Read Legend Of The Highland Dragon Online

Authors: Isabel Cooper

Tags: #Highland Warriors, #Highlanders, #Historical Romance, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Scotland, #Scotland Highland, #Scottish Highland, #Warrior, #Shifters, #Dragon Shifter, #Magic

Legend Of The Highland Dragon (7 page)

BOOK: Legend Of The Highland Dragon
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He was still tense, but far less so than he had been after MacAlasdair’s previous visit or during the week just before it. Watching him, Mina wondered suddenly if the difference might have had to do with secrecy, or even with worry over
her
welfare. Perhaps they’d each been trying to protect the other all along.

Eight

Although Mina hated to admit as much even to herself, and although the proverbial wild horses couldn’t have dragged the confession out of her anywhere near MacAlasdair, the first few days of her captivity were actually a jolly good time. She slept until nine, as she’d not done since she was sixteen and laid up with influenza; she managed to finish all of the mending that she’d been putting off, and even added a new collar to her second-best blouse; and she finished reading
King
Solomon’s Mines
, which she’d been working on since the new year.

She became almost used to breakfast with MacAlasdair. It was generally a silent affair, but as Mina had suspected, a less uncomfortable one than the similarly quiet meal she’d had below stairs. She didn’t get the same sense of suppressed conversation or of scrutiny, only of a man who wasn’t often up to speech before noon. Mostly, the two of them read the paper.

The first time Mina picked up a section, MacAlasdair hadn’t been able to completely suppress his surprised look, and Mina had bristled inwardly. “I’m very fond of the
Times
,” she had said in her most polished, clipped voice. “I’m glad to see you get it.”

“Always happy to oblige a lady,” he’d said, recovering quickly.

To his credit, MacAlasdair didn’t put even the slightest irony on
lady
, nor did he ask whether she’d started reading the
Times
after she’d come to work for Professor Carter. Mina was slightly disappointed about the latter. She’d prepared an indignant response, and MacAlasdair never had to know that she
had
started reading that particular paper about the same time as she’d begun looking for secretarial posts, with an eye toward impressing her employers.

After all, she’d quickly started being interested for other reasons—and perhaps the other reasons had been there all along, just looking for an excuse.

Mina took her other meals with Mrs. Hastings, volunteering to take the cook a tray while her knee mended. It was a good excuse to get out of dinner and supper without making much more work for the servants, and MacAlasdair hadn’t invited her to join him for those meals. He ate them out at his club, more often than not, and ate supper very late indeed. So, while the rest of the servants sought their own amusements for the hours between sunset and starlight, Mina sat upstairs, talked with the cook, and tried not to think about the creature penned in some room downstairs.

She wasn’t entirely sure what MacAlasdair did when he wasn’t eating breakfast or being a dragon. Neither was Mrs. Hennings when Mina very casually brought the conversation around to that subject. He went out a lot these days. He hadn’t back when he’d first arrived. He didn’t really tell anyone where or why.

Mina hoped that at least some of his trips had to do with hunting down Ward. She wasn’t completely comfortable sharing a house with a sometimes-dragon. She was even less easy knowing that somewhere in the city was a man who hated both her host and Professor Carter, and who could summon shadow demons and conjure mists. If she’d been the kind of woman who lost sleep over anything, she would have spent a few restless nights on that account.

As it was, she took shameless advantage of both free time and food, and managed to enjoy herself tolerably well—for the first three days or so. (It helped that the first two were rainy.) Then came an evening when she’d finished both her book and her mending, when Mrs. Hennings was down in the kitchen again and not inclined toward conversation, and when Mina was certain she couldn’t have slept any longer if she’d polished off a bottle of laudanum. Professor Carter was all right, MacAlasdair had told her that morning, but he had nothing for her yet.

She couldn’t go out.

She didn’t need to. MacAlasdair’s house was large enough for any amount of exploring.

Mina began with the servants’ hall, although that didn’t take very long. The bare walls and wooden floors weren’t particularly interesting, and she was hardly going to enter anyone’s bedroom. Even if she’d been willing to pry, which she wasn’t, it would only have been another room like hers, except perhaps smaller. There was no attic room at the top of this house, no imprisoned wife like the ones from Florrie’s imagination.

The thought made Mina smile. Then, descending the stairs, she wondered if MacAlasdair might not have a wife after all. Not a mad one, of course, but it was common enough for even normal men to take a house in the city and leave their wives and children in the country, if they were rich enough. MacAlasdair was.

Perhaps his kind kept their women locked up, as a rule.

That line of thought brought up several other questions: just what kind of women
were
these hypothetical wives, anyhow? It didn’t seem likely that dragon-men just grew on trees, though Mina supposed it was possible. Who did they marry, then? Mortal women? Did that…work?

Mina was glad nobody was around, since she could feel her cheeks burning. The memory of MacAlasdair with his shirt off came to her unbidden, and a small unwelcome voice in the back of her head said:
He
certainly
looked
like
a
man
then.

“Well, it’s nothing to do with me,” she said aloud, and hurried into the next hallway.

Mostly, this one held more bedrooms, all of which had clearly been vacant for a while. The doors were unlocked, the blinds drawn, and the furniture covered with white cloths. In the dim light, the draped sofas and chairs made Mina think of ghosts. In truth, the whole place had a spooky feel to it, of places meant for people and action and life that now held only stillness.

Maybe all big houses felt like that when the family wasn’t about. She’d have to ask Alice after all of this was over.

Hunting scenes and landscapes hung on the walls. Mina saw one of a castle somewhere green, at sunset. Shadows flew across the background. To a casual observer, they might have been birds.

The picture looked like something out of a book of fairy tales, like it should have had a knight in armor at the bottom of the castle and a princess leaning out a window at the top. Or maybe those were sensitive subjects to dragons. Mina giggled, then heard herself and stopped. In the empty room, she felt conspicuous, as if she’d laughed in church.

The ground floor should have been more familiar after four days, but Mina paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked around with the same uncertainty that she’d felt upstairs. She knew the drawing room where she and MacAlasdair ate breakfast; she knew the kitchen; she was passingly familiar with the rooms between them; and otherwise she’d kept to her room or Mrs. Hennings’s like…

Well, there was that image of a mad wife again.

She turned right and started off boldly, though she made sure that she was heading away from the room where MacAlasdair kept himself. Curiosity was one thing, foolhardiness quite another.

She opened a door and found a library, shelves covering three of the four walls. The books on them ranged from red-leather-bound volumes that looked almost new to haphazard bundles of peeling binding and crumbling papers. She lingered there for a while, testing the inviting armchairs in front of the fireplace and flipping through a few of the hardier- looking books.

When she opened the next door, she found the room where she’d broken the window.

Mina paused in the doorway for a few seconds that felt much longer, then stepped inside and pulled the drapes apart. The window was whole again—that could have been magic, but was more likely an expensive and hasty bit of work on the part of a glazier—and the lights of the London evening came shining in through it.

By those lights, dim as they were, she could see a long sword hanging over the fireplace. It was in a scabbard with lots of brass, and the twisted handle looked like silver. Although Mina didn’t know much about swords, this one wasn’t shaped like any kind of officer’s saber she’d seen, even from a distance. She thought it was older than most Army swords, maybe even older than the Army as she knew it.

Below the sword, little ornaments marched across the top of the mantel: a giraffe, carved out of what was probably ivory; a portrait of a gray-haired woman; and a small bronze box set with red and blue gems—most likely real rubies and sapphires, Mina thought, though small ones. On top of the box was a bronze bird, its mouth opened to sing.

Very carefully, Mina picked the box up. As she’d thought, there was a key on the bottom. When she wound it, a slow, graceful melody began to play, one that sounded as old as the sword looked. She’d certainly never heard the tune before.

Then she heard something else: footsteps in the hall outside.

***

After the transformation had passed, Stephen’s human form felt new and foreign. Before Bavaria, it had never done so—one shape had been as natural as the other. Now every night was an adjustment, and when he didn’t have the pressure of manes and strange women in his house, relearning his human body went, or seemed to go, much more slowly.

At home, he’d walked in the woods, secure that he could handle any threat there. The London streets weren’t nearly as safe, and Stephen didn’t wish to accidentally break a pickpocket’s arm, so he wandered through the halls of his house—trying, he’d thought sometimes, to make
it
feel his as he made his body do the same.

Music was one more new element in a world full of them. Pleasant as it was, the tune brought his head up and his senses to full alert. Someone was nearby. Stephen hurried down the hall toward the sound, opened the drawing room door—

—and saw Miss Seymour.

She stood in front of the windows, the city lights casting a pattern of light and shadow over her coiled hair, with her hands cupped around something that gleamed bronze.

As Stephen entered, she lifted her head and turned, full lips parting in surprise before she spoke. “Good evening, Lord MacAlasdair.”

Over the past few days, he’d come to know that careful, polite tone as the sound of drawn steel: not striking out, but very prepared for an opponent’s blow and letting him know it. Even if that opponent hadn’t thought of himself as an opponent. Even if he was in his own house.

“Miss Seymour,” said Stephen, “I wasn’t expecting to find you here.”

“Oh? It looked like a public room,” she said. Very carefully and very visibly, she put the music box back on the mantel. “I thought I’d look around a bit. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” he said, as he more or less had to at that point. “Any room I care much about is locked.”

“And you won’t give me a ring of keys to test me?” Miss Seymour smiled thinly. “Probably just as well.”

“Yes,” said Stephen. “I wouldn’t be sure of you passing.”

“I’ll have you know I respect privacy quite well, once I know something
is
private.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Stephen leaned against the mantel. He could turn the lamps on, of course, sit down in one of the chairs, and wait for the staff to come back, but somehow he was disinclined toward any of those actions. In the dim light, with him and Miss Seymour both standing, talking to her felt more natural, as if they were in some scheme together—which, in a way, he supposed they were.

It had been a long time since he’d had a partner in anything he did. His siblings and his cousins had their own interests; few other people knew exactly what he was, and those were either servants or had different loyalties as well. Miss Seymour wasn’t a real
partner
, of course, he reminded himself, but he’d take what moments he could.

“Any news?” she asked.

“A little. The Americans had a gentleman resembling Ward in custody a few years ago. In Boston, it was. There was a young man bringing accusations. Breaking and entering, he said, but it never came to anything, and they released the man. It might not have been Ward. Though it did take place in…esoteric circles. Spiritualism and that. Rather a troublesome sect, too, from what little I could find.”

“What happened to him then?”

“We’ll be trying to find that out. Among other things. If he’s in London now and still interested in magic, I’ve a few places I can go with that.”

Miss Seymour nodded slowly. At her side, her long, graceful fingers played with the plain material of her dress. “This might take a while, then,” she said.

“That it might,” said Stephen. Was the girl that impatient to be gone? Not that he wanted her as a visitor, but God knew he’d treated her well enough. “I told you as much.”

“You did,” she said almost absently, and then went on in a much firmer voice. “When do you go see Professor Carter?”

“Tomorrow, most likely.” The professor had probably been right about his danger, or lack thereof, now that he had the bracelet. All the same, Stephen wanted to keep checking since Carter wouldn’t be able to sense something like the mist.

“All right,” said Miss Seymour. “I’ll go with you.”

“You’ll be doing no such thing,” Stephen said immediately.

“And why not? I’ll be with you. Then I’ll be with the professor
and
you. Then I’ll be with you again.” Miss Seymour snapped her hands outward, illustrating a void between them. “There’s no time when I can say anything to anyone, is there? Besides, I’ll have to give him letters to send to my family, won’t I? Unless you want me receiving my mail here.”

“You want to send
letters
,” said Stephen. He remembered and cursed the existence of the penny post.

“Of course I do. I can’t go home on Sundays now, can I? And I’m not likely to let my family think I’ve died or—been kidnapped.” Miss Seymour gave an ironic little chuckle. “Truth aside.”

“I didn’t kidnap you.” Stephen almost growled the words, though he hadn’t intended to. He could feel his control slipping: not of his shape, not precisely, but of
this
shape’s reactions and of the situation as a whole. “If you hadn’t noticed, we’re in a bit of danger—”

“And writing to my family, or seeing the professor, isn’t going to make Ward any more of a threat to you than he already is. People already know I’m here. What are you worried will happen?”

BOOK: Legend Of The Highland Dragon
8.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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