This is the final chapter, but there’s still an epilogue left! 💕
The store looked like it had been pulled directly from my imagination. A roaring fire kept the room toasty, and comfortable chairs were scattered around the walls. Half of the space was filled with rows of bookshelves laden with books, including many foreign volumes I’d never been able to get my hands on.
My fingers itched. I hadn’t brought any gold, since I hadn’t expected to be shopping today, so I made note of the books I wanted most. The list grew so large that it became easier to keep track of the books I already had.
Ansel watched me without comment.
It was fully dark by the time I ventured into the other half of the store. It was filled with weapons and armor of the highest caliber. I lifted a perfectly balanced short sword and smiled at the delicate craftsmanship. I would add this to my purchase, too.
Ansel’s broadsword hung behind the counter, along with his chainmail. I frowned, and he spoke for the first time in hours. “I gave up my knighthood.”
He waved an arm at the room. “I decided to start dragon hunting on my own. But I was beginning to think I’d have to take up banditry before you’d notice me.”
“You built this store for me.” It was both a statement and a question.
He smiled softly. “Yes, but it turns out that the concept is surprisingly popular. Knights come in for the weapons and armor, but they leave with books, too.”
He saw my grimace and grinned. “I have duplicates of every book on the shelves. Your future hoard is safe.”
My eyes widened. “Just how much gold did you steal?”
“A lot. I expected you to hunt me down for it. When you didn’t, I figured I would have to take drastic measures.”
“I didn’t leave my castle for a month,” I admitted.
He slowly closed the distance between us. “Why?”
“Because I would’ve found you and dragged you back. I locked myself in the library and reorganized the entire collection for the first time in a hundred years. Now I can’t find anything.” When his smile grew, I glared at him. “It’s not funny.”
He drew me close. “I’ll help you put it back. I’ve learned a bit about shelving books.”
I leaned against his chest. “You have to be sure,” I whispered. “Really, really sure. Because dragons are possessive, and I’m no exception. I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to let you go again.”
“Well, it turns out, former knights are possessive, too. And I’m sure. Really, really sure. Would you like to see your private library upstairs?”
I froze. “You built me a library?”
“I told you I wasn’t planning to play fair. The bedroom has two fireplaces—but only one bed. How do you feel about sharing?”
He was still smiling, but I could see the uncertainty in his eyes. I lifted onto my toes and brushed a kiss over his lips. “In this case—and this case only—I’d love to share.”
The next morning, Ansel padded into the library wearing a low-slung pair of trousers and nothing else. The room was delightfully warm, even with the bitter wind outside, and I rumbled in contentment.
The former knight leaned against the nearest shelf and crossed his arms, silently showing off his physique. When my growl deepened, he grinned at me. “You’re the one who left the bed, not me.”
“You can’t build me a library and then expect me not to spend time in it.”
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to my lips. “Spend as much time as you like. Do you want to move the books to your castle?”
The question was casual, but there was something in his tone that pulled my attention away from the book in my hand. I frowned at him. “Do you want me to?”
“I mapped every dragon attack for the last hundred years,” he said instead of answering. “This was the center. How close is your castle?”
I tilted my head in thought. “Maybe an hour by horse.”
He blinked. “So far?”
“Yes. Putting my castle dead center in my territory would make it a target. You’re not the first to use the attacks to try to find me. But I can make the same trip in ten minutes in my true form.”
“Why don’t the surrounding villagers know where you live?”
“Magic, mostly. Dragons can move unseen.” I met his eyes. “Why don’t you want me to move the books?”
He grimaced slightly and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not that,” he said. “I built all of this for you. The books are yours. But over the last few months, I’ve actually come to enjoy running the shop. I like talking to people and being part of the community. My sister and nephew are half an hour away.” He sighed. “I guess I’m worried that if you take the books, you won’t have any reason to return.”
I stood and gently turned his face back to mine. “I’ll have you, Ansel. You’ll always be more important than books. If you want to stay here, we can. I can add these books to my hoard without moving them.” It would be a little more difficult, but it wasn’t impossible. And the magic would strengthen the protections on the shop, too.
“What happens when I get old and gray and you tire of me?”
I kissed his jaw. “I will never tire of you. You’re my mate, the match to my soul. If you are willing, I can tie your life to mine, and you will age like a dragon. If not, I’ll cherish the time we have together—all of it.”
“If I grow old and die, what will happen to you?”
Now it was my turn to glance away. “I would mourn.” And then I would die. Losing a mate early wasn’t fatal, but after a lifetime together, I wouldn’t be able to continue alone. I wouldn’t want to.
I turned back to him. “The mating is permanent, which is why you need to be very sure. Once you agree, we will be bound for eternity, or close enough.”
A tender smile broke across his face. “Are you asking me to marry you? If so, the answer is yes.”
I shook my head. “It’s deeper than that. You need time to get to know me before you decide. If you feel the same way in a year, we will move forward.” Leaving him after a year would be excruciating, but I would find a way to do it.
Until then, I would guard him like the treasure he was.