Chapter 2 Excerpt
“No. She. Is. Mine.”
Those words ring in my ears. I want them and fear them. He’s a dragon. What that means in this situation, I’m not even sure. Do dragons marry? I can’t say with certainty his claim implied marriage. He did promise to protect me. It occurs to me my hand is still on his, contact I initiated just before his declaration. I move it to my lap, and his retreats to the back of my chair, but there’s a definitive sense of disconnection, touching him appealing to my body with as much natural ease as breathing.
For the first time, Dante speaks, his voice smooth, a softened Scottish lilt dripping off his every word. “Perhaps this would be an excellent time to offer a relatively neutral solution to our conundrum over Caitriona’s situation.” He said nothing during court, sitting, absorbing everything, a picturesque view on the dais with flawless fair complexion, dark-as-night hair, and striking blue eyes.
Dante is every bit his goddess mother’s son, the epitome of beauty.
Cedric leans forward in his chair, hands folded together on the table. “What did you have in mind?” If I had to guess, I would say he sounds relieved Dante offers another option. I suppose a dragon eating his son isn’t a pleasant idea.
The demigod stands and paces in a small circle, brows knit together in contemplative focus, then comes to an abrupt halt, turning and meeting my eyes. He says nothing, staring, and the entire room buzzes, a strange electricity in the air.
His gaze rises, beyond me. “I will marry her, Theo.” And I’m certain my heart stops. “You trust me, do you not?”
“Are you all insane?” I scream, slamming my hands on the table, jumping out of my seat. So much for remaining quiet. “I refuse to sit here feeling like I’m being auctioned off to the highest bidder.” I sure as Hades do not want to deal with Neglected Dependent Services, but this is ridiculous. Why the king involves himself on a personal level in my situation is beyond comprehension.
King Corrin glares daggers at me, or past me to Theo, but I’m damned sure he’s not happy about a woman rebuking anything he says. However, Dante smirks as he watches my outburst. Behind me, the dragon clears his throat.
“I do believe Miss Hayden makes a valid point to be considered.” He places his hand on my shoulder, encouraging me to sit again, and I do so, grudgingly. Across the table, the king’s brother buries his face in his hands, but he’s not laughing. “While it is understandable the monarchy cannot abide by the breaking of sovereign laws, Miss Hayden is indeed a woman of means. At our ages, it is quite conceivable to liken her wealth and social stature to noble ladies of eras past, one whose suitors would vie for her affections, for the right to win her hand in marriage.”
While I’m somehow seeing this whole situation going in reverse, dragging me into the damned dark ages worse than society already, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel this dragon walks through. Choices. Women of means had choices back then. I, for one, would like them back.
“A duel?” The monarch’s eyes brighten, displaying his fangs in a Cheshire grin.
Sir Oliver grimaces. “I doubt a duel is quite the answer, Sire. Regardless of your expertise as a swordsman, even my skill is negligible over Theo’s.”
The room quiets until Evan sits back in his chair, its squeaking breaking the silence. “I suggest vying for her affections in the most literal sense. I’ve said before I disagree with arranged marriages, but if she must choose amongst you then at the very least, allow she find the most happiness.” He plays with the wedding band on his finger. “Is it asking too much she have the opportunity to perhaps marry out of some measure of love?”
Whether his concerns fall to his brother trapped in a loveless marriage or to my best interests, I don’t venture guesses, but I appreciate his disapproval.
“Would it most please Miss Hayden, I am agreeable to such a compromise,” states Theo, though his tone declares him anything other than agreeable.
Dante nods, remaining in his apparent standard state of existence, thoughtful and contemplative. “As am I.”
With an irritated huff, King Corrin drops back into his chair. “Fine. It is agreed.” His icy stare stays on me as he speaks. “But she must be moved to a secure location where she remains of equal accessibility. Aside from her safety quite lacking, from this point forward, regardless of who ultimately gains victory, I declare her status as betrothed and under the protection of the clan. Should Miss Hayden be incapable of making this decision for herself within seven days, sovereign law prevails, and I shall either choose her husband or relinquish her to NDS.”
“Seven days! What? And you expect me to leave my home? No! Not in Hades’s name will I do any such thing.” Refraining from calling the king insane, out of his mind, or gone mad, I’m adamant in this, but Theo rests one hand on my shoulder calming me, his touch desirable in its soothing effect.
My request to live as an independent woman was a long shot, to say the least. And NDS is a worst-case scenario for someone in my position. This … I release a quiet exhale and nod in compliance. This is better than the alternatives. None of these men need the wealth or power of Hayden Holdings. I’m not a rung in their social ladder. Choosing between the king, Dante, and Theo Pendragon … I should be thankful, not insolent. Most women would kill to be in my designer shoes.