Courting the Dragon (Penelope’s Dragon Book 2)
© June 2021
When Princess Penelope comes home for her kingdom’s summer festival, she is stunned by her father’s ultimatum: choose a suitor by the end of the holidays, or forfeit her place at the Academy of Mages. The only problem is, none of them are the man she wants, the Dragon-Wizard Salarath. Somehow Penelope must dodge her would-be suitors and convince Salarath that their love is something worth fighting for. But as she begins to uncover the secrets someone in the palace is hiding, she may find that she’s courting danger rather than Courting the Dragon.
Attempted sexual assault
Penelope’s father was frowning. Behind half-moon reading spectacles, his blue eyes moved quickly, scanning over the text of the letter he held. Penelope fidgeted in silence, not daring to speak. Behind her back, her fingers twisted her ring around on her right hand. It was a magic ring, capable of transporting her to other places—places she would much rather be. She watched the faint twitches of emotion at the corners of his eyes and lips. There was a tightness there that betrayed the stoic expression he was attempting to maintain.
At last, King Hulbyrd set the letter down on his desk with two others that he’d already perused. He removed his glasses and placed them on top of the folded parchment. For a long moment, he pinched the bridge of his nose. It was a gesture that Penelope had started associating with her own misbehavior right around ten years of age. Her stomach tightened.
“You’ve done well. The dean of students is quite happy with you. Everyone speaks highly of your academic accomplishments.” And yet, he sounded like a man whose daughter had just announced she was running off to marry the pig boy.
“Thank you, Father.”
To say that Penelope’s academic pursuits were a sore spot between them was a gross understatement. It had taken using magic to trick an evil witch into jumping off a cliff before Penelope could convince her father that she belonged at the Academy of Mages. Even then, he hadn’t seemed convinced. A year and a half later, Penelope was still more than a little skeptical of his change of heart. She suspected it might have something to do with wanting her distracted from the other sore spot between them. That sore spot’s name was Lord Stefan of Steelbourgh.
Well, sort of.
She’d only been involved with that witch incident because she’d snuck off to spend the Winter Solstice before last with the man she loved, who wasn’t exactly a man. Lord Stefan was actually a young dragon-wizard named Salarath who had spent the past fifty-odd years or so playing the role of Lord Stellan Drakeson, Duke of Steelbourgh. Currently, he was alternating between personas, establishing himself as his own heir.
“I don’t suppose that you’ve had enough of life at the academy?”
“Not at all, Father. Every day there is fascinating.”
There was a long pause as the king considered what to say next. He seemed to be having an inner battle that he was attempting to cover with a blank expression. Something inside of him must have won because that blankness gave way to something resembling resignation.
“I think it’s time that we have an important conversation about your future.”
Penelope felt her heart rate soar, and her stomach clenched into a knot. She imagined that she must be white as a ghost, but her father didn’t seem to actually be looking at her. He was staring at a point over her shoulder rather than meeting her gaze.
“You’re nineteen now. I think it is past the time to arrange a betrothal for you.”
The breath left Penelope’s lungs in a rush as if she’d taken a punch to the gut. Little choking sounds escaped before she got herself under control. Pinpricks of dread crawled over her skin, leaving a numb sensation. There was no way her father was going to give his blessing on her relationship with Salarath, which meant…
“Did you have someone in mind?” she asked.
“There are many eligible young men in the city for the festival. I will have invitations sent out to them for the Solstice Ball and a list presented to you. I expect that list to be narrowed down to one or two candidates before you return to school.”
Penelope felt her blood pressure rise with every word. By the time he said “school,” her temper had got the better of her.
“Father, I don’t need a ball full of men. You know how I feel about Lord Stefan.”
There was no blank expression this time. Hulbyrd’s features twisted with fury, his ruddy complexion darkening to an unhealthy plum.
“He is not an option for your future. Surely, you can understand that.”
A memory of the one and only time Penelope and Salarath had ever discussed marriage surfaced in her mind. He had made it perfectly clear at the time that while he loved her, their relationship would eventually have to come to an end. Penelope shoved the memory ruthlessly back down under the water level of her thoughts. Hopefully, it would stay there, maybe even drown and never bother her again. They had never discussed the future a second time after Malinda. Their relationship had strengthened and grown in the wake of the witch’s attack, so Penelope hoped the outcome of such a discussion would be different this time.
“I understand no such thing. I love Salarath and—”
“And that is the last time you will mention that name or any of his other names in my presence!” He stood as he shouted.
“Silence!” His fist banged on the desk, making his glasses bounce. A vein throbbed dangerously in his temple, and Penelope shrank back, aghast. Her father had a temper, to be sure, but she had never seen him like this. “You will narrow the list down so that I may start negotiations, or you will not be going back to school.” He sat back down, muttering, “Who knows what nonsense they’re filling your head with.”
There was silence for a long moment while Hulbyrd collected himself, and Penelope fought to keep the tears from her eyes. Finally, in a calm voice, Hulbyrd asked: “Have I made myself clear?”
She curtsied, and he gave her a dismissive wave. As she left the study, Penelope snuck a glance back over her shoulder at the king, who was now resting his head in his hands, muttering to himself. She watched as he rose, her letters clutched in his hands, and moved towards the fire. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she turned away, her steps quickening.