Feel the Burn Page 39

“I have noticed that as well. Like cat toying with mouse.”


Kachka motioned to her sister across the courtyard. “She seems happy, yes?”

The king studied Elina for a moment, then nodded. “Very.”

“Good. I always wanted her to be happy. She never was, you know? When she lived with our tribe.”

“It was my understanding your mother didn’t make it easy for either of you.”

“Glebovicha Shestakova made it easy for no one. Though she tolerated me well enough.”

“Because you’re not afraid to kill.”

“Do not be fooled. Elina is not afraid to kill. But she is just more . . . defense fighter. When you come at her, she will do what she has to in order to survive. But me . . .” She smiled at the dragon. “I am offensive. I need little reason to do what I feel is necessary.”

“Yes. I’ve noticed that about you.”

“You, peasant,” a young voice said from the bottom of the stairs. “Remove yourself from my way.”

Kachka and the king smirked at each other before Kachka turned and stared down at Dagmar Reinholdt’s eldest daughter, Princess Arlais. She wished she could say Arlais treated her this way because she sensed her mother’s intense dislike of Kachka, but no. Arlais treated anyone she deemed beneath her this way—which was pretty much everyone.

The nine-year-old waved at Kachka. “Move!”

“You have plenty of space. Go around, demon child.”

“Isn’t it bad enough we have you barbarians here? My aunt allows it, but you don’t need to be sitting there in front of our home, making the rest of us look bad.”

“And one day,” Kachka replied, “the peasants here will rise up . . . and destroy you. And I will laugh.”

“Damn, Kachka,” Gaius laughed.

“What? Should I lie?”

“She’s a child!”

“She is spoiled brat who is lucky no one has put pillow over head while she sleeps.”

“Do you think you frighten me?” the girl demanded. “Have you met my mother?”

“I quote your mother.”

A large shadow fell over the girl and wide gold eyes stared up at a battered and bruised—but somehow still smiling—Zoya Kolesova.

“So they managed to keep you alive, Zoya Kolesova,” Kachka noted, but the disappointment in her voice had the dragon tapping her thigh.

“Be nice,” he muttered to her.

After rolling her eyes, Kachka lifted her hands, wiggled her fingers, and cheered, “Yay, you are better! We are all so happy you are not dead.”

Zoya nodded, pleased with that ridiculous display.

“You are huge!” the little princess exclaimed after making her way up the stairs. Now she walked around Zoya like a side of beef. “Look at her,” she said to Gaius, who she probably felt was on her level. “She is peasant perfection!”

“Princess Arlais,” the Iron dragon gently chastised. “It is never polite to—”

“You will be my bodyguard,” Arlais ordered a grinning Zoya. “You will do my bidding and protect me from all dangers.”

Zoya stared down at the little girl until she finally exclaimed, “Look at her, Kachka Shestakova! Look at this tiny person.” She leaned down so that she could look the girl in her face. “How old is she? Three? Four?”

“I am nine.”

“Nine?” Zoya gasped. “How tiny you are! My girls at nine are ten times your size!” That’s when Zoya, who had never understood the word “boundaries,” suddenly grasped the child around the waist and lifted her up. “She is like toy! I shall take her back to one of my young granddaughters. She will be her tiny playmate!”

“Put me down, you oaf! You vicious beast! Unhand me!”

Gaius bumped Kachka’s leg with the back of his fist and jerked his head at the tiny Southland royal struggling with Kachka’s giant comrade.

Kachka sighed. Loudly. “Must I?”


“Zoya, put her down.”

“But my granddaughters will love her!”

“She is princess here and although I am sure her mother will happily give her over to you—”


“—her father, a dragon, will definitely not. He seems to like her, though none of us can understand why.”

“Vicious cow,” the little girl hissed at Kachka.

“Keep that up and I will let Zoya’s granddaughters chain you like stray dog in street. Now, Zoya, put her down!”

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