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Her Elemental Dragons: Shake the Earth: Chapter 21

KIRA

In the morning Slade showed me around the small village, pointing out the houses of friends and relatives, or showing me things he had helped repair. A lot of it reminded me of Stoneham, although Clayridge was better defended—not that it would have helped against the Dragons anyway.

The tour ended at a stone house near his mother’s, with smoke coming out of the chimney. “This used to be my house and my shop,” Slade said. “But now my cousin Noren lives here.”

“You said he took over as the town’s blacksmith?” I asked.

“Yes. Before that he was my apprentice. I would have liked to train him for a few more years, but the Gods had other plans.”

He led me around the back of the house, where the shop was located. There was a gray horse tied to a post nearby, and a wave of heat struck me as we approached the open door. Inside, Noren stood over an anvil, where he was working on a horseshoe. A large stone forge took up one wall, and against the other was a table with a variety of metal tongs and hammers with a sketch of some armor. Over it was a shelf with some helmets and gauntlets, while a variety of weapons and shields hung from the walls.

Noren looked up and brushed sweat off his forehead. “Morning.”

“I came to see how you’re holding up,” Slade said.

“Meaning you want to see if I’m keeping up the family legacy.” Noren grinned. “It wasn’t easy at first, but I managed without you. I’ve taken on my own apprentice now too.”

Slade clasped him on the shoulder. “Good man.”

They chatted a bit longer about blacksmith things I didn’t understand, before we stepped outside again. I gave the horse a quick rub, and then Slade and I kept walking, taking a leisurely stroll down the hill to the river and the surrounding forest.

“Do you feel better now that you know the shop is in good hands?” I asked.

“A little,” Slade said. “Although Noren seems so young to me. Too young to be running the shop. Then again, I was his age when I took over for my father too.”

I guessed Noren was about my age, and it hit me how much older and more experienced Slade was. He’d talked about how he’d been settled in his life, and for the first time I truly understood what he’d meant. He’d spent years building his profession and helping his town, and then he’d been forced to give all of that up. For me.

“How old are you?” I asked Slade, realizing I didn’t know the exact number.

“Thirty-two.”

I missed a step in my surprise. Twelve years older than me. “Truly?”

He reached out to steady me with a hand on my elbow. “Too old for you?”

“No, not at all.” I continued walking. “But it’s no wonder you think the rest of us young and foolish.”

“Young, yes,” he said with a trace of amusement. “Foolish…sometimes.”

“I can see now why you had a hard time giving up this life.”

“It was difficult, but I don’t regret it. After Faya left, this town was never the same for me. It wasn’t until finding you that I began to feel whole again—like I’d discovered my true place in the world. This village will always be my home, but it’s no longer where I belong.”

“And where is that?” I asked, as I stopped beside the river.

“By your side.” He cupped my cheek in his hand. “Wherever you go, I’ll be there with you.”

“My loyal protector,” I murmured, as I leaned into his touch.

His head lowered and his mouth pressed against mine. He gripped my hip, digging his fingers into the fabric of my dress while he kissed me long and hard until I was practically moaning for more. I slid my hands down his chest and under his shirt, running my fingers across his bare stomach.

A sharp sound in the forest broke us apart, and I was reminded of when Cadock’s bandits had interrupted us before. But as I peered through the trees it wasn’t bandits I saw, but two young women raising swords at each other. Leni and Brin lunged and parried, laughing as they danced away from each other and then drew close again. There was something about the way they moved and looked at each other that made it clear this was more than just sword fighting practice.

“You’re better than I expected,” Brin said, her voice carrying through the leaves. “Where did you learn to fight?”

“Slade and Noren taught me,” Leni said, as their swords clashed again. “I joined the town guard three years ago, and became its leader when Slade left to find Kira. What about you?”

“My parents had me trained in combat from the time I could hold a sword. They were terribly worried their precious only child would be kidnapped and held for ransom or some such. It’s never happened, of course, but I can hardly complain.”

“Impressive. I’ll admit, you might be able to teach me a thing or two.”

“Oh, I can teach you a great many things, my dear,” Brin said, her voice sensual.

I covered my mouth to hide my amusement, especially since their conversation so closely mirrored the one I’d had with Reven the other day. I had a feeling theirs would end the same way too.

“One of them is going to get hurt,” Slade said, shaking his head.

“Brin is an expert swordswoman, and your sister doesn’t seem too bad either.”

“Not what I meant.” He scowled as he watched them tumble to the ground together, their laughter ringing out around us.

I took his hand and led him away from what was likely to become an intimate moment. “Let them have their few moments of happiness. They’re fleeting enough at the moment.”

He let me drag him away, and then entwined his fingers with mine. Just the simple act of holding hands with him was so much more than I ever thought I would get from him, and I took my own advice and allowed myself to feel content.

“You seem happier too,” he said, studying my face. “After Stoneham we were all worried about you.”

“I’m still upset about that, and I’ll miss Tash forever, but coming here and meeting your family has eased some of the pain.” I squeezed his hand. “Thank you for bringing us here. You seem like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders too.”

Slade nodded. “Once my family knew the truth about our situation, it became easier for me to accept as well.”

“That’s a relief. I worried after what happened with Faya you would never be okay with it.”

He spoke slowly as we continued back along the river toward the village. “It was different with Faya. I never believed she loved both me and Parin. As soon as she was forced to choose between us, she picked him and abandoned the life we’d created together without a second thought. That’s why I couldn’t understand how you would be able to love all of us equally, but now I know you’re nothing like her. She went behind my back and cheated on me. You’ve been up front about this complicated relationship with me from the beginning, and you’ve never tried to hide anything about it. That honesty is important.”

“Does that mean you’re not upset about having to share me with the others anymore?”

“I don’t mind it as much as I used to,” Slade admitted. “Traveling the world with you and the others has opened my mind to a lot of things I never experienced while living in Clayridge. I suppose being one of your mates has changed me too. I only want you to be happy, whether it’s because of me or the other men. Or all of us.”

An image came to mind of Slade joining in while I was being shared between the other three men and I felt a flush of heat between my legs. I doubted Slade would ever want to do that, but I couldn’t deny the idea excited me.

As if conjured by my thoughts, Jasin and Auric emerged from the village, heading for the river. We’d agreed to meet in the afternoon to continue our training, but I hadn’t realized the day had gotten so late.

“Ready to get started?” Jasin asked, as they approached.

“If we’re interrupting, we can come back later,” Auric said.

“We’re going to try to summon lightning again,” I explained to Slade. “Do you mind?”

“No, it’s fine. My mother has demanded my help with fixing her roof this afternoon anyway.” He lowered his head and brushed a kiss across my lips. “I’ll see you tonight for dinner.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

He headed back toward the village, and I turned to my two mates with a smile I couldn’t hide. They’d both noticed the kiss, judging by the smirks on their faces.

“Things with Slade are better then,” Jasin said.

“They are. He’s finally starting to open up to me, and he said he’s getting used to the idea of sharing me with the rest of you.”

“That’s good to hear,” Auric said. “For a while, I was worried he wouldn’t be able to do his duty at the Earth Temple.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem anymore,” I said, my face flushing for no good reason. I’d shared my body with both these men last night, so why did talking about being intimate with Slade feel so embarrassing? Maybe because our budding relationship was more private, and a part of me wanted to keep it that way.

Jasin took my hand in his. “I’m glad you’re happy. Now let’s get to work.”


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