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And now for today’s snippet. This section finishes off chapter 1.
Please remember, as always when I post snippets of unedited draft work, it’s all subject to change or deletion. Anything you read will very likely contain typos and grammar issues that will be addressed during the editing process. For that reason, please don’t post this in other places.
THE UNSEEN, Chapter 1 (continued)
After that, time sped up and felt inexorable. Thoughts like, this is the second to last time I’ll be eating toast at this kitchen counter or that’s the last episode of The Bachelor I’ll be watching for a while kept floating through her mind, and she felt close to tears more often than not.
Late in the afternoon the next day, she walked around the corner of the downstairs hallway to find Dragos leaning one shoulder against the doorway to his office. He was dressed simply, in a black T-shirt that stretched across his powerful broad chest, and faded jeans that had seen better days, one booted foot kicked over the other. His arms were folded, the massive muscles in forearms and biceps delineated under the deep bronze skin.
He looked grim, but when he spoke, his voice was gentle. “When are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
She stopped in her tracks, feeling flat-footed. So much for thinking that she had kept her inner upheaval private. She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, before she could say, “I promise I will when I’ve figured out the right words to say.”
His hard, sexy mouth tightened. He didn’t like that—but then, he never liked anything that refused to give him whatever he wanted the moment he demanded it. “Tell me now. I don’t care if you use the wrong words.”
She gave him a wry look. “Only someone who hasn’t heard the wrong words could say something like that.” At the baffled frustration in his expression, she said more softly, by way of apology, “I thought I was doing a better job of hiding things.”
His frustration melted into anger. “You’re not supposed to be hiding anything from me,” he growled. Moving away from the doorway, he advanced on her, clamping both hands on her shoulders.
“I wasn’t intentionally hiding things from you,” she said as she looked up into his narrowed gold gaze. Anger sparked. “I’m not deceitful with you, ever. Period.”
The tension in his hands eased. “I know.”
Okay then. That was a little better.
“I’m just working things out in my head,” she told him. “I get to do that, you know. I get to sort through my thoughts and feelings to figure out what I should say, what I want to say, and what is even true about what I’m feeling. And that means I need to understand what I’m feeling before I can talk about it.”
He scrutinized her features, then said grimly, “That sounds like a lot of bullshit and prevarication to me.”
“Does it?” She blinked, more taken aback than ever. “I don’t mean it that way. Dragos, in the time we’ve been together we’ve gone through a lot of change. A lot. This move is more change, and this one is a whopper. We’re not wrong for deciding to go to Rhyacia, and we shouldn’t back out of the decision, but I also get to feel my feelings over it.” She looked around and felt her face crumple. “I love this house. This is our home, the one we built together. It doesn’t mean I won’t love our new home that we’re also building together. But I don’t love the new one yet.”
Understanding eased his expression. He pulled her into his arms. She rested her cheek against his chest and slid her arms around his waist. He murmured into her hair, “Are we moving too fast? Do you want to take a couple more weeks before we cross over? Or even another month or two?”
Relishing the hard muscle underneath the cotton of his shirt, she shook her head. “No, but thank you for suggesting it. I think I’ll feel better when we’re over there and having our adventure, instead of being here and constantly saying goodbye to everything. At this point, I think it’s just time for us to go.” Then, because she wanted to be scrupulous, she added carefully, “That may not be quite everything I want to say, but it’s the essence of what I’m working on. Since a lot of this was my suggestion, I feel like I should be handling things better than I am. When I figure out anything else that I need to talk about, I’ll tell you. Okay?”
“Fair enough.” His arms tightened before he let her go and stood back. “Come here. I have something for you.”
“You do?” Wiping her face, she followed him into his office, looking around. While Dragos had never been anything less than welcoming and she certainly stepped inside whenever she felt like it, this room was definitely his domain. His personality was stamped all over the elegant, masculine furnishings.
A hand carved box sat on his desk. Even as her curious gaze fell on it, he scooped it up with one hand and presented it to her.
She gave him a sidelong smile then focused her attention on the box itself. Designed in an art nouveau style, the craftmanship was beautiful. Peacocks and butterflies adorned the top and sides, inlaid with amethyst, blue calcite, labradorite, citrine, and other stones she was unfamiliar with. She held it closer to absorb the details of the intricate, delicate carving. “This is remarkable.”
“It’s a commissioned piece.” A hint of satisfaction entered his deep voice. “Nobody else has anything like this. The designs were created specifically for you. Open it.”
She did and found smaller carved pieces inside, each one a delight, the wood polished to a deep golden glow. A familiar scent escaped the box as she had opened it. Comprehension began to dawn.
Exclaiming in delight, she set down the bigger box to pick out one of the smaller pieces inside. It was round and cylindrical, with lapis lazuli inlaid in a swirling pattern like ocean waves. It was shaped remarkably like…
A tube of lipstick?
She pulled off the cap and experimentally tried to twist the base, then watched in disbelief as a fresh, unused piece of her favorite lipstick rose out of the thin golden wood tube.
“You didn’t,” she said.
“Didn’t I?” Smiling, he watched her explore the contents.
Carefully closing the lipstick again and setting it aside, she opened a slender box with a carved orchid on the top, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Inside was a fresh palette of her favorite eye shadow, accompanied with a small, exquisite wooden application wand tipped with what looked like a small piece of natural sponge.
And then another box—this one with a seashell engraved on top, inlaid with abalone. Inside, she found her favorite blush, with a brush made of wood and sable. In an oval cylinder, inlaid with rose quartz, she found her favorite antiperspirant gel had been injected into the container. There wasn’t a piece of plastic in any of the toiletries in the box.
The thing about feeling your feelings: sometimes they were so huge and complex, you couldn’t figure out how to put words to them.
Lifting her gaze, she met his. Her voice wobbled slightly as she said, “You had someone create these incredible works of art for me, and you made them put makeup from Target in them?”
Beginning to look baffled again, he shrugged. “They’re your favorite, right?”
“Yes,” she whispered, stroking the gorgeous lipstick case.
“I had the artisan create copies of every piece,” he told her. “You can order more of anything, any time you’re ready for it, and he’ll ship a fresh box to you. When you’ve received it, you can send back the used one, and he’ll clean it up and refill it with new cosmetics.” One long finger hooked underneath her chin, and he tilted her face up. “Don’t you like it?”
She said with perfect sincerity, “I think this is the nicest thing you’ve ever done for me.”
He still looked faintly mystified as he stroked along her cheek with his thumb. “I’ve bought you plenty of jewelry that cost a hundred or a thousand times what this makeup box cost.”
Amusement curved her lips. Yes, he had, and it was a measure of his love for her that he was able to actually give the jewelry to her after he had acquired it. But as much as she loved that the dragon gave her jewels, those outrageously expensive pieces never meant as much to her as they did to him.
This, however, was purely about her. He had seen her struggling to let go of something that was pretty minor in the grand scheme of life, and he had taken steps to make sure she didn’t have to. He could have had the makeup inserted into disposable cardboard shapes, and that would have been astonishing and thoughtful enough, but, being Dragos, he had to turn the whole project into treasure.
“Thank you. I love it with all my heart,” she said. Hooking an arm around his neck, she drew his head down to hers.
“That’s all that matters, then,” he said against her lips. His voice had turned husky.
She had told him what she could of the things she struggled with, but there were some things she could never tell him. Never. Savoring his mouth and every sensual detail of his long, hard body pressed against her, she locked down those secrets tight in the deepest, most private part of her soul.
After all, they had already discussed it, two months ago after Pia and Rune’s mate Carling had been kidnapped. The kidnapping had been a ploy by a crazed and embittered Elf to trap and destroy Dragos Cuelebre, who was known throughout the Elder Races as the Great Beast. During that nightmare, Pia had been forced to give birth to Niall in a cave and had met Dragos’s brother, Lord Azrael, the god of Death.
Once, she had just been a New York girl who wore makeup from Target and got freaked out over having feelings for a dragon. She was an herbivore who had to be secretive by nature, while he was the ultimate predator. Falling in love and mating with him had felt earthshaking and immense all on its own.
But coping long term with the reality of mating with Dragos was like opening an infinity of nesting puzzle boxes. As soon as she opened one and thought she had a grasp on things, she found another box to open, another reality even more immense than the one before.
She remembered the conversation they’d had after the kidnapping as if it had happened yesterday. How many Primal Powers are there? she had asked. The Elder Races only have seven in their pantheon.
You got me, Dragos had said with a shrug. I don’t really have anything to do with them, except I used to have a… let’s call it a certain rapport with Azrael.
He hadn’t been lying, exactly; she was certain of that. But his gold gaze had slid away from hers when he had said it.
And Azrael had said to her, You, of all people, should know how closely related death and the dragon are.
She did, or at least she had thought she had. But there were consequences to that close relation that she had never before queried, until then.
When she’d talked to Dragos, she’d tried to make light of it. To make it safe, as she’d asked him, We’re not going to talk about the pressures of godhood or anything like that?
And he’d brushed the whole thing off. Pia, what does godhood mean? Tiago is a thunderbird. More than half my sentinels have been worshipped as gods in Egypt. Look at the Djinn and what they can do. Hell, look at yourself in the mirror—look at yourself when you’re in your Wyr form. Unless something or someone kills you, you are going to live indefinitely, and your blood heals any wound. That’s pretty damn miraculous in my book. There are many of the Elder Races who have been called gods at one point or other in history, and just as many who have been called demons.
His logic had been unassailable. He was right, but….
Dragos was her husband, her mate, her dedicated lover, and most fierce protector, and yet in many ways he was still a total mystery to her. Some days, she couldn’t help but run that conversation again through her mind. Some days, she felt just like a New York girl who had gotten lost on a lonely road in a country so foreign she didn’t even know its name.
And the only thing that brought her home again was this: his mouth, his hands, his scent. Her body knew every exciting detail of his and craved it. She craved him.
When he shut the door to his office and turned back to her, his movements were tight with the hunger that drove him. She was already moving, stripping off her shirt and wriggling out of her jeans.
As she kicked out of them, he wound one hard arm underneath her hips and lifted her onto the desk. They often took their time with foreplay and teasing, laughing together under the velvet cloak of an indulgent midnight, but this was not one of those times.
He yanked off her underwear, and she eagerly wound her legs around his waist while she pulled his T-shirt over his head to reveal the heavy musculature of his tremendous chest. When he eased the thick, broad head of his erection against her opening, she was wet and ready. Her head fell back, eyes closed, as he entered her.
They fit together like the oldest, truest magic: yin and yang; male and female; dark and light.
It was only during times like these when she felt relief from the doubts and insecurities that plagued her. When all her doubts were vaporized in the heat of passion, and the deepest, most private part of her soul said to him, I don’t care who or what you are. You’re mine.
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