Once Upon a Quest

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Once Upon a Quest Page 7

by Joanna Mazurkiewicz

  “Very well. If we’re all set, let’s get back on the road. My sister is waiting. Ten days, gentlemen. We’re on the clock.” I gently gigged the side of my horse with my boots and began trotting away from my companions, hoping to gain some distance. I really needed time to think without the dhampir brothers breathing down my neck, Eric in particular.

  That didn’t happen, unfortunately.

  “So, what’s this I hear about your little make-out session with Eric?” James suddenly appeared next me.

  I heaved a dramatic sigh. “Can we talk about something else?”

  “As you wish.”

  I glanced toward him. “Thank you. It would seem your alliance with the Drakins might be a bit shaky now that you’ve ripped a couple of them to shreds.”

  “No. There were no witnesses to their demise, other than the four of us. Our alliance is still intact.” His clipped tone was telling me he was furious with me, and I honestly couldn’t blame him. I was supposed to give them all a chance, but Eric kept pushing his way forward.

  “Look, I’m sorry about earlier.” I turned to look at James. I didn’t want to hurt him, and I wasn’t being fair. “I don’t know what came over me, and I honestly don’t know how to act in a situation like this. I’ve never had three men vying for my attention. It’s quite confusing and unnerving at times.”

  He chuckled a bit. “I know my brother, Princess, and he hates to lose. I’m afraid he will continue to make advances toward you unless you put a stop to it. That is, if you want to.” James glanced my way, most likely to gauge my reaction. I had none.

  Sighing, I said, “I have no I idea what I want in the romance department. The one thing I am sure of is, I need to rescue my sister before something dreadful happens. I just wish Eric could understand that and help keep her as a priority while not kissing my face off.”

  “Well, I’ll talk to him, but I can’t say it will do any good. He knows what’s at stake, but he also knows he wants you, as do I.” A low growl emitted from his chest and I wanted to die. Not really die but disappear.

  Well, shit. I’d found myself in quite the conundrum. “Oh, look, we’re nearing the borders now.” I pointed, changing the subject, thanking God for small favours.

  I galloped ahead, leaving my companions behind. I realised Tobias was the only one of the brothers who had yet to make a pass at me. I needed to stick close by his side to ward off the others, I decided. Yes, that sounded like a mighty fine plan indeed. I smiled to myself for thinking of such an ingenious idea.

  As we rode into the town centre of the Northern Kingdom, I realised we were receiving glares from everyone on the street. I wondered what their problem was. I was certain I’d rid myself of all the blood covering my face. Could it be the unconscious women in tow? Most likely. We needed to find them a doctor.

  “Gentlemen, I think it best if we drop the ladies off where they can receive medical attention.” All three of my companions were riding alongside me.

  “Where do you suppose that would be?” Tobias enquired with a raised brow. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not feeling entirely welcome here.”

  “Oh, pfsh. Sure, we are. Why wouldn’t we be? I’ll just stop and ask someone for assistance.” I looked around at the many people standing around, now glowering at us all, and, it was highly possible Tobias’s assessment was correct.

  I found a lady dressed in black standing near the bakery; she must have been in mourning. “Madam, do you know where we may find the nearest doctor? It seems we’ve come upon a couple of ladies in need of medical attention.”

  She looked at me incredulously, huffed and turned on her heel without saying a word. How rude! I’d have to call upon someone else then. Glancing around, I saw no one who wasn’t sporting a serious glower. What the hell was wrong with these people? Then I heard one of them speak.

  “Do you see her riding that horse on a man’s saddle, wearing trousers no less? And without a chaperone?” Oh, so it was me, then. Well, that was just wouldn’t do.

  “Excuse me, gentleman. I’ll be back in a moment.” I dismounted my horse, and began walking toward the two old cows who thought I was indecent.

  “Catherine, I don’t think—”

  “Hush, Tobias.” I raised my hand cutting him off and then continued walking toward the two grey-haired women who’d assumed I had no raising.

  “Why, hello. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Allow me to introduce myself.” I eyeballed the wrinkled old bags. “Princess Catherine of the Southern Kingdom.”

  I waited for their reaction. I believed I may have hindered their ability to speak. “And you are?” I crossed my arms against my chest, raising a brow.

  “No one, Princess.”

  “Well, no one. My companions and I are in need of assistance. You see those two unconscious women over there. No. Look up. Yes, them. We saved them from a few members of the Drakin Clan. Will you see to it they receive medical attention, because we should really be on our way?”

  “Yes, your highness. If you’ll follow me,” old bag number one said. It seemed old bag number two had been rendered mute. If she didn’t close her mouth soon, she might catch a few flies.

  “Gentlemen. Please follow these ladies. They’ve decided to be of assistance.” I turned to walk back to my horse. “Good day, no one.”

  My companions could barely contain their laughter. I, on the other hand, was quite pleased with myself and felt no reason to giggle. I mounted my horse and waited for the brothers to return.

  Eric nearly fell off his horse from belly laughing so hard. Well, I wasn’t about to have some old bitties stand around and do nothing at all while two women were in dire need of assistance. Everyone else in this town could kiss my indecent princess arse.

  When James and Tobias returned they were still stifling their laughter. I looked heavenward. “It seems we’ve worn out our welcome, gentlemen. Shall we continue?”

  Once their laughing subsided—I waited patiently—they nodded their affirmation. Apparently, they’d been rendered mute as well. Good. Now maybe I could have some peace and quiet.

  Dammit. Nightfall would be coming soon, and we needed a place to rest our heads. I hadn’t thought that part through. It seemed James and I were on the same page.

  “Catherine, it’s getting late,” James said. “We should find a place to set up camp near the border before we lose sunlight.”

  I hadn’t exactly planned on sleeping outside but seeing as how I’d made a right arse of myself only moments ago, I assumed the town’s hotel wouldn’t be very accommodating.

  “Yes, you’re right. After you, then.”

  We passed through the town, still receiving glowers, I might add, even after saving two women from becoming concubines of the Drakin Clan. Ungrateful arseholes, but whatever. We had a duty to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Or at least I did.

  I rode sandwiched between James and Eric. My plans to stick close to Tobias were thwarted by possessive brother number one, and the other who would soon earn that very same title if he didn’t give me and my horse a little breathing room.

  I promised my father I wouldn’t kill them. Sigh. Looking heavenward again, I said a silent prayer that we would make it through this journey alive and in one piece. God, I missed Lucy. She would know what to do in this situation.

  “Over there,” Tobias yelled from the back. I had to turn around to see where he was pointing. We had seen nothing but trees, more trees and a few homes on our trail leaving the Northern Kingdom. I hoped this was something more than another damn tree.

  My hopes were dashed the moment I saw where Tobias had pointed. Dammit. Why couldn’t we have found a small empty cottage somewhere? My sarcasm and whit were quickly fading. I was becoming more irritable by the second. Maybe I was just tired, and my arse was definitely sore. I hoped I wouldn’t have blisters; that would be horrendous, and I didn’t want to think—so, I stopped that thought right where it was. Eww. However, I just kn
ew I would surely be walking bowlegged for days after this quest was over. Hungry, maybe that was it? Sigh.

  At least I could see the mountains behind the damn trees. We were nearing the Eastern Lands. That thought brought me out my doom and gloom for a moment, making me almost giddy. I could kill dragons and save my sister. Win-Win!

  Chapter 11

  One would think that kingdoms as advanced as the two surrounding the Northern and Southern Kingdoms would want to build them up a bit, but no. Trees. I’d always felt peace amid the forest but after the past two days, I was beginning to lose the tranquility among them. The frustration of Lucy’s kidnapping, not to mention, my companions acting like children, and barely giving me room to breathe on my own, wasn’t helping matters. Not one bit.

  Our horses needed a break, and we decided to walk what seemed like several miles into the forest to set up camp. We were pretty well exhausted, and I kept having to remind myself of the mission ahead and push Eric’s delicious lips from my mind. I didn’t even like him, anyway. However, my damn hormones had taken up much-needed space in my cranium, making it quite difficult to not think about his sculptured chest, muscular arms and lean body pressed against mine. I was doing it again. Damn him. Why couldn’t he look a troll? I was losing my head, and this was not good. Not good at all. So, maybe I only liked to look at him. Yes, yes, that was it.

  After we’d set up camp near a crop of trees in a small clearing, my companions built a fire and prepared a bite to eat. Tobias took off into the woods without saying a word and I wondered what was going on. Maybe he needed a bit of solitude as well. I couldn’t blame him. It would have been nice if I could take a break, too, without a dhampir up my arse. Sigh. Darkness began shading the forest and we ate in comfortable silence. Thank God.

  We were settled near the border of the Eastern lands and I hadn’t seen a dragon flying in the sky. It was oddly quiet. I wondered where their guards were.

  “Do you think it strange we’ve yet to be attacked by Drakins?” I enquired around a mouthful of bread. I was suddenly reminded of my poor manners and Lucy’s chiding. God, I missed her terribly and prayed she was all right. Those bastards were cruel, and if I found one hair on her head out of place, I would kill them all.

  “They must have already sensed our presence,” James answered. “They wouldn’t dare attack us, not with the alliance they have with our kingdom.” He then winked at me and I wanted to punch him. “I’m not sure if you’re aware,” he continued, “but one of Tobias’s gifts is magic. He can see things we cannot.”

  Well, that was surprising information. James was most likely teasing and full of shit. Magic? I rolled my eyes and turned away from him, looking toward the fire, thinking of my dear, sweet sister. Lucy was brave, much more so than I’d ever given her credit for.

  My mind was a jumble of thoughts: Where was Lucy being held? Was Julius only using her as bait to get what he’d always wanted? It was no secret he wanted to rule the four kingdoms, but he never had leverage until now. I knew without a doubt my father, nor I, would ever bow to that piece of shit. He and his clan were the reason I became a dragon slayer and a dragon slayer I would remain until their evil tyranny was over.

  “Catherine, you seem distant. Are you all right?” Eric’s voice interrupted my thoughts. He and James were looking at me with concern.

  I glanced between their worried faces and looked back toward the fire. “I’m worried about Lucy and what she could be enduring at the hands of those savages. I just want to rescue her and go home.”

  “Julius wouldn’t dare harm her; he wants respect from the other kingdoms. He can’t afford a war right now,” Eric assured me, and James agreed.

  They were partially right but I knew my father. He would easily start a war if it were necessary, and the kidnapping of his daughter for ransom? Well, that seemed reason enough for war if my companions and I failed our mission. My father’s army was strong, and although I knew Julius had a bit of an advantage being a dragon shifter, he and his fire-breathing brethren could easily be killed.

  Julius may intimidate the Northern Kingdom, but he was sadly mistaken if he thought for a moment he could intimidate my father. War, fighting—this was what I was trained to do—thanks to General Halton—and I would die fighting for my sister and the freedom of my kingdom.

  “Lucy’s strong-willed,” I admitted, “but if she’s harmed in any way, my father will indeed start a war Julius cannot win.” I looked back at my companions who seemed to agree with my assessment. “How far is Julius’s castle from where we are now?”

  “Several miles from here, at least another half day of travel,” Eric said. “We can discuss the plan in detail tomorrow morning. Have you thought about your sleeping arrangements?” He leaned forward, changing the subject, with a devilish look in his eyes. I frowned, wondering what the hell he was talking about. We were sleeping in the damned forest.

  “Yeah, I’m sleeping under that tree over there and you can sleep—anywhere else,” I told him, losing my appetite. Tobias had been gone for quite a while and I was becoming increasingly worried for his safety. However, his brothers didn’t seem too bothered by his absence. Maybe this was normal behaviour for him.

  “No, I mean, would you rather sleep with me or Jameson? He snores, so you’d be better off with me; I’ll keep you warm.” Eric winked, and James elbowed him in the gut, causing him to fall off the log he was sitting on. Good. Arsehole. I was on a quest to save my sister, not sleep with any of them. The fact that they, well, Eric, continued trying and my body responded each time—against my better judgement, I might add—was grating on my nerves.

  I huffed a sigh of indignation and stood. “Stay away from me—both of you. I sleep naked and keep a knife beneath my pillow.” I smiled widely, knowing this would only infuriate them further. “Touch me and I’ll remove your manly bits.” I walked toward my soon-to-be bed for the night. “Get some rest, boys.”

  I removed a few blankets from my pack and settled beneath a tall tree. Yes, a damn tree. I busied myself, attempting to set up my forest bed. The ground was completely uncomfortable, but it would have to do.

  Eric and James watched me intensely and I felt heat rising in the pit of my stomach. The damn forest was so hot. I absolutely did not sleep naked, but they didn’t need to know that. I could only imagine what Lucy would say right now. She would be dragging these boys around by their ears through the forest for being so forward. I had a chuckle at the thought.

  Thankfully, the brothers remained by the fire. They seemed immersed in conversation and weren’t paying attention to me anymore—thank the heavens above—so I slowly began drifting off to sleep.

  Why was I dreaming of the forest? I was sleepy and, even in my dream, I could barely keep my eyes open; it was pitch black and I couldn’t see a thing. This had to be the most peculiar dream I’d ever experienced. I deduced it down to stress. I could hear someone walking near my sleeping quarters—forest bed, whatever.

  My dream self decided to roll over and go back to sleep. A fine plan indeed. I did not want to wake up unrested. It was bad enough I hadn’t had any coffee in days! Now, I was dreaming about coffee. Fantastic! I was certain to wake up in a foul disposition and that wouldn’t bode well for my companions. Oh, well. It would be fun making them miserable.

  Suddenly, a familiar voice whispered in my ear, “It’s only me, darling. Don’t be frightened. Someone needs to keep you warm.” Seriously? I was asleep and warm, I might add. My internal eye roll was getting an extreme workout.

  It was James. Now he was in my dreams, too? This couldn’t be happening! I would just ignore him, I decided.

  I decided wrong, apparently. Dream Catherine was having a rough time. A rough time indeed. I felt James lay beside me and then touch my face. Just what the hell did he think was he doing? I’d told him and his brother to keep their hands to themselves. Apparently, they did not know how to follow orders. I didn’t like this, not one bit! But dream Catherine did. She was such
a hussy. Again, I needed to have a chat with whomever controlled my dreams, if that were even possible.

  A bead of sweat rolled down my back. It was even hot in the forest in my dream. Maybe I should consider sleeping naked, but that surely wouldn’t do with three men surrounding me at all times. Wait, why was my heart doing that thing again, and why was I turned on? Oh! It was one of those dreams. Shit. I decided to just go with it; I couldn’t control the damnable things anyway. It might be fun!

  Dream Catherine was too tired and far too aroused to tell James to go to hell. He kissed me. Holy hell, he kissed me! Wait. Was this a dream? I knew I was exhausted. Yes, yes, this was certainly a dream. When James’s lips devoured my own, something inside of me snapped. I wasn’t quite sure what that could be or how anything could actually snap, but damn it felt good. I decided to open my eyes and look at him. Damn. His heated stare made me feel all sorts of things that were highly inappropriate. He continued to kiss me, and I thought I might come undone. What the hell was he doing to me?

  James gave me a mischievous grin and then positioned himself between my legs. Oh, no! I began to feel small pulsating sensations in my nether regions and it only escalated from there, spreading throughout my entire body. I was finding it difficult to breathe. I could feel the hardness of his arousal and I wanted to slap myself awake. This certainly wouldn’t do. Not at all!

  His mouth moved between my breasts and a slow moan escaped my lips. James was like a sudden storm, powerful and exhilarating. He gently nibbled at my neck and pressed his groin closer. I could feel his growing erection between my legs and we were wearing far too many clothes. Wait. What the hell was happening to me? I wanted to stop him but couldn’t.

  He kissed my stomach and one of his fingers slipped further, finding its way beneath my belt. Oh, my! Something was definitely going on down there because I could feel myself becoming warm and slick in places that again, were highly inappropriate! However, electricity rushed through me, and I arched my back, wanting to have him closer. This was such a naughty dream.


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