Dragon Soul, Page 2Katie MacAlister
The second man turned his head slightly, just enough that he could look at me. He was a few inches taller than me, had short, curly, dark auburn hair, and gray-green eyes framed with the blackest eyelashes I’ve ever seen. It was like someone had dipped them in kohl. “I don’t think that’s very likely, do you?”
“What do you mean it’s not likely? I saw it!”
The green-eyed stranger considered the other man for a moment before turning back to me. “Why would he wait to kill her on a plane when he could have done so at any time?”
“What is going on here?” Adrienne pushed aside the curtain, accompanied by two male flight attendants. “Who was yelling? Is something that matter with Mrs. P?”
“No, but only because I woke up in time to catch this man trying to stab her. And then the air marshal here heard me and grabbed him.”
“Stab?” Adrienne asked. One of the other flight attendants said, “Air marshal?”
“Yeah, him.” I nodded toward my green-eyed savior. “And yes, stabbed. As in, with a knife. You can see it in his hand.” I gestured to where a bit of metal glinted in the man’s hand. He lifted his head at that, and shot me a look with so much malevolence, I swear there was a faint red glow to his dark irises.
Handsome Green Eyes released his hold on the jacket and took a step back, shaking his head a little. “I’m afraid the lady is confused. I’m not an air marshal.”
“No, he’s not. He’s a passenger,” Adrienne said with a little frown.
“Well, whoever you are, you stopped that man from stabbing my little old lady,” I told him before adding to Adrienne, “I hope you guys have some restraints on the plane for nutballs.”
“I have no knife,” Mr. Hissy said, holding out his hand.
I stared in confusion at the curved metal bracelet that sat on his palm. The silver crescent glittered even in the dim lighting of the plane, designed to resemble a twisted braid. It was very pretty, but not in the least bit deadly.
“Wait… that’s not what you had in your hand… I could have sworn it was a knife…” I frowned, trying to make sense of it all. Had I seen a knife, or did I just assume the man was attacking Mrs. P?
Adrienne turned to the green-eyed man. “Did you see a weapon, sir?”
“No.” His gaze flickered toward me for a moment, then away again. “I heard the lady complain about this man assaulting her, and was about to ask if I could be of assistance when he retreated.”
“I thought it was a knife—” I stopped myself and made a wry face. “I guess I just saw a bit of metal and assumed that’s what it was. I apologize for accusing you of trying to attack Mrs. P. Although… why were you trying to put a bracelet on her?”
“The lady dropped it, and I was simply returning it to her,” Mr. Hissy said smoothly, then handed me the bracelet before he made a little bow to the flight attendants. “Since you are acting as the lady’s guardian, I will give it to you to return to her. Now, if I may return to my seat…?”
“I do apologize for the confusion and any inconvenience you may have suffered…” Adrienne’s subdued voice drifted off as she and one of the flight attendants escorted the man back to his seat, located several rows forward.
“He looked like he was attacking her,” I explained to the remaining flight attendant and the handsome man. “He was leaning across me to get to her. What would you have thought if that had been you?”
“I would have asked the gentleman,” the flight attendant said gently, then with a little purse of his lips she returned to the coach section of the plane.
I turned to the remaining man, about to thank him for the assistance that it turned out I didn’t need, but simply watched in silent amazement when he plucked the bracelet from my hand, saying with an unreadable look, “I’ll take that. I’m sure there’s some sort of nasty binding spell on it, and we wouldn’t want any accidents, would we?”
He walked away without another word, leaving me staring in disbelief. Binding spell? I opened and closed my mouth a couple of times, tempted to accost him, but decided I’d better not. Perhaps I’d misheard him, or perhaps he was not quite all there… either way, since I didn’t have the slightest belief in the strange narrow-pupiled man’s story that he was returning Mrs. P’s bracelet—one that she hadn’t been wearing—I decided that I’d just let it go and forget about the whole episode.
I didn’t, of course, and when Claudia returned from her visit to the toilet, I told her in a near whisper of the happenings. She agreed that it was most startling to be woken up in such a manner, but didn’t seem to think anything odd was going on.
“You said you were certain the bracelet didn’t belong to Mrs. Papadopolous, so does it matter if the other man took it? Perhaps it was his to begin with, and the other man was mistaken in attributing it to your employer.”
“But then why didn’t he say that? And what was that business with a binding spell?”
“You must have misheard him.” She pulled out her book again. “Perhaps he was trying to save you from any further embarrassment.”
That shut me up on the subject, and pretty much for the rest of the trip. I sat vigilant the remaining hours of the flight, too embarrassed about raising a fuss over nothing to relax, and yet at the same time, oddly suspicious. What was that man doing leaning over me? Why had Mr. Handsome walked off with the bracelet without so much as a “do you mind?” And was it just paranoia to wonder if Claudia had disappeared into the bathroom at the ideal moment for an attempted attack on Mrs. P?
Too far, my mental sage warned. You’ll start seeing conspiracies everywhere if you go down that path.
Fortunately for my peace of mind—what was left of it—Mrs. P slept the rest of the way to Munich.
You just have to get her through a change of planes, and then onto a ship in Cairo, my sage pointed out. How hard could that be? Do that one little thing, and you’ll pocket a cool two grand, which will give you a start to fighting your way out of a dreary future, frustrating talks with the unemployment office, and an all-around loveless existence.
Unbidden, my gaze traveled along the rows of seats until it settled on the head crowned with short auburn curls.
My so-called savior was dressed casually in clothing that wasn’t in the least bit flashy, but still gave that off that subtle whiff of money. A navy blue blazer covered up a shirt in a lighter shade of blue, which was tucked into a pair of black chinos. Sharply creased chinos. This was a man who exuded quiet self-confidence, and absolute comfort in his own skin.
Even the fact that he wore lace-up dark gray, somewhat scarred boots rather than shoes didn’t ruin that impression. I was musing on what sort of man he was that he was so with it and together, yet marched around an airport wearing a pair of boots that would be more comfortable striding across a moor, when he must have felt my unabashed scrutiny, because his head turned and he glanced back at me.
Our gazes met in a way that left me breathless. My first impression of him had been one of chilly disinterest, but as I held his gaze, something kindled in the depths of those stormy green eyes, a brief flash of amusement that had me feeling strangely warm. One side of his mouth twitched, and he tipped his head a fraction of an inch in acknowledgment of… what? Awareness that I was clearly staring at him? Or perhaps it had something to do with our interaction with the nasty hissy man?
He turned back to the book he held, leaving me feeling oddly bereft.
The blush I had been working on faded as I stared at the back of his head, admitting that it was just too bad I wasn’t going to see Mr. Bracelet Thief again. Those cool gray-green eyes combined with an air of mystery left my mind wandering down all sorts of paths, and not all of them were rated PG.
There were red dragons everywhere.
“Just what I need—competition,” Rowan said under his breath.
His gaze moved along the two lines of people queued up to go through passport control, counting no fewer than three red dragons, including t
he woman named Sophea.
Not red dragons, he mentally corrected himself. They were red dragon–demon hybrids. His sister, Bee, informed him that there were only a handful of non-demonic red dragons left alive, of whom Sophea was clearly one. His gaze paused on her as she assisted her elderly charge into sitting down on a walking stick that converted into a tri-legged seat. If he didn’t know why Sophea was helping the old lady, he’d have been fooled into thinking she was exactly what she appeared: a thoughtful, helpful caretaker assisting a woman in need.
She looked every bit her part—of mixed Asian descent, she had shoulder-length glossy black hair, cut in wispy layers that seemed to catch every light breeze. The long strands would occasionally caress the soft pink of her cheeks, making his fingers itch with the need to brush the hair back where it belonged. It looked smooth as silk, that hair, and he wondered what it would feel like trailing across his bare chest.
He frowned at the sudden erotic image. Where had that come from? Certainly it was true that Sophea was a pretty woman—with warm brown eyes that made him think of the dark, hidden depths in a pond; a heart-shaped face; and curves that would drive a saint mad with desire—who would no doubt attract admiration wherever she went, and yet, that did not mean he had to watch her so diligently.
Another strand of her hair flicked in the air, disturbed by a custom officer passing by Sophea. Rowan desperately wanted to brush his fingers across the soft curve of her cheek.
Stop it, he told himself. You’re acting like a randy stallion. Focus on what’s important, and remember that she’s a dragon, and thus the enemy.
Still, there was the episode on the plane with the demon-dragon who had made a bold attempt on the old woman. That was puzzling until he realized that Sophea clearly wasn’t working with her demon kin… or perhaps she had been, but changed her mind and decided to keep the old lady to herself.
The line shuffled forward a few feet at the same time that his phone burbled a notice that someone had texted him.
Did you find the ring yet? the text from his sister Bee read. We can’t do anything until you have broken it.
How do you expect me to get this all-important ring when eight hours ago I didn’t know it existed? he texted back, tiredly rubbing his eyes. For what it’s worth, you were right and the old woman was on the flight to Munich. I’m watching her now.
Two minutes later Bee texted back an answer. For all that’s good in this world, steal the ring from her!
I’m not a thief, he answered somewhat angrily. I don’t relish stealing things from a nice old lady. If you wanted the ring so badly, why didn’t you get it yourself?
It had to be the exhaustion making him so snappish, he thought absently as he waited for Bee’s response. It came almost immediately.
She’s not a nice old lady—she stole that ring from Bael. She’s got to be some sort of badass who-knows-what to do that. And we’d get it if we could, but we’re working on locating the sword Bael has hidden somewhere in Russia. Besides, you owe the dragons. GET THE RING ASAP!
Rowan rolled his eyes and put his phone in his pocket before he was tempted to text back something rude. He noticed that Sophea and the old lady—who was going by some impossibly long name—were nearing the front of the customs line. It was just his luck that he had picked the slower line. At least the other two red dragon–demons were three people behind his target.
Ten minutes later, he was free of customs and hurrying through the crowds at the airport, his eyes scanning for the figures of the two women. They had a head start on him, but given how slowly the old lady was moving and the fact that they’d have to get their luggage, he had hope of catching up to them.
Rowan paused for a moment when faced with a sign pointing out the various transportation options. It wasn’t likely the elderly woman would take the train or bus into town. “Taxi,” he said, making a snap decision and praying that he was correct. He turned to the left and bolted for the section of the airport that served as a taxi stand.
Cries of people greeting arriving family members filled the air, along with the growl of traffic, the squeals of excited children, and voices babbling in at least a dozen different languages. The scent of diesel hit him as cars inched alongside the drop-off area. He jogged along the pavement, the rucksack slung across his back banging painfully against his kidneys, dodging people emerging from cars and taxis, avoiding mounds of suitcases and the chaotic streams flowing into and out of the airport in the usual manner of humanity until he found a line of taxis. Quickly he scanned the crowd, but didn’t see the bent old woman and Sophea. He stopped in frustration next to a stack of luggage almost as tall as he was, his hands on his hips as he panted, spinning first one way, then the next in a desperate attempt to spot his prey.
Dammit, Bee would have his guts for garters if he lost them. His backpack bumped into something, and he automatically mumbled an apology.
“Sorry, I don’t speak German… oh, hi again.”
He almost stumbled, so quickly did he turn around to see the woman who spoke. Hidden behind the mountain of luggage belonging to another traveler was Sophea, her charge at her side, sitting on the little camp stool.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Sophea said with a wide smile that reeked of innocence.
He narrowed his eyes, moving slightly to the side when a man who bore the livery of a chauffeur began to pull the bags next to him into a limousine, absently wondering what game Sophea was playing. Did she believe she could fool him into thinking she was not abducting the old woman? Perhaps she didn’t realize that he was on to her. If that was the case, then it would behoove him to feign ignorance. “Hello. Yes, it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it? Are you staying in Munich?”
“Who’s that?” the old woman asked, peering around Sophea. “Who do you have there, gel?”
“I don’t have anyone, Mrs. P,” Sophea protested.
“Think I don’t recognize it when a man ogles his woman? Did I tell you I was a hoochie-coo dancer for a president?”
“Yes, you did tell me,” Sophea said, with an apologetic glance toward him. “But he’s not mine. He’s the man from the plane. He’s the one who stopped—oh, you slept through it. Never mind.”
Rowan moved a couple of feet to the left and made a little bow to them both, handing Sophea one of his business cards. “My name is Rowan.”
“I’m Sophea Long. This is Mrs. Papadopolous, although everyone calls her Mrs. P.” Sophea tucked his card away without looking at it.
The older woman looked oddly pleased. “Your man has manners,” she said with a little nod of approval. “The bow was well performed, not the silly parody you see these days. And most men don’t carry calling cards these days—very right and proper. And he’s nice looking. Long legs. Torso is a bit short, but he has a broad chest. Good lung capacity. He’ll give you strong children.”
To his amusement, Sophea’s cheeks turned a dusky pink as she babbled something about not even knowing the man, let alone planning on having children with him.
“Are you staying in Munich?” he asked, wondering how far Sophea would take her innocent act. Judging by the ease and familiarity with which the old woman spoke, he assumed that she was clueless as to who Sophea really was. The question was, did that make his job of stealing the ring she’d taken from the demon lord easier or more difficult?
“Just for the night,” Sophea answered, not meeting his gaze. She gestured toward the taxis. “A car is supposed to meet us, but I don’t see it.”
“The driver should have met you at baggage,” he pointed out. “Did you not see anyone with your name on a sign?”
“No.” She bit her lower lip and looked worried. He had to remind himself that it was all an act to make him think she wasn’t after the same thing he was. “I’m not sure if there’s someone we should call or if I should just get us a taxi.”
“What hotel are you staying at?”
She glanced at a small notecard. “The Hotel Ocelot. Wait, that c
an’t be right. Ocelot? Is that even a German word?”
“It is my favorite hotel in Munich,” Mrs. P said with a little curl of her lips. “I used to go there with one of my most inventive lovers. You’ve heard of strudel, yes? Well, he used to take a generous piece—”
“Yes, well, I think we can do without that image right now,” Sophea said hastily before flashing him an apologetic smile. “I’m sure Mr. Dakar has important places to go and people to see.”
“As it happens,” he said with a show of genial concern, “I’m staying at the Hotel Ocelot as well. Why don’t you share my taxi?”
“Well… we wouldn’t want to impose—” Sophea started to say, but the old lady, with a little grunt, got to her feet and gave him a nod as she held out her hand for him.
“I’ll grow roots if I sit here any longer, gel. Rowan, did you say your name was? What do you do?”
“I’m a sociologist,” he said, somewhat taken aback as he held out his arm for the woman. She clutched it tightly, walking with a slow but dignified gait toward the waiting taxis. “I work with tribes in Brazil.”
“No, no, what do you do?” she asked again, putting emphasis on the last word.
He had no difficulty understanding what she meant, but he had absolutely no intention of telling her about his other job, or the reason he was standing there at that moment in time, helping her into a cab. He eased her inside, aware that she was watching him closely. He gave her a bland smile. “I help indigenous peoples come to terms with modern society while retaining their traditions and lifestyles. Is this all the luggage you have?”
“Yes, just those two. Mrs. P travels light,” Sophea said, grabbing one of the two wheeled suitcases and hauling it around to the back of the cab, where the driver was waiting.
“And your luggage?”
“Got everything I need right here,” she said, patting the messenger bag slung over her chest.
He set his rucksack into the trunk and waited until Sophea slid in next to the old woman before taking the jump seat. “I, too, believe in traveling light. Is this your first time in Munich?”