The Dragon, proud and strong when fighting an immortal beast, hung his head before his beloved wife. “I know, Tash. I know,” he said. In his submissive gesture, his gaze fell to the blood staining his shirt. Some his, some the beast he’d staked an hour earlier, and all the focus of his wife’s fury. Natasha knew it all. She knew about vampires, and she knew about hunters. Her father had been one – the latter, of course — and so had his father before him. Had she not been barren, there’d been a good chance, she would’ve bore another hunter to the world. Some nights, when sleep eluded him, and he craved the sharp, needy cry of a child of his own loins, Dragan wondered if Natasha made sure she didn’t bring a child into the world knowing what he or she would have to face some day. He’d never voiced that concern to her, however. He trusted her. Only darkness let doubt nag at his heart.
“You look half dead already,” Tasha said. She waved a hand at his stained clothing and then settled both fists on her hips. “You promised me, Dragan. Did you lie?”
“No.” His head snapped up and he met her gaze. Never did he lie. “I was ready – am ready – but this one who calls himself the Betrayer changed things.”
“It’s not your problem!” They’d argued about this before. Dragan knew he’d lose too.
“Maybe not, beloved, but the others, you know they’re my friends. They’re in this deep, and I doubt they have much choice. Honestly, beloved, I doubt I do either.”
“No.” He said it softly and fixed a stern frown on his face. She started to speak again, but Dragan held up a hand. “Tash, stop.” She closed her mouth; only then did Dragan continue. “I will retire. And it will be soon. I will not, however, abandon my friends when the shit is hitting the fan.” He paused, studying her face. Her displeasure showed, and it did not surprise him. Her concern, too, filled the gap between them. “Beloved…” He spread his hands wide and softened his expression. “I love you. I want to grow old with you. But you knew when you married me that this was the life I had to live.”
“You promised,” she whispered, her voice strong, but less fierce than before. “We deserve to retire peacefully, my sun.”
“Soon,” Dragan said. He stepped forward. When she did not renew her argument or her anger, he embraced her. “My promise stands, Tash, beloved, I will step down as soon as this threat of prophecy has passed.”