Home > Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3)(7)

Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3)(7)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Normally, I would object to being called a defenseless creature, but this seemed like a good time to shut up and back out of the way. It occurred to me that I was holding Chopper and Shaygor’s back was to me, only a few feet away, but attacking a dragon was what had landed me in hot water to start with.

You think to question my honor? Shaygor answered telepathically, again broadcasting so I could hear the words, but he laughed out loud. I expected you to claim protection for her since she’s your mate. Under Tlavar’vareous.

Under what?

She is not my mate. She is nothing.

Thanks, Zav.

Your aura is all over her. At the least, she is your accomplice, but she has some interesting memories of you two rutting in some cement structure. Are you sure she is not your new tail holder?

“Uh.” I lifted a finger, trying not to sound as embarrassed as I felt. Why was he bringing that up? “It was only kissing. Humans take their clothes off to rut.”

Zav didn’t look at me. Neither did Shaygor. I wondered if either of them would notice if I hopped in the Jeep and drove off.

If that is what she showed you, she merely demonstrated the treachery of your son, who thought to use her against me as a distraction. Zav stalked forward, his wings spread, his powerful muscles flexing under the scales of his chest and forelegs. Dobsaurin came here to distract me from the sessions at the court and to kill me if at all possible. Do you deny that?

Of course I deny that. My son was not the aggressor nor was he the one at fault. He was sent here to observe you and see if you were completing your task.

He had no authority to spy on me. Your son came to kill me. Zav’s eyes flared even brighter. Maybe you are the one who sent him. Maybe the Dragon Justice Court should question you.

I am an elder and not responsible for the death of another dragon. They will not question me. They trust me. Even your mother trusts me. Shaygor lifted his elven head in haughty defiance and showed no fear that Zav was now scant feet away from him. You couldn’t even capture the dark elves and other criminals you were sent to find. You are vermin dung right now in the eyes of the court. You should be on your belly, confessing to the murder of my son, and groveling and begging for my lenience.

If you believe I murdered your son, then why are you standing in front of me, here in this world with no witnesses, and irritating me? Zav opened his maw, his long fangs gleaming in the sunlight.

Even though he wasn’t looking at me, instinctual terror rushed into me, and I had to fight the urge to scurry away. These dragons were the consummate predators and powers in the Realms, and my body knew that even if my sarcastic mouth forgot at times. The air around them crackled with a sun’s power, and my heart raced and my mouth went dry. Either one of them might fling magic and kill me by accident.

You would not dare attack an elder.

Who would know?

Shaygor glanced at me, his haughty demeanor fading for a moment, but he snarled and reaffixed his mask, glaring again at Zav. Attack if you wish. I am not afraid of you. I will defend myself, and if I must do so, I will be within my rights to use deadly force on you.

Dobsaurin tried to use deadly force on me, and I am still here. Are you stronger than your son was, elder?

They stared at each other, seconds passing with neither moving, neither blinking. I didn’t know if they’d switched to communicating without projecting their words to me, or if they were simply past words, but power fluctuated all around me, as if they were magically testing each other’s shields.

Sweat dampened my palm where I gripped Chopper’s hilt. If Zav attacked, I would help him, but what if that only made things worse? Much, much worse.

Zav took a step back, and I feared he’d lost the battle of wills, but then Shaygor transformed into his dragon form, almost knocking my Jeep over as his massive silver bulk filled the road.

I lifted Chopper, half expecting him to whirl and attack me. But he didn’t look at me. He sprang into the air, his wings beating so hard that the current whipped my braid about, and he flew off to the south. In the direction of Harrison. Wonderful.

Shaygor sent one more telepathic message for both of us: Know this, Zavryd’nokquetal. A formal investigation has begun. If you maliciously killed my son, I will find out about it, one way or another. And your disgrace will be all that’s needed to get your mother to step down from power. Other dragons will not stand with your family any longer.

I wasn’t angry with Zav, but he was the only one left in front of me, so he got my exasperated look, along with, “Are there any dragons in the galaxy who aren’t assholes?”

Too late to retract the words, I reminded myself that he was just as powerful and dangerous as Shaygor, and that I shouldn’t assume we were friends and that he would tolerate my irreverence. Especially if he was having a bad day. Or a bad month.

Zav shifted into his familiar human form, his robe once again clean and free of holes, his short, curly black hair fastidious, his beard and mustache perfectly trimmed. But his violet eyes somehow conveyed tiredness. They hadn’t when he’d been in dragon form glowering at Shaygor, but maybe this form revealed more. Or maybe he’d been hiding it. He didn’t have bags under his eyes—surely, he wouldn’t let such a feature tarnish his handsome face—but I had a feeling he’d had a rough few weeks, and I felt bad for my outburst.

“Sorry,” I said. “You’re not an asshole.”

“No?” He smiled faintly.

That smile, that hint of humanity, made my insides get mushy. Not that I would acknowledge it.

“You’re irritatingly haughty and pompous, but I’m starting to like you a little,” was all I said.

“Oh? How do you treat people you don’t like?” Zav waved to the longsword I still held up.

I’d been pointing it at Shaygor, but with him gone, it pointed vaguely in Zav’s direction.

“I chop off their toes and curse their ancestors.” I sheathed Chopper and stepped toward him, lifting an arm, thinking of offering him a hug, but I paused mid-motion as uncertainty encroached.

Weeks earlier, when I’d reached up to brush a leaf off his shoulder, he’d stopped me, as if believing I’d been about to grab his throat. And he eyed my arm warily now.

It surprised me that he would consider me a threat, though it was possible he thought I meant to make a pass at him and objected to that. We’d shared a moment, after the battle at the water-treatment plant, where he’d touched his forehead to mine, and it’d almost seemed like he might kiss me, but he hadn’t. Then he’d left without another word. I still had no idea what to make of it.

Not that I wanted him to kiss me. My life was easier when dragons weren’t in it.

“Thank you for showing up to keep him out of my head.” I wriggled my fingers on my outspread hand, then lowered my arm. “I was going to hug you, but I remembered how prickly and standoffish you are.”

Zav arched his eyebrows. “You are no different. Every time I’ve healed you, you’ve bristled and been offended.”

“That’s because you don’t ask first.” Admittedly, I hadn’t intended to ask to hug him either. “Generally, when a guy sticks his hands in a girl’s jacket, it’s to grope her boob. That’s why women get bristly at that kind of presumptuousness.”

“I have no interest in your boobs.”

“Thanks for clearing that up. Because you rubbed your forehead against mine at the water-treatment plant. That’s had me confused.” This time, I arched my eyebrows.

This wasn’t the conversation I’d intended to have with him—I’d genuinely wanted to show gratitude for his help—but nothing was ever easy with a dragon.

Zav hesitated before responding. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him hesitate.

“I was pleased that you survived and chopped off Dobsaurin’s toe to vex him. Forehead-to-forehead contact is how elves demonstrate the bond they feel for those they survive battles and grueling travails with. It has nothing to do with mating desires. Is this gesture not also done among humans?”

I squinted at him. I couldn’t tell if he truly believed it was or if he was covering for something I had taken as more intimate. Probably the former. This was the guy who’d been confused about what a dick was.

“No, you’re thinking of hand-to-hand contact. Also known as a high five.” I lifted my palm, then nodded for him to do the same. Because he looked puzzled, I explained further. “It’s a high five because there are five digits and they’re up in the air.”

He squinted suspiciously at me—it was silly, but it made me glum that he didn’t trust me after the battles we’d been through—but he slowly mirrored the gesture. I leaned in to swat my palm to his. He didn’t react. Still, it amused me that the fierce dragon who’d been radiating power like a supernova minutes before allowed it.

“That kind of contact is safest for us,” I said.

The brief touch hadn’t given me much time to think about the way Zav’s power made my body tingle in a different way from the power of the other dragons. A more appealing way. It also didn’t give me time to have flashbacks to our previous kiss or my lurid dreams.

“And it conveys approval and a battle bond?” Zav sounded dubious.

“Yes. Athletes on sports teams give each other high fives all the time. We can be like jocks working together to defeat common enemies.”

Though I was concerned that our common enemy might now be this Dragon Justice Court, or at least all the dragons on it that didn’t like his family. How many was that exactly? Maybe I was better off not knowing.

“The high five is engaged in at the completion of defeating of enemies?” he asked.

“Yeah. You should have given me a high five after we defeated Dob. Instead, you gave me a lecture. That’s not cool.”

He winced, and I regretted mentioning Dob. Idiot, Val. The last thing I wanted was to remind him that I’d screwed up his life.

I lifted an apologetic hand. “I don’t regret that I killed that bastard, especially since he wanted to use me to kill you, but I’m sorry it’s made so much trouble for you.”

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