A Love to Keep Me Warm
The day after they meet, Rhys takes Polina on a tour of Krakow and begins with the city’s origins according to legend:
“Back in the eighth century, all of this land was a village on the River Vistula, with nothing but mud huts and peace-loving people who traded goods up and down the river. Set into the deep side of Wawel Hill was a cave where a terrible dragon named Smok Wawelski slumbered.”
She stopped in mid-step on the sidewalk and tilted her head to stare at him with disbelief. “A dragon? Really?”
“Give me a chance to prove it, okay?”
He gave her a pleading look that melted her polar heart. How on earth did he plan to prove a draconian legend? Curiosity overrode common sense, and with a light laugh, she agreed. “Go for it.”
Eyes crinkled with a secret smile, he gave one simple nod. “Thank you. Generations were warned against waking the dragon and unleashing its fury upon the poor village, but one day several young boys who, like you, refused to believe the tales, strode bravely up to Wawel Hill to see the dragon for themselves. They crept into the cave and soon came upon the enormous scaly tail of the horrible beast. Well, apparently, one of the boys was so terrified, he screamed, awakening the dragon. The children turned and fled, but the damage was done, and the horrible creature soon began wreaking havoc upon all the townspeople. The dragon would come into their village, day after day, stealing the livestock and carrying off the virgins to be devoured at its leisure.
“The villagers attempted several times to kill the beast, but always failed miserably. Until one day, a shoemaker’s apprentice named Krakus mixed up a huge vat of sulfur and coated dozens of sheep with the mixture. When the sheep were ready, he led them to a grassy spot where the dragon was sure to see them. The dragon, naturally, spotted the sheep and swallowed them just as quickly. Soon the sulfur began to take its toll, and the dragon could not contain his thirst. He raced to the River Vistula and drank, but no matter how much water he swallowed, the thirst continued to burn inside him. He nearly drank the river dry until, at last, he swelled so much, he burst like a balloon. Boom!”
As Rhys’s hands flew in front of her face, Polina jumped back with a squeal of surprise.
Chuckling, he pulled her closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Nothing had ever felt so right as this man’s arm holding her close to his heart. She tilted her head at a slight angle, studying his lips, wondering how they’d taste against hers. All he had to do was bend his head forward a few inches…
“Well, of course,” he continued, apparently oblivious to her thoughts, “the village rejoiced at the dragon’s demise.”
She shook off the romantic silliness and refroze her heart. What had she been thinking? A kiss? Good God, she was behaving like her mother, acting on impulse, rather than logic. The last thing she needed was a love affair. Furrowing her brow, she took a step away from him to increase their distance then tried to refocus on his story.
“Krakus was named king and built a castle at the top of Wawel Hill where the dragon’s lair once sat. The village prospered into a city and was named Kraków in honor of their hero.”
Outside Wawel Cathedral, he stopped in front of a large stone wall where a strange collection of bones sat chained against the rock. An odd-looking snout rode above a rib cage about the size of a giant whale’s, some kind of bizarre cloven feet at the base.
“Behold,” Rhys whispered against her ear, sending delicious ripples of warm breath across her neck. “Proof. The dragon’s bones.”
Soft laughter escaped her lips. “Right. Good thing you brought me here. I wouldn’t want to waste my time on dusty old artifacts when I could see something as authentic as a dragon skeleton.”