Garden of Dragons(2)

By: Meara Platt


Saron regarded him thoughtfully. “I’ve often asked myself the same question. Perhaps when I meet the lady I shall learn the answer.”

*

Lady Anabelle Harleigh gazed across the snow-dappled front lawn to the distant wrought iron entry gate swaying in the wind. The gate should have been locked, as she had ordered at the time of her father’s death six months ago. Curse her bad luck! Today of all days it had been overlooked. Now, it was too late to remedy, and the duke’s imposing gray coach had entered the grounds unimpeded, drawn by four huge black beasts snorting cold air out of their flared nostrils.

She held her breath as the duke’s coach clattered to a halt on the cobblestone courtyard in front of the manor house. Emblazoned across the door of the coach was the Draloch crest – a demonic black dragon with horribly long, curled talons and smoldering eyes that were a forbidding mix of blue and gray—evil eyes filled with hate.

Suddenly overcome by a terrible dread, Anabelle considered running away, but she forced herself to stand her ground as the coach door groaned open and a figure emerged. Uttering a silent prayer, she remained frozen in place as her archenemy disembarked.

Exquisitely garbed in daunting black, he strode toward her as though without a care in the world. Although they had never set eyes upon each other until this moment, they knew each other well from their months of legal battling. She had been curious to meet her enemy, and by his presence here, he had obviously felt the same. Or was it more than mere curiosity that brought him here? His presence did not bode well for her.

The duke paused at the foot of the steps and raised his eyes to study her.

“Lord protect me,” she whispered in panic. His eyes were the dragon’s fearsome blend of azure blue and gray. Though he did not regard her with quite the dragon’s venomous gaze, nonetheless, she felt the iciness of his penetrating stare. Too late, she realized she ought to have run while she had the chance, for the duke, apparently sensing her uncertainty and deciding that she posed no danger to him, ominously advanced.

“Take one step closer, Your Grace, and I shall shoot you dead.”

Slowly raising her hunting rifle, she took aim at the duke’s broad chest. Sporting neither cloak nor hat, he apparently regarded himself impervious to the winter’s cold. She, too, was underdressed for the weather, having been warned of his arrival too late to tend to matters of comfort. She prayed he would mistake her shivering for cold and fail to recognize the fear gnawing at her insides.

Her arms began to shake from the weight of the infernal rifle and she wondered how much heavier it would be if it were actually loaded.

A feral grin spread across the duke’s lips as he swiftly unbuttoned his black coat and elegant brocade vest, spreading the garments open to reveal a fine, white lawn shirt and the solid strength beneath it. “Take careful aim, m’lady,” he mocked, “for if you miss, you will have sealed your doom.”

Another chill ran up her spine, but she shrugged it off. ’Twas nothing more than the cold March wind at her back. “Be gone, Devil! You shall not gain entrance to Harleigh Hall as long as I live.”

“I would not count on that if I were you.” His commanding voice betrayed a trace of reserved humor. When she did not immediately respond to his remark, he ran a hand through the waves of his black hair and glanced questioningly at Lord Chalmers, who was staring at her, mouth agape, from the duke’s carriage.

After a moment, the duke returned his gaze to her, sporting a waggish smirk that made him seem more pirate than respected duke of the realm. “The game grows wearisome, little one. Send me off to my just reward or step aside.” His eyes gleamed brighter as he goaded her into dispatching him to his Maker.

“What manner of man are you?” Anabelle could not fathom his apparent indifference to his own well-being. She had heard gossip to the effect that the duke cared not a whit for anything or anyone. Yet, she never imagined that his indifference might apply even to himself. That had been a serious miscalculation on her part. Where another man might have turned and run, Saron Blakefield, the Dragon of Draloch, as he was known, would not.

She cocked the rifle.

“What are you waiting for, little one?” His voice was strangely tender, almost as though he felt he had experienced enough of life and embraced the prospect of impending death. Was he absolving her of the sin of his own murder? Goodness! Did he really believe her a murderess?

She secured her hold on the rifle stock, her finger slowly curling about the trigger, but to her dismay, he did not appear in the least frightened. Indeed, he stood steadfast and confident. In truth, dishearteningly magnificent, not at all twisted and bent like the fiend she had imagined him.

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