Feel the Burn Page 24

Grateful as Gaius was to Kachka Shestakova, he wasn’t about to insult her. So he sat there and watched while he ground an elk leg down until the end was a point, then proceeded to use that to pick his fangs clean of flesh and hide.

“So,” he finally asked when the sound of her butchering that carcass became too much for him, “what does Annwyl the Bloody have the Riders doing for her that has you sneaking around your own territory, Kachka Shestakova?”

Kachka stopped in the middle of what she was doing to that bear to slowly face Gaius. And, in that three-second time span, Gaius knew . . .

She was debating whether to kill him or not.

Kachka was searching out weak points on the dragon’s body when he said, “You do know that killing me really should be your last option . . . don’t you?”

“Is that because you are royal and think you are important to entire world?”

“Mostly . . . yes. But what’s significant is that your queen thinks I’m important.”

“You ask too many questions, and she is not my queen. Daughters of Steppes have no queen. No king. We live and die for each other.”

“I do not ask too many questions. I ask one. And if you have no queen, then why are you out here? Obviously helping her. Trying to get me, a useless royal, to safety? Willing to face”—his lip curled in distaste—“whatever that She-dragon was that removed that cursed torc from my neck? Why do all that if Annwyl is not your queen?”

Kachka didn’t answer, but the dragon thought he could guess.

“Yes. Of course. Your sister. She offered protection for your sister if you do her bidding.”

“I know that my sister is safe with the Mad Queen and the giant lizards. They actually like her. And, surprisingly, do not find her weak and pathetic.”

“That is big of them.” He stared at her a moment. “So you’re not in fear for your sister. You’re definitely not in fear for yourself. Then what are you doing?”

“Why do you ask, dragon? Why do you need to know?”

“I’m curious.”

“You should just be glad to be alive. If Zoya Kolesova had her way, we would have put you down days ago.”

“True. And she’s very—”

“Loud. Yes. We all know. I did not invite her. She invited herself.”

“I see.” Gaius studied the Rider a moment. “Kachka Shestakova . . . I owe you much.”

“Yes,” she replied. “You do.”

“How can I ever repay you?”

She faced him, her blade and arms covered in blood. “Give me your kingdom!”

Gaius smiled. “You’re adorable.”

“See? The royals. They say all this and they say all that . . . but they do nothing but lie.”

“We don’t lie all the time.”

“You owe me nothing, royal. But we are even for my sister, yes?”

“I never thought you owed me for that. Your sister needed help and I understood her problem better than most. That doesn’t lead to a tit-for-tat situation, in my humble opinion.”

She snorted. “There is nothing humble about you, royal.”

“That’s true.”

Gaius eased around the Rider, watching her as she cut the fur on the bear so that, with one good yank, she could remove it whole.

And, before he knew it, he was snuggled up beside her and on his back.

Although he had no idea why.

Kachka placed the fur aside and was about to cut down the bear when she felt something warm blowing against her bare arm.

She looked down and found giant dragon nostrils right by her. Leaning back a bit, she realized that the dragon’s long body circled her and he was on his back, exposing his belly.

“What . . . are you doing?”

“Proving I’m not slimy.”

“What?”

“You said dragon scales were slimy. As a matter of honor, I have to show you that’s not true. You’ll need to touch me, though.”

Kachka sucked her tongue against her teeth. “Men are disgusting.”

“I’m not a man. And I don’t mean that. Just touch my scales.”

“Touch them yourself.”

“I do. Every day. And they are fabulous. Now it’s your turn.”

“Go. Away.”

“You’re afraid to be proven wrong.”

“I do not care!”

“Then prove it.”

“Fine!” Kachka slapped her hand against his snout.

“Ow!”

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