Once Upon a Quest

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Once Upon a Quest Page 6

by Joanna Mazurkiewicz

  I guessed wrong.

  Eric grabbed my elbow and nearly dragged me behind the stairs. “Unhand me, you fool!”

  “You are going to be mine.” Eric’s eyes were dark and sexy. Yum. He looked so kissable when he was angry. What the hell was I thinking and how did I turn off my hormones? They weren’t obeying me at all and I didn’t like it. Not one bit!

  But apparently, my hormones had other ideas and had taken up residence; they were here to stay. I decided to just go with it.

  “Am I? Just so we’re clear”—I ran my finger across his full delicious-looking lips—“I belong to no one.” Since when did I have an inner seductress within me? Oh, well. I kind of liked her. This was fun!

  “Don’t count on that, Princess.” He was still growling.

  I looked up at him with a pouty lip and ran my hand through his jet-black hair. “Oh, I am counting on it. In fact”—I stood on my tiptoes and pecked him on the lips—“I will always be free and never belong to a man, mated or otherwise.” Patting him on the shoulder, I turned on my heel and walked back toward James and Tobias.

  I decided Jameson’s name was too long. I was calling him James from now on.

  “Did you two have a nice chat?” Tobias enquired with a bit of sarcasm.

  “It was lovely.” I looked between them both. “Are we ready to depart?”

  “Yes, Catherine,” James said, “once Eric is done licking his wounds.”

  I couldn’t hold back my laughter any longer. I doubled over in a fit of giggles and the men joined me, laughing at their brother. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all.

  Once we had loaded our gear and necessities for the trip on the backs of our horses, I looked to the front door to see my father waiting just outside on the front steps. He should have been in bed resting. Instead, he was going to see me off on my quest to rescue Lucy. It was just like him to do something like that.

  I walked toward the front entrance and embraced him in a tight hug. “I love you and I promise to be safe. I’ll bring our Lucy home.”

  The king looked at me with a mixture of pride and sadness. “I know you will, Catherine. Don’t kill those boys on the way. They are your ticket into the Eastern Lands.” His laugh was full and hearty.

  “I’ll try, father.” I grinned back at him. “But I can’t make any promises.”

  “Just do your best.” He gently squeezed my hand. “Safe journey.”

  “Please, do rest while I’m gone and let the staff take care of you.” I looked at him pleadingly, but I could tell he wasn’t going to listen to a word I said.

  I was nothing at all like my father. And horses could fly… Wait. Could they? Surely not. It would make our trip to the Eastern Lands a lot easier, though. A girl could dream.

  The king only nodded and then told me to get going, waving to the three of us as we mounted our horses and headed toward the Northern Kingdom.

  I rode in front with Eric at my side. Tobias and James followed behind us. I could hear them talking but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Eric was near smothering me, riding way to close to my horse. I was hoping to get in front, so my mare would kick him. But as my luck would have it, that didn’t happen.

  “Catherine, I do not understand why you have to be so unreasonable,” Eric said to me in a hushed tone.

  “I’m sorry. I couldn’t quite hear you over your overblown ego.” I continued looking forward, careful to stay on the trail. We were nearing town and I was in a rush to get there so I could lose him for a bit.

  “You think you’re funny. But I know you desire me.” I could feel his stare boring a hole into my head. I was hoping he’d run into a tree. Well, him, not the horse, so maybe a tree limb would knock him off instead.

  I ignored him and tried to ignore the pain that was already in my arse from the saddle. This was going to be a long trip.

  When we finally neared the market, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Boys, we’ll need to stop and gather a few supplies for our journey. I don’t know about you, but I have to eat and want to make sure we have plenty.”

  “Sounds like a fine plan, Catherine,” James said from behind me. Eric grunted, and I assumed that was a yes but either way, I didn’t really care what he thought.

  I stopped my horse in front of the bakery and dismounted, tying her off on the nearest post. “I’ll just be a minute,” I told them, not waiting for a response and walked inside.

  “Good day, Princess,” Henry, the baker, greeted me. “I’m so sorry to hear Princess Lucy has gone missing! Such a tragedy. I hope she is found soon.”

  I sucked in a breath and cursed Gervais for being an idiot. “Thank you, Henry. I need four large loaves of bread, wrapped for travelling, if you don’t mind.”

  “Coming right up, my lady.” Henry dusted his hands off on his apron, then disappeared into the back of the shop. The smell was heavenly; I always loved the smell of freshly baked bread.

  A few moments later, the baker returned with my order. “Are you taking a trip?” he enquired, handing me my bread.

  “Something like that. How much do I owe you?”

  “Oh, nothing at all, my lady. Please, do be safe if you’re travelling. I hear the Drakin Clan has been lurking about in this area.”

  Again, Gervais. “I surely will. Thank you kindly for the bread.” I dug three gold coins from my pocket and set them on the counter as I turned to leave. “Good day, Henry.”

  Next, the butcher. I walked a few steps down the way but didn’t dawdle. I had no time for chitchat. I asked for dried meat, paid for my wares and left.

  Heading back toward the horses, I noticed the brothers seemed to be in a bit of a tiff. They fought worse than women in a quilting circle. “What is it now? I can’t leave you three alone for five minutes.”

  Three heads looked down at me from their horses. Oh, my. They seemed angry. Oh, well. Not my problem. I untied and then mounted my horse, after stowing our food, seeing as they weren’t going to answer me.

  Without a word, I galloped away not looking to see if they were following. They were, however; I could hear them bickering. Men.

  “You heard what I said, James.” I could hear Eric yelling from behind me. Then I heard a loud thud and a “What the fuck?” That certainly didn’t sound pleasant.

  I slowed my horse to a stop, and turned to look at the three ill-behaved dhampirs. Well, it seemed either James had fallen off of his horse or Eric had pushed him. By the murderous expression on James’s face, I was betting on the latter.

  James reacted almost too fast for me to see. He yanked Eric off his horse and commenced to pounding his lovely face. All right, it was time I stepped in.

  Jumping from my mare, I went to them, watching as they were rolling around on the ground. Tapping my foot with my hands on my hips, I cleared my throat loudly. “Are you about done? In case you’ve forgotten, I have a sister to rescue and I do not have time to babysit men who act like children.”

  Tobias was laughing so hard I thought he might fall off his horse, too.

  Nothing. They were still fighting. Alrighty, then—Plan B. I kicked the shit out of someone; I couldn’t tell who, because they were moving in a blur.

  “What the fuck?” Eric shouted, getting up.

  “There we go. Now, get back on your horses and act like the grown men I think you should be.” I pointed to them, smiling sweetly, secretly happy I’d kicked Eric and not James. I hoped it hurt. He was rubbing his head. I was absolutely gleeful, but I decided to keep my joy to myself. It simply wasn’t the right time to gloat. That would be rude.

  “Ready, gentlemen?” I eyed them dangerously, daring them to disagree.

  James pushed Eric and Eric pushed him back, but in the end, they mounted their horses and we were finally on our way to the Northern Kingdom. This was going to be a very long trip indeed.

  “Tobias, seeing as you’re the only one who knows how to act like an adult, do you mind riding in front with me? We’re nearing the Northern King

  It had been a long and dreadful two hours of silence on my part and hushed, clipped tones going on behind me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to live up to the promise I’d made to my father; I was ready to murder them all. How did these men get on in proper society acting this way? It was truly a mystery to me.

  Tobias galloped ahead and slowed next to me. I heard Eric’s cursing and rolled my eyes. “Thank you for being such a gentleman.” I gave him a sideways glance.

  He nodded. “You’re welcome, Catherine. I do apologise for their behaviour. It would seem they’ve forgotten how to act in front of a lady.”

  I almost snorted out a laugh. “It would seem so.”

  “Eat shit, Tobias.” I knew that was Eric from the growl erupting in his throat.

  Tobias and I had a chuckle.

  Up ahead, I could see black smoke billowing from the Dark Forest just on the outskirts of the Northern Kingdom. This wasn’t good at all. “Drakins,” I seethed, narrowing my eyes. “Stop here, boys. We need to tie up the horses and head out on foot. It looks as if we may have a fight coming our way.”

  Eric came rushing to my side. “They’re burning the forest.”

  “I know, and they may have taken on another concubine. I can’t let this stand.” I pointed toward a crop of trees to our right. “Here’s a good spot.”

  Eric and Tobias nodded, both with murderous looks on their faces. They dismounted their horses and tied them off. James was right behind them.

  I looked between my three companions. “Ready your weapons. We have no idea how many dragons we’ll be dealing with.”

  “I believe you should stay behind with the horses,” Eric told me with a serious expression.

  I glared. “You’re an insufferable man. If you wish to stay behind with the horses, then so be it. I’ll see you after I kill a few dragons.” I unsheathed my sword, turned and then stomped away from him, heading toward the smoke-filled forest. I only hoped no one was injured—or worse.

  My three companions were on my heels as we neared the forest. I hadn’t seen any dragons in the sky, so I knew they were somewhere in the woods. I looked to my left, seeing James and said, “I think we should split up.”

  “Absolutely not,” Tobias and Eric replied in unison. I rolled my eyes.

  “I have to agree with my brothers,” James said. “It’s best if we stick together.”

  “Fine. Just don’t get in my way.” I sprinted toward the sound of a loud roar up ahead, not caring if they followed.

  Two blond-haired Drakins were partially shifted, staring at two unconscious young women lying on the ground. They seemed unharmed, but their clothes were tattered and dirty.

  “Hate to break up the party, arseholes, but it seems we have a problem.” I caught the shifters off guard and they looked at me with an evil sneer. I was going to try and separate them from the women before I took them down, not giving them any time to fully shift.

  “What do we have here?” the shifter on my left enquired. “A woman playing with a sword?” He and his buddy stepped toward me. I figured I might play up the innocent damsel routine. It could work in my favor.

  “Oh, this old thing?” I swung my sword around clumsily. “I found it on the side of the road.”

  I could hear my companions behind me, but they had yet to come forward.

  “Why don’t you hand over the sword?” blondie number two said from my right drawing nearer, exactly where I wanted him.

  “I don’t know, I’m kind of fond of it.” I smiled and swung it again, dropping it on purpose. “Oops.” Both shifters rushed forward. I ducked, grabbing my sword, twisting and bringing it down on blondie number one’s shoulder. Blood sprayed my face. Damn. I must have hit an artery; his arm wasn’t fairing too well, either. He dropped to the ground, clutching his arm, screaming in pain.

  I jumped back as blondie number two flapped his wings, attempting to rake his claws across my face. “Now, that isn’t very nice. Didn’t your mother teach you never to strike a woman in the face?” I grinned wickedly, grasping my sword, ready to take him down. I realised I probably looked a bit psychotic with his companion’s blood splattered on my face.

  I heard what sounded like a battle cry, and when I looked to see where it was coming from, I thought a tornado had landed in the woods. My companions had taken the shifter down in the blink of an eye. All I could see was a whirl of blood and limbs. My mouth dropped open and I lowered my sword. I guessed I was done fighting. There was nothing left to do except enjoy the show and wipe the blood from my face. I certainly didn’t want to go through another day of people backing away in revulsion. But I had nothing to clean the blood off with. It would have to wait. Damn the luck.

  Holy hell. By the time the boys were done with blondie number two, he no longer had wings and was missing his right arm and left leg. I had to assume he was dead. That was seriously gruesome. I shuddered a bit, but I was proud of my boys. Wait, they were not my boys. I must have taken a hit to the head. Yep, that was it, I decided.

  I looked toward blondie number one and his eyes were wide with shock. But not for long. “Never touch what is mine!” Eric growled, then commenced to ripping the shifter to shreds—literally. I had to turn away.

  Then I remembered what he said, “Mine.” We were most certainly having a conversation about boundaries after this. I mean, he was an excellent kisser but that meant nothing in the whole scheme of things. Men.

  “Well, if we’re all done here”—I sheathed my sword to my back and walked forward, careful to avoid severed body parts—“will two of you pick up these young ladies so we can take them into town?” I looked around at my companions and shrugged.

  Tobias and James were the first to volunteer. “Well done, boys. A little bloody, but well done indeed.” I turned on my heel and headed back toward our horses.

  Chapter 10

  I found the crop of trees where we’d left our horses and pulled out a fresh cloth, along with a canteen of water from my saddlebag. I needed to clean the dried blood off of my face. I could feel it crusting over and it was gross and itchy. Mostly just gross.

  My companions had yet to arrive with the young ladies in tow, so I took a moment to just breathe and take in the silence surrounding the woods along dusty the trail. It only lasted a moment. Dammit.

  “Princess,” Eric greeted me while wiping his hands off on his black trousers. How did he not have blood on his face?

  “Eric.” I nodded somewhat politely and then walked toward another tree off the trail to enjoy my solitude, if only for a moment. I should have known better than to turn my back on him.

  In a flash, I was pushed against a tree while Eric’s mouth hovered close to my own. “What exactly do you think you’re doing?” I couldn’t push myself further back into the tree, but I tried.

  “Kissing you.” And he did. Damn, did he ever kiss me. His full lips crushed against my own and my heart pitter pattered in my chest. My stomach flipped, and I was certain I hadn’t eaten anything rotten. Oh. This was the desire he was talking about. Damn him, but I couldn’t help myself. I kissed him back with fervor, wrapping my arms around his neck—the very same neck I wanted to break only moments ago. What was wrong with me? Oh, who the hell cared?

  Eric ground his hips against me and I could feel his arousal. Never in my life did I think that would turn me on, but it did—a lot! I wanted to touch it. Oh, crap! I was a hussy! I moaned loudly into his mouth feeling warmth pool somewhere in my nether regions. A zing of something that felt like sheer ecstasy exploded throughout my entire body, and I could barely control my breathing. I had to push him away. What was that? Dear God.

  I tried, I really did, but Eric was having none of it. He ground his hips against me again, growling deep in his chest. “Eric, please.”

  “Hush, Catherine.” He covered my mouth with his again, and I melted into his embrace when he moulded my breasts in his hands. Oh, dear God. I was coming undone; my legs felt like they would give out at
any moment.

  “Eh hem.” A voice cleared loudly somewhere from my right and I could barely think straight. I pushed Eric away and righted my blouse. “Having a bit of fun?” Tobias enquired with a hint of sarcasm lacing his tone.

  He was leaning against a tree with his arms folded against his chest, smiling. His dark brown hair was a bit disheveled, but his crystal-blue eyes were staring at us with curiosity and something else. Something I was certain would embarrass me further.

  I hung my head, completely humiliated. “We’re done. Thanks, Tobias.” I left Eric standing and marched past his brother to my horse. That man was dangerous. I needed to rescue my sister and he was getting in the way. Why did my father think bringing them along was such a good idea? Right. An alliance with the Drakin Clan. Moving on.

  When Tobias and Eric returned from the woods, they were laughing and cutting up. What the hell were they laughing at? Oh, I didn’t give a shit. I was done with men. All of them. They were nothing more than a distraction. Very nice-looking distractions, I might add, but I needed to keep my priorities in order, even if my hormones were attempting to lead me astray.

  I mounted my horse and nodded toward James. He didn’t look happy. What the hell? I couldn’t please everyone, and I wasn’t about to start now. The two women were still passed out and lying crossways on James’s and Tobias’s horses. That couldn’t possibly be comfortable.

  “James, Tobias, you can’t leave those women to flop around while we ride into the Northern Kingdom. How about you set them upright in front of you, hmm?”

  They just stared at me like I’d grown three heads. Did they not understand? “Do I need to repeat myself?”

  “No,” both James and Tobias answered, pulling the women upright and not very gracefully, I might add. I cringed a little. Good thing they were out cold.


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