The Dragon Legion Collection(5)
Author:Deborah Cooke


    No wonder he haunted her.

    Katina turned the simple gold ring on her finger, the one set with a single cabochon carnelian. She’d never taken it off, not since Alexander had placed it on her finger. She knew Cetos wasn’t happy about that—she also wore the much wider golden ring he’d given her, but didn’t remove the carnelian. The russet stone gleamed in the gold setting, making her think of the fire and clay of her pottery.

    Katina shaped the pot and reminded herself of her good fortune. She had a home. She had food to eat and wood for the fire, blankets for the night and a few ornaments for her hair. Her son was strong and healthy, even if he was gone. There were others less fortunate than herself.

    The clay rose between her fingers, coaxed by her touch to take the shape of a bowl as she turned the wheel with her foot. She tried to find the joy in her craft, but it eluded her. The pot looked heavy and graceless, just like all the others she’d made.

    Would Alexander have blamed her for letting their son be taken away? She doubted it. He’d been from Sparta, and they were a tough breed of warriors. Alexander had never been afraid to face difficult choices or to fulfill his duties. In fact, he’d probably endured the same separation and training as a boy that Lysander now faced. He probably would have thought it right for Lysander to go.

    He certainly would have kept the pledge to his kind. As much as she had admired his sense of honor, there had been times when she felt Alexander dispassionate. He could be so still and impassive that she’d wondered more than once if he was made of stone.

    Was that why he hadn’t come back? Had their marriage been a duty for him? Had he thought his obligation fulfilled when their son had been born?

    Katina wanted to believe otherwise. She wanted to believe that she’d given herself to him with a love that had been returned.

    But as the years passed with no word, she had begun to doubt.

    She closed her eyes as she formed the rim of the bowl, letting her fingers find the way, and began to daydream. She savored the sense that Alexander was close to her, maybe hovering on the threshold, watching her with that little smile on his lips.

    When she opened her eyes and turned, he’d be there, she told herself. He’d be in the doorway, watching her in silence, that familiar heat in his eyes. The sign of his desire had always made her heart leap. In bed, she’d never had any doubt of his passion for her, even if it had been carefully hidden away otherwise.

    What she wanted was to be with him again.

    That wasn’t going to happen. Katina’s daydream shattered and she forced her eyes open. She surveyed the bowl before her without satisfaction. It was, at best, functional. Maybe it needed a pair of handles. Maybe she should roll the clay back into a ball while it was soft.

    “A customer, my lady,” the young slave girl, Zeta, said. “A gentleman.”

    Zeta’s tone showed her surprise, and Katina was surprised as well. She didn’t do a bustling trade, not by any means. A sale, even one of compassion, might lift her spirits. She draped the bowl with a damp cloth, before wiping her hands with care.

    “How can I be of assistance, sir?” she asked, trying to work a last bit of clay from beneath her fingernail.

    He said nothing, although she felt his presence. The skin prickled on the back of her neck, her memory of Alexander coming uncomfortably to the fore. Katina frowned with impatience at her own whimsy. There was no point in dwelling on the past.

    She pivoted to face the client, a polite smile curving her lips.

    It faded at once.

    For Alexander did stand on her threshold.

    Katina stared. Alexander had changed and not changed. She would have known him anywhere, that was for certain. His hair was still ebony and wavy, so unruly that she longed to push her fingers through its thickness. It was a bit shorter than it had been, but looked tidy and crisp. It suited him. He was tanned to a deeper shade of brown and his clothing was odd, presumably because he had traveled far. She ached at the weariness in his expression and the lines of exhaustion around his mouth. He was still tall and broad and seemingly immovable, a man who might have been a statue—save for his eyes. Her heart clenched with painful force, then began to pound when she saw the heat in his dark eyes.

    The passion burned there, the passion she’d never been able to resist. When he looked at her like this, Katina had been certain they were destined to love each other for all time.

    “Alexander!” she whispered.

    He smiled a little. “You remember.”

    “Of course!” she said, then voiced her fear. “I thought you had forgotten me.”

    Alexander shook his head, looking so sad that she wanted to hold him forever. “We were so lost, Katina, but now I am found.” His voice was husky with a rare display of emotion, one that brought tears to her own eyes. “My Katina.” Alexander lifted his hand toward her and it was all the invitation she needed. Katina threw herself into Alexander’s arms and lifted her mouth for his kiss, just as she had done a hundred times before. His arms closed around her, unmistakably real and heartbreakingly familiar.

    His mouth locked over hers, his kiss as potent as she recalled. He kissed her as if he couldn’t get enough of her, as if he would make up for every lost moment on this very day. Katina tasted her own salt tears in their kiss but didn’t care. She wound her fingers into his hair, running her hands over him, arching her back so that she was pressed against his muscled body. She wanted to feel the lean strength of him against her, and she wanted to feel the heat of his skin pressed against hers. As always, Alexander’s kiss kindled a passion that Katina couldn’t deny and didn’t want to. His touch could make her forget everything except the desire between them, and in his embrace, Katina felt warm for the first time in years.

    It was a long, slow kiss and one that left her blood simmering.

    Alexander finally lifted his head, his regret obvious, but didn’t release Katina. He studied her and smiled. Katina knew she wasn’t the alluring virgin she’d been when first they met, but Alexander clearly liked what he saw. He wiped her tears from her cheeks with his thumb and arched one brow. His dark eyes twinkled, as if they were filled with stars, and Katina smiled back at him.

    “In the courtyard,” he teased and she blushed, knowing they’d been so impetuous more than once in the past.

    “It wouldn’t be the first time,” she replied and his smile broadened.

    “How you tempt me, my bold Katina.”

    His tone was so affectionate that she impulsively kissed him again. “Still?”

    “Still,” he said with conviction, his gaze slipping over her face as he surveyed her closely. She knew he did not miss a single change, and also that he loved her all the same. “Always,” he murmured and her heart leapt.

    “I would tempt you more,” she whispered wickedly. “But the slave girl...”

    “Will be glad to have gossip to share,” Alexander said with that lazy confidence Katina had so missed. There was something so steady about him, a rocklike conviction that made Katina’s world seem secure.

    How she’d yearned for his return.

    He glanced down at her hand, smiling with real pleasure when he saw his ring still on her finger, and Katina’s heart skipped with joy. Alexander brushed his lips across hers, then let his mouth hover over hers as he held her gaze. As always, he gave her the choice, which only made him more irresistible. “Or maybe you didn’t miss me in this way?” he murmured, clearly knowing she had. When he teased her, his eyes sparkling and his manner playful, Katina wanted him all the more.

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