Feel the Burn Page 98

Aidan finally laughed. “Cow.”

Gaius and Kachka napped together until the door opened and Lady Gormlaith stuck her head in. She smiled when Gaius opened his eyes, but they quickly narrowed in annoyance when she realized that there was a scarred arm tossed over his chest.

“Food is ready whenever you are, King Gaius.”

“We’ll be right down,” he promised, grinning when the door finally closed.

“I hear tone from that female,” Kachka noted without moving.

“There was definitely tone when she said ‘King’ like that. Apparently I’m forgetting my place by bedding such a Low Born human.”

Kachka used her free hand to rub her eyes, but she still hadn’t moved the arm draped over his chest.

“Who?” she asked.

“That would be you, Kachka Shestakova.”

“Me?” She moved her hand away from her eyes, blinked at him. “I am Kachka Shestakova of the Black Bear Riders of the Midnight Mountains of Despair in the Far Reaches of the Steppes of the Outerplains. I am better than any imperialist dog.”

Gaius kissed her. “And that’s why I am going to have such an entertaining night tonight.”

He threw the fur wrap off and stood. “Come, beautiful Kachka Shestakova. I have much introducing to do this evening!”

“And this, Lady Cinnie, is Nina Chechneva, the Unclaimed.”

Bored eyes glazed, the She-dragon called Cinnie nodded. “Nice to meet all of you,” she managed to get out without yawning.

Gaius moved down to Aidan’s brother Harkin. “Lord Harkin of the Foulkes de chuid Fennah, second son of Lady Gormlaith and Lord Jarlath. And Lord Harkin this is . . .”

Annnnd he introduced all of them again. All the Daughters of the Steppes. Full names. Never shortening any of it. For each of them. Even Ivan, who just seemed confused by that since he’d never been introduced by anyone before except out of necessity.

Suddenly, Kachka had a deep understanding of the annoyance the Southlanders felt when her people began to say their names.

“And this, Lord Harkin,” Gaius finished, “is Nina Chechneva, the Unclaimed.”

Harkin was staring blankly at the stone wall behind Gaius’s head, but a shove from Aidan had him barking, “Yes. Right. Nice to meet all of you.”

“Oh, look!” Aidan cheered, jumping up from his chair and running to the front of the hall. “My eldest brother, Ainmire, is here!”

His brother stepped back from Aidan. “What are you doing here?”

“I am so glad to see you, too, big brother.” Aidan yanked the bigger dragon in human form over to Gaius while Ainmire stared at his brother for what seemed like a very long time. As if Aidan had been thought dead and was now suddenly in front of them alive. Perhaps he’d been gone so long that’s how it felt to his kin? Kachka didn’t know.

“King Gaius Lucius Domitus, this is my eldest brother, Ainmire.”

“Ahh. Nice to meet you Lord Ainmire. Please, allow me to introduce you to Kachka Shestakova of the . . .”

Annnnd again off he went! Clearly enjoying every torturous moment of it.

While food was brought out of the kitchens by the servants, Gaius sat down near the head of the table. The big stone chair that resembled a throne a little too much for Gaius’s liking—or, at least what he was sure would be Rhiannon’s liking—stood empty. He wondered where Lord Jarlath might be. Odd that he hadn’t come. If not to meet with Gaius, at least to see his son.

Brannie plopped into the chair on his left. He got the feeling she sat there because she was protecting him.

Lady Cinnie pulled the chair out on the right side of Gaius, but Kachka easily pushed the She-dragon aside.

“I sit by him.” Kachka dropped into the chair, one foot resting on the opposite knee. “Go sit elsewhere.”

The She-dragon glared down at Kachka with such venom that Gaius was sure he’d have to step in to protect the human. Perhaps kill for her.

When Lady Cinnie didn’t move fast enough, Kachka dismissed her with a hand wave that rivaled that of a true royal.

“Go sit down over there, Cinnie dear,” her mother growled at her through clenched teeth.

Cinnie walked away, her chair scraping ominously as she pulled it back.

Zoya watched the servants carefully place the food in front of the guests and Aidan’s family, her gaze moving back and forth the length of the table before she asked, “Is this what you call feast?”

“Yes,” Lady Gormlaith replied. “Is there not enough food for your”—she gestured at Zoya—“proportions?”

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