Vran watched the various emotions flicker over Mona's face. He was sure she had no idea how much her expression gave her away. Most people didn't. Took a lot of practice to hide how one felt.
Something small and dark swooped past her and she flinched. Nala rose and gazed with interest into the darkness.
"You'll never catch a bat," Mona chided. "Not with their radar. Besides, what would you do with one if you did catch it?"
Nala slanted her the scornful glance of the born hunter.
"The thrill for all predators is in the pursuit and catch," Vran commented. "Ask any human--we're all predators."
"Men more than women," Mona said.
"Genes. Hunters and gatherers. Genes go way back. To the time of dragons."
"You mean you think that somehow our ancestors inherited a genetic memory of dinosaurs, so invented the dragon to account for it?"
"Not at all. Dragons aren't mythic dinosaurs. Nor modified ones either." He deftly inserted a charcoal-crisp hot dog into a bun. "Care for the results of today's hunt?"
Between bites, she asked, "Why do we keep talking about dragons?"
"Why are your cousins coming?"
She slanted him an impatient look. "She invited them. I'm hoping one of them can solve my great-aunt's secret. I have no idea what the solution is."
"Dragon heart is dragon stone," he said.
She stared at him. "That's the first line of the secret verse. Did Great-aunt Enid teach it to you, too?"
"You asked why we kept circling back to dragons--that's why."
"Do you mean you learned the verse from Enid? You talk around questions rather than answering them."
"I came here to protect you," he added. "If you don't like the word protection, think of me as an observer who's on your side." He slipped a roasted hot dog into a bun for himself and gestured toward an ice chest of soft drinks. "Help yourself."
Mona opened a can of orange and sat on Nala's log.
"The flicker of the flames turns you into a mystery woman," he murmured. "Your eyes hold secrets no man can fathom."
"I doubt mystery women ask for seconds on hot dogs."
He was reaching to hand her one when Nala dived into her lap, huddling against her as a soft whoosh of wings came from overhead.
"That was no bat," Mona exclaimed.
"Owl," Vran said. "A big one by the looks of him." He handed her the hot dog, scooped Nala from her lap and loped toward the cottage with the cat.
He returned without Nala, saying, "I won't let her out after dark again. Of all people, I should have remembered the night predators."
When they'd eaten all the marshmallows either could handle, he sat next to Mona on the log and asked her to sing Puff, The Magic Dragon with him.
He watched as Mona stared into the fire as they sang, seemingly half-transported into that magic kingdom by the sea. They fell silent for a time, and he found the swish of the waves on the sand lulling his apprehension.
"Mudway-aushka," she said softly. "The Chippewa word for the sound the waves make. Do you know Longfellow's poem about the shining big sea water?'"
"As a boy I was brought up on Welsh poetry such as Peacock's." He threw his head back and intoned:
"The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter."
"Obviously a raider's tale."
He didn't deny it. "Welsh tales are full of battles won and battles lost, until the time came when there were no more wins--all were losses--and so we became a reluctant part of Great Britain."
"While we here in the colonies revolted and broke away."
"You had the advantage of distance." He pivoted on the log to look at the dark lake. "And vast spaces. There's still wilderness to be found here. I love America."
Mona turned so that she, too, faced the lake. Far out over the water, a string of lights twinkled.
"A ship passing," he said.
"No, actually it's a boat. Great Lakes tradition has it only boats sail these inland seas. And I was told in town it's rare to see the big boats anymore since the mines all closed."
He glanced at the sky. The rising moon, lopsided, touched the dark water with silver and leached the color from Mona's eyes as he looked at her. "The moon is waning. In ten days we'll have moondark."
She continued to gaze into his eyes. He knew he should glance away. "They say whoever looks into a dragon's eyes becomes his slave," he warned.
"Then I'm lucky you're not a dragon."
"Are you?" He heard his voice change into a croon. Damn, he had to stop this.
He saw her attempt to speak, to look away, saw her fail. Did she want more? He sure as hell did.
Vran couldn't help himself. If only he hadn't sat next to her on this damn log, he could have kept his cool. But this close to her, his head filled with her seductive scent, he was rapidly losing his reason. He felt far more than the simple allure of an attractive woman, this was an all-out sensual raid.