhap some praise would put her into a better disposition. “You taste sweet.”
Her delicate nostrils flared. She held the sword high in front of her, tightly, both hands on the pommel.
He blew a careful puff of smoke and moved forward. She jumped back at last, with a yelp, and took off running. He chased her for a while. Then backed away, let her try her skill on him. She was quick and fought more with her brain than brawn. He’d eaten knights who’d fought worse than she did.
He only thought to stop their game when her breathing grew labored. He suspected she would exhaust herself to the point of death before she admitted defeat.
While she watched his teeth and talons, he swiped his barbed tail around and locked the tip around her slim ankle, yanked her up and dangled her upside down in front of his face.
Her shirt slid down to her armpits, revealing a silky tuft of fur between her legs and those breasts he’d longed to see naked. He finally got his fill. He was looking forward to the upcoming night most sincerely.
She scrambled to keep herself covered, dropping the sword. “Put me down, ye great beast!”
By the gods, the woman could screech. Yet all she did, he found highly entertaining. She could amuse the gods themselves, he thought…then everything inside him went still.
Mostly, he only thought of the gods when he thought of the curse Belisama put on him. The goddess wasn’t likely to ever lift the curse, but her husband, the god Belinus could. In exchange for a gift fit for a god. And for the first time, Draknart had just such a gift. His gaze fastened on the woman hanging upside down in front of his face.
Belinus had a known weakness for beautiful maidens, and, in Draknart’s opinion, there had never been a maiden more beautiful and worthy of attention than the one he was holding.
“Put me down, at once,” Einin demanded again, a wiggling ball of fury.
So he did. A fine, fiery lass, indeed. Mayhap it was most fortunate that he hadn’t breached her maidenhead in the night. Although, it hadn’t felt like that at the time.
“So this is why I’m still alive then? Ye didn’t want me for killing? Ye wanted me for swiving?”
More than she knew. He wanted her naked. Writhing with pleasure under him as he plowed into her. But he wouldn’t have her. There was something he wanted even more, wanted desperately, with every beat of his black dragon heart. He wanted the curse lifted.
He wanted to be what he’d once been: dragon day and night.
He steadied himself with a deep breath, and said in a tone as friendly as he was capable, “I want you for my traveling companion.”
Her soft mouth dropped open in surprise. “Are ye leaving the hills?”
He smiled at her, his heart lifting. If he were any happier, he’d be chasing his own tale around like a dragon pup. “Prepare yourself, Sweetling. We’re going on a journey.”
A visit to the old gods—more adventure than he’d had in two centuries. An adventure to be undertaken with care. Because, although, ‘twas likely that Belinus would help him, ‘twas even more likely that Belisama would try to kill him.