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Her Elemental Dragons: Stroke the Flame: Chapter 10


Roark quickly took us both in with disgust written across his face. “What do you think you’re doing? Lazing about while we have customers waiting! Get back to work!”

Tash scrambled to her feet. “I was only taking a short break, Father.”

He grunted, then narrowed his eyes at me. “And you. It’s been two days since you last brought us any game.” He pointed to the door. “I have hungry soldiers out there demanding some supper. What am I supposed to tell them?”

Dread and panic shot through my blood. I’d been on my way to the forest to hunt when Jasin had shown up. “I’ll go right now. I’ll find something quickly, I promise.”

“Too late for that.” A sick grin twisted his lips as he grabbed Tash’s shoulder, his meaty fingers digging into her dress until she cried out. “You know what the punishment is for slacking off.”

“Father, please,” Tash started, but then was cut off when he backhanded her across the face.

“Stop,” I pleaded. “I’ll get you whatever you want right now. Just don’t hurt her.”

“The two of you sitting here gossiping while the rest of us starve,” he growled, before striking Tash again. “You both need to be taught a lesson.”

“No!” I yelled, then launched myself at him. He was double my size if not more—as well as being both my employer and my landlord—but I couldn’t let him hurt my best friend. Not again.

I tore at him with my nails, reaching for whatever I could, caught in an urgent frenzy to protect Tash. With a roar, he threw me off him in a burst of strength. I fell back, my head slamming hard on the wall behind me, before slumping to the floor in a daze of pain and darkness. Tash, I’m sorry.

When the black haze lifted, three silhouettes stood in the doorway.

A flash of fire danced before my eyes. A rumble shook through my bones. A burst of wind tore at my hair. Roark was thrown across the room, knocked to his knees, and surrounded by flames. My three mates moved around him, their faces filled with disgust and rage.

“You will not hurt either of these ladies again,” Slade said, his voice low and foreboding.

Roark looked up at the men standing around him with both fear and hatred. “I can do what I want in my own inn. To my own women.”

“Not anymore,” Jasin said. The circle of flames grew hotter and danced around Roark, who yelped and shied back from it.

“Swear you won’t touch them in violence again,” Auric said, his voice as commanding as a prince’s. “Swear on the Gods. And believe me, they’re listening.”

“I swear it,” Roark bit out, but his eyes were full of menace.

The flames vanished. “Get out of here,” Jasin said.

Roark scrambled to his feet and bolted from the room like it was still on fire. Although he seemed afraid, I doubted he would heed their warning. He would come for Tash again—he always did.

Slade knelt beside me and asked, “Are you all right?”

I nodded, though my throat was so dry I could barely speak. “Tash?”

“I’m here,” she said, from behind Jasin. “I’m okay.”

“Thank the Gods,” I whispered, as I grabbed Slade’s hand and rose to my feet. I swayed a little as a rush of pain threatened to knock me to the floor again, but he wrapped a comforting arm around me and held me steady. For a second I was distracted by his broad chest and strong arms, overcome with the urge to lean into him and let him hold me some more. He smelled good too, with an earthy, pine scent that reminded me of the forest in the morning. I took a deep breath to ground myself before pulling away from him.

“Thanks for the help, but I could have handled it,” I said, as I rubbed the back of my aching head.

“He hurt you,” Slade said gruffly, as if that explained everything.

“We’re bound to protect you,” Auric added.

“Thanks,” I muttered. “And now you’ve cost me my job and my home, no doubt.”

Jasin sheathed his sword. “We need to head out in the morning anyway.”

I ignored him and moved to Tash, checking her face for injury. “Are you truly okay?”

“Yes, he didn’t hit me that hard,” she said, as she ran a hand over her jaw.

I glanced between her and the three men, torn between staying and leaving. Between my old, familiar life and an unknown, new one. Both seemed far too dangerous for my liking. I had no desire to leave, but after what they’d done to Roark, I couldn’t exactly stay here anymore either. But who would protect Tash and make sure the inn had enough food?

“We’ll talk more about this in the morning,” I told the three men. “I need some time and space to gather my thoughts.”

Tash wrung her hands as she addressed them. “You’ll have to stay somewhere else, unfortunately. My father owns this inn.”

“You sure we can’t sleep in here?,” Jasin asked, his eyes gleaming. “For Kira’s protection of course.”

“Good idea,” Slade said, with a sharp nod.

“Not a chance,” I said. “Like Tash said, it’s better if you don’t stay in this inn. I’ll be fine. He won’t bother me again tonight.” Unless he got really drunk, anyway.

“Very well, but we’ll be nearby if you need us,” Auric said.

“I’ll find you all someone else to board with,” Tash said, leading the men out of my bedroom. They followed her reluctantly, each one glancing back at me with emotions in their eyes. Curiosity. Protectiveness. Desire.

As soon as they were gone, I changed my clothes and crumpled onto the bed, my head pounding. I had a lot to think about, but Roark must have hit me harder than I thought, because my eyes kept closing, and soon sleep carried me away.

I awoke to the sound of the door creaking open and instantly tensed, reaching for the knife I always kept under my pillow. My bedroom was completely dark except for the dim moonlight coming through the windows, which revealed two tall figures creeping into my bedroom. Fear made me immediately alert, but I held my breath and waited. I recognized Roark’s broad profile and guessed the other man was his drinking buddy, Koth. Each of them reeked of alcohol, making my nose burn.

This time, my dream men couldn’t save me. I was on my own.

“You’re going to pay,” Roark said. He reached for me, but I slashed at him with my dagger. He jerked back with a howl as it sliced through his arm, and then I pivoted on the bed, turning to ward off my next attacker. I was better with a bow, but I’d been taught a few fighting moves while living for a short time with some bandits. I hadn’t fought in years, but luckily my body seemed to remember what to do.

Koth dodged my attack, while Roark grabbed my arms tightly from behind. I struggled, lashing out with my feet, as he dragged me back toward him.

“Let me go!” I yelled.

“Where are your friends now?” Roark asked, his breath hot at my ear. He tossed me to the ground hard, then moved to kick me. I tucked my arms and rolled out of the way, gripping my knife tightly. I swiped at his leg and he danced back, but I took that second to get to my feet and bolt from the room.

I ran through the dark kitchen as fast as I could, clutching my dagger in my shaking hand. Heavy footsteps pounded behind me as I reached the door leading outside, but before I could open it, someone struck me on the back of my head.

I fell against the door, momentarily dazed, even as my brain screamed at me to run and fight. Through the haze I managed to spin around and knee Roark between the legs, but Koth was there too.

His blow got me hard, right in the stomach. All the air left me in a swift whoosh and was replaced by lancing pain. Stars danced across my vision, but I wouldn’t let my life end, not like this.

I stabbed the dagger into Koth’s chest with one last burst of strength. Koth howled as I buried the knife deep in him, and then he hit the floor. But I wasn’t safe yet.

“What have you done?” Roark asked, as he stared at his friend. When he took a step toward me, I wasn’t sure how I could stop him. Not when he looked at me with murder in his eyes.

A thin knife flew across the room and landed in the wall beside Roark with a sharp thunk. A dark figure in a black hooded cloak stood on the other side of the kitchen, with a sword in one hand. A matching sword hung from his waist.

“Get away from her,” the cloaked man said, his voice like ice.

“This is none of your concern, stranger,” Roark said, glaring at him.

“I’m making it my concern.”

Roark ignored the man and grabbed my arm, yanking me toward him. A blade flashed, glinting in the moonlight. A gurgling choke came from Roark’s mouth. Blood sprayed across my dress.

Roark let me go and fell to the floor, his throat slashed by the cloaked man who now stood behind him. I hadn’t even heard him move.

I gaped at my strange rescuer, wondering if I should be thankful or fearful. “Who are you?”

“Reven.” He held up his blade and the blood flew off it in a magical swirl before he sheathed the sword. As he turned toward me, I caught a flash of dangerous blue eyes and a sharp jaw traced with dark stubble from under his hood. Familiarity crept through me and I realized who he was.

The last of my four mates had arrived.


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