“We had better get this case open,” was his only reply as he held the key up to the top front edge of the glass case.
My mouth hit the shiny floor as the pods at the end of the teeth opened and out slithered a half dozen little tentacles. Half of the tiny, handless arms slithered underneath the lid and pried apart the two pieces of glass. A faint bit of purple dust puffed out, but the spare tentacles wrapped their bodies around the colored air and absorbed the mist.
The tendrils opened a tiny gap between the lid and the wall, and with the mist all sucked up they retreated back into the key. Luca pocketed the key and wiggled his fingers into the newly formed gap.
I pointed at the key as he pocketed it. “What the hell was that?”
A sly smile slipped onto his lips as he opened the lid. “An enchanted key, much like what we’re looking for.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and frowned at him. “Alright, that’s enough.”
He paused in his search and lifted an eyebrow at me. “Come again?”
I glared back at him. “You’ve done everything in your power to avoid me since we got here. Does it have something to do with these new-queen proprieties Mia talked about?”
He returned his full attention to the drum sets laid out before us. “We have little time to discuss such matters until the key is found.”
I grabbed his shoulder and wrenched him around to face me. “I know that, but if we’re going to be working together to find it, then you’re going to have to be upfront with me.”
Uncertainty flashed across his eyes before his shoulders sagged a little and he sighed. “There are certain. . .complications in your being my queen. Our union, for one.”
I shrugged. “I already know about the heart thing, but this is something different, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “Yes. It’s-” He paused and ran a hand through his hair. “There are circumstances outside both of our controls. Fate has joined us together in intricate and intimate ways that force a more. . .feral side to surface.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Could you skip the riddles and just get to the point?”
Luca half-turned back to the drums and turned each of them upside down one at a top. Nothing tumbled out. “My dragon side desires to mate with you until you bear me children.”
I had just picked my jaw off the floor when it decided to drop back down. Luca didn’t acknowledge my shock as he picked up one drum after another, inspecting them for a moment before moving on to the next. He had finished his perusal by the time I gathered myself.
Luca closed the case lid and shook his head. “The key isn’t here, but we have other cases to search. We should get to that.” He turned away from me and strode toward the next case.
“Wait a sec!” I protested as I grabbed his wrist.
Luca froze and I felt a tremor run through his body. My heart dropped into my stomach as he slowly turned his head around to face me. The look in his heated eyes told me everything. I stumbled back and he caught my arms. His touch ignited an unfamiliar and sensual fire within me. My lips parted as a shallow breath left me.
Luca narrowed his eyes at me, and I noticed that a bright emerald color swirled in their depths. He whipped his face away and shut his eyes before he clenched his teeth. I was filled with regret when he reluctantly opened his hands and dropped his arms to his sides.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and opened his eyes, but he didn’t meet my wide-eyed stare. “I’m sorry. I never wanted you to fear me.”
My heart fell a little at the sorrow in his voice. I rallied myself and managed a shaky smile. “I wasn’t scared.”
A wry smile slipped onto his lips as he scoffed. “Your lies are as terrible as mine.”
I put my hands on my hips and frowned at him. “I wasn’t scared. I was-” I paused and bit my lip as my cheeks reddened.
Luca turned his face to me and lifted an eyebrow. “You were what?”
My cheeks grew warmer as I turned away from him and folded my arms over my chest. “I was angry at you for avoiding me so much.”
I heard him step closer, and he wrapped his arms around me. His lips brushed against my ear and his warm breath sent a hot tingle down my body. “I know you’re lying. I know what you’re feeling.” He softly nuzzled my hair and I had to bite my lower lip to suppress a soft sigh. “I feel it, too.”
I closed my eyes and let out a deep, shuddering breath. “Then let me in on what’s going on.” I opened my eyes and turned my head around to smile at him. “I’m your queen.”
He turned me around and cupped one of my cheeks in his palm. “We’ll finish our search here, and then I’ll show you the whole truth. I swear it.”
I snorted. “Another graveyard reference? I’m starting to think you’re a little morbid.”
He grinned. “Our cemeteries have some. . .interesting residents, but I’ll tell you about that later, as well.”
We set to work examining all the drums, but at the end of a half hour we had found nothing. I watched with a furrowed brow as Luca shut the last of the cases. “How to these things lock, anyway? I mean, didn’t that. . .key thing just wedge the glass apart?”
Luca turned to me and shook his head. “The key not only pries the glass apart, but extracts the magic used to seal the cases.”
I tilted my head to one side and studied the infinitesimally small gap between the pieces of glass. “Do they need to put it back?”
He shook his head. “No. This type of magic is renewable. To recreate the lock one needs merely to lay the pieces of glass back together.”
I righted my head and lifted both eyebrows. “That is. . .incredibly cool.”
He smiled and offered me his hand. “I have something cooler to show you.”
I took it, and together we strode from the hall. A crowd of visitors passed us, and some paused to gape at him. Whispered words passed between them.
“Is that her?”
“I think it is!”
“She’s so pretty!”
I blushed under the compliments. Luca leaned close to me and lowered his voice. “They’re not wrong.”
I cast a playful glare up at him. “Don’t think you’re going to win any points until you tell me what’s going on.”
He chuckled. “You’ll see in a moment.”
We exited the east wing and came into the lobby, but we didn’t move toward the front doors. Instead, Luca led me to the rear of the foyer. I did have time to notice that Mia cast a look of worry over us before we disappeared from view. Bookshelves and large display cases hid the rear wall, but we rounded a large shelf and were presented with a huge tapestry some forty feet wide and twenty feet tall.
Luca swept his arm over the expansive cloth. “This is my descent.”
The tapestry showed a grand tree with a single source at the top. I didn’t need to be an historian to guess that the names and dates denoted Luca’s ancestors and relatives. A crest hung above the tapestry and featured a dragon as the centerpiece, with a few inscriptions in an arch above the beast’s head. The dragon wasn’t alone, however, as a dove lay in its single upturned claw, and the pair faced each other.
I swept my eyes over the ornate cloth and whistled. “You’ve got a pretty impressive family tree.”
There must have been hundreds of names on the list, but I couldn’t help but notice something strange about them. I stepped closer to the tapestry and brushed my hand over several of the many names that didn’t have anything below them. “There’s a lot of people here who didn’t have kids.”
Luca moved to stand by my side and a sorrowful expression played across his face as he studied the names beneath my hand. “Unfortunately, that is true. My bloodline is. . .unique.”
I leaned back and inspected the rest of the tapestry. A pattern emerged that made me frown. “Why do all the lines die out three generations after they branch out from the main line?”
A bitter smile slipped onto his lips. “You have a keen eye that enhances your beauty.”
I snorted. “Flattery will get you far, but it doesn’t get me an answer.”
He pointed at one of the offshoots. “The lines branch out only until the third generation because my family is incapable of bearing children with the people of this realm beyond that generation.”
I blinked at him. “Mating with the people of this realm? Your people?” I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Luca sighed. “Nor does it to us, but that’s what we’ve come to learn. In order to continue with the line beyond the third generation we must fetch a human from your world, and only one of those of the main line are allowed to do that, barring unusual circumstances.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Like when the main line was overthrown?”
He nodded. “Exactly that. Most often the king had no children, being of a singularly unstable mind and unwilling or unable to fetch a human from your world.”
“Do the queens have to fetch a human guy from my home?”
He shook his head. “The women we fetch from the other world bear us only sons.”