I awoke in human form with Ansel curled around me, his cloak over us both. The sun was still warm on my face, so we hadn’t slept for more than an hour or two. I lingered, enjoying the warmth.
“You snore as a dragon and a human,” the knight murmured, a smile in his voice.
“I should’ve eaten you when I had the chance,” I grumbled without opening my eyes.
He chuckled, completely fearless. “Then who would pull the rest of the weeds, hmm? You’d better keep me around.”
I sighed at the reminder. “You can’t stay, Ansel.”
He tensed beside me. “Why not?”
“It’s not safe.”
“You’re a dragon, and I’m a knight. Surely we can—”
“It’s not safe for you. My magic will enchant you whether I will it or not. It’s already started. Would you have lain in the sun with a dragon a week ago?”
“I didn’t know you a week ago,” he argued, but I heard the tiny hesitation, the doubt.
Pain stole my breath. I didn’t want to give him up, but I would. My fists clenched. I would. But first, I would show him the library.
I rose, then pulled him to his feet. “Come on.”
He looked alarmed. “Are you kicking me out right this second?” I shook my head, and he sighed in relief. “Good.”
I led him into the castle, and opened the magical locks on the library door. Then I pulled the key from thin air and turned the physical lock. The wide double doors swung open with a whisper of magic, revealing a vast room.
Ansel sucked in a surprised breath. The former gathering hall was enormous, and it was filled with bookshelves crammed full of books. Most shelves were stacked two or three rows deep, and the balcony ringing the room held crates full of books that had nowhere else to live.
The knight looked at me with wide eyes. “Have you read all of these?”
“Yes, many times. Books help pass the time.” He turned back to the room with a frown, no doubt mentally calculating how long that would take. I grimaced. “I told you I was ancient.”
He smiled and shook his head. “I can’t believe you use the king’s gold to buy books. He’s furious about the thefts.”
“Good. I’ve gotten along with every previous monarch who has sat on the throne. But King Ordella discontinued the tribute payments, paltry though they were, and ordered his knights to hunt me. The gold is a reminder that I could do so much worse.”
Ansel tilted his head. “Why don’t you?”
“It’s not my fight. Humans must decide their own fate. If the people rise up, I will aid them, as I always have. Until then, I do what I can.”
The knight nodded thoughtfully, then delved deeper into the room. He ran his fingers along the book spines on the nearest shelf, and I shivered. Magic tightly bound me to my hoard. I would survive a total loss, but my power would be greatly diminished and my sorrow would be immense.
A hoard could be anything a dragon loved. Many coveted gold, jewels, and other shiny things. My distant cousin in the far north collected interesting rocks. Some—those who had lost their way—attempted to collect people.
Dragons rarely worked together, but eliminating the fallen among us was one instance where aid would be offered without reservation.
Ansel pulled a book from the shelf, and my magic pinged a warning.
He held the thin volume aloft. “So if I take this, you’ll know?”
“Yes, and assuming you actually made it out of the castle alive, I could track it anywhere in the world.”
He put the book back and looked around. “Do you have a favorite?”
“I have many favorites,” I agreed with a laugh. “What are you looking for?”
We spent the rest of the afternoon in the library, and by the time we were done, the knight had a huge stack of books to read. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he wouldn’t have enough time to read even one of them.
I helped him carry the books to his room, though it made my skin itch to have them outside the library.
He stopped me when I turned to leave. “Are you okay?” I nodded, and he drew me closer. “Are you sure?”
I wasn’t, but I smiled anyway. “Yes. How are you?”
His expression turned guarded. “Still healing.”
I didn’t need to be a dragon to hear the lie, but I didn’t call him on it. “In that case, I’ll cook dinner.”
“You can cook?” he asked in surprise.
My eyebrows lifted. “You think I eat peasants raw?”
He blinked, then a gorgeous smile broke across his face. His gaze settled on my lips, and he lifted a hand to my jaw, his touch featherlight.
I closed my eyes and leaned into the warmth of his fingers. How long had it been since I’d been this close to someone? Dragons are solitary creatures. Few ever find a mate because few ever look. But right now, my instincts were urging me to sink my claws into Ansel and keep him forever. I didn’t want him as part of my hoard, I wanted him—whole and happy and mine.
He had to leave, tonight.
My lips tingled when he brushed a soft, chaste kiss across them. When I rose on my tiptoes to deepen the pressure, he groaned and complied. His mouth slanted over mine, intense and demanding.
I opened with a moan, and he licked my lip before tasting me. I clutched him as the world faded into the background, drowned by pleasure.
His mouth was hot and lush, and I wanted nothing more than to kiss him forever. I broke away with a gasp, breathing heavily. He leaned in again, but I turned my head and his lips pressed into my cheek.
Even that was nearly enough to break my will.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked, pulling myself together with iron discipline.
His eyes widened. “Feora, no,” he pleaded. “This isn’t because of your magic. It’s you. I want to stay. You must believe me.”
I pressed my finger to his lips before he could shatter me completely. “The magic will fade in a week or two, and you’ll look back at this time and wonder what you were thinking.”
He pulled my fingers away from his mouth, but didn’t let go of my hand. “I won’t,” he disagreed.
His eyes narrowed. “I won’t leave.”
I lifted our entwined fingers, brushed a kiss across his knuckles, and repeated, “You will.”
“At least give me time to pack my things and tend to Percy.”
Every second was like a tiny dagger in my heart, but I nodded my agreement. “I will await you in the courtyard. Don’t tarry.”
I fled the room before I could change my mind, but not even my library could soothe the turmoil in my heart. I’d had liaisons with humans before, and none had affected me so. I would think the knight had enchanted me if I wasn’t immune to magic.
I took a deep breath and tucked my emotions away. There would be time to mourn later. Now I had a knight to free.