Geant pulled at the chains that held him to the wall. He curled his lip and growled. A wasted effort, as he didn’t succeed and was alone. Therefore there was no one to see his frustration and be cowed by it.
“You can’t pull free.”
Or maybe not alone. He turned to face the man he hadn’t heard approach. Geant had been too busy trying to pull the heavy chains from the wall. His arms ached from the effort. He silently surveyed the man who stood before him and who had brought him to this place. Against his will.
The man was well built, like a panther, with compact muscles and a large frame. His darkness carried the panther analogy with his long, dark hair pulled back in a queue and his dark clothes and coat. His skin shone with olive tones in the candlelight. Were the situation different, Geant would have enjoyed the way the light fell on his constricting biceps or the way his hips rocked back and forth when he walked. But the situation was what it was.
The man was Alin.
The head of Wardona’s dragon riders.
Geant bared his teeth at the man, who looked back at him with some amusement--not the effect Geant was going for.
“You can show teeth all you want. They aren’t as impressive in this form. And you will remain my prisoner.”
The ever-present note of needing to be free leaped up in Geant, making him feel reckless. He tried to push that feeling down because it wouldn’t get him anywhere. He remained trapped in this dungeon of Wardona. He’d been in a dogfight with Alin as a dragon above the skies from Eastania to Wardona. Alin had kept him from going back to Eastania’s dragon grounds. He’d pushed Geant to the ground in dragon form and overtaken him when they’d both finally changed to human. Alin had had an army of humans. Alin hadn’t fought fair, in Geant’s humble opinion. “Fuck you.”
Now Alin’s teeth shone white against his skin, but it was in a grin, not a baring of teeth. Didn’t anything rattle this man? “Maybe later. For now, I’m not supposed to touch you.” He lowered his head. “‘Course if you invited me...that’d be a different story.”
Geant rattled the chains that held him in place and didn’t comment back. His stomach clenched. Like he’d ever invite the man to touch him. Instead he glared. As if that would do any good. If only he had a weapon. Or his fire. Or even clothes. His clothes were back in Eastania. They hadn’t given him anything to wear here. So far the chill hadn’t been bad, but he hated being exposed like this.
“You don’t even have to speak.” The man chuckled a bit. “You’re thinking I can’t imprison you here. And I’ll say, ‘Oh yes, I can.’” The man leaned back against the stone wall. Everything down here was dark. It was a wonder Geant could see Alin. Walls dripped with moisture, and the air wasn’t fresh by any means. The jail had been carved from the rock, a cavern. There were rock formations in the huge room he’d been in imprisoned in.
“In six hours, I’ll be changing. I’ll be a dragon.” Geant smirked as he moved the chain. He calculated how much yield the chain had. Alin was out of reach right now, but maybe he’d slip before the day was through. “A big
Alin’s smile was anything but charming. “This chamber was made to keep dragon riders. It’s made to keep you after
you change. The chains may fall away. But they can be put on again.”
Geant looked around the chamber--or cell--again with a different perspective. It was big enough to house a dragon. The door was huge and locked, with Alin holding a key. The walls were stone, and the door was heavy and metal. Geant would bet it was fire-resistant as well. As he looked with new understanding, he could tell it was a prison designed to hold a dragon rider. When Geant changed, the chains wouldn’t keep, but when he changed back to human, Alin would probably come with enough guards to man an army and put them back on like he’d done when Geant had transformed before. They’d detain his dragon and his human here beneath the Wardona settlement. “Fuck you.” Geant was screwed right now, but it felt good to say the words to Alin.Arrogant bastard
. Geant clasped and unclasped his hand. If only Alin would walk in the range of the chain, then he might be able to make things even.
Alin pushed from the wall but didn’t come any closer. “You persist in saying that. Maybe you are
in need of something so soon after your arrival. I had figured you had a few more days.” His face took on a calculating look.
Geant’s blood ran hot underneath his skin as he realized the seriousness of his predicament for the first time. He’d been so focused on getting out, he hadn’t thought about what he didn’t have. Shit
. That hadn’t occurred to him until now. He was well past the age of twenty-five when the fires could consume a dragon rider unless they were released. He could feel his fire building even as he stared at the man in front of him. The well-built man. Back home he had Elesia, his lover, his woman. She eased the fires burning within. Gaia, she probably thought he was dead. Damn Alin for this. “You can’t keep me here.” A stupid thing to say and what Alin probably expected. Geant cursed his weakness in saying it aloud.
“I can. I will. Until I’m told otherwise.”
Geant flexed his muscles against the chains that held him. He noted the glint of appreciation that lit up Alin’s eyes. That was not the attention he wanted right now. If Alin weren’t the enemy, he would have acknowledged the other man’s glances more. If Alin weren’t his captor, he would have gotten aroused at the man’s subtle flirting and the sight of his body. Geant liked Alin’s type. But that wasn’t going to go anywhere with the two strikes Alin had against him. “I’ll burn.”
Alin’s eyes flickered again. “I thought you must be past the age of maturity.” He motioned. “Your hair.”
Yeah, so Geant’s hair had turned gray. He was an old, grizzled dragon rider. It showed. “I am. I have a human at home. I need to be eased by her.” He needed to let her know he was alive. She was the only important thing in his life. The most precious thing. This bastard hindered Geant from going back to her. Geant bristled under the forced circumstances and the attraction he felt to Alin. It wasn’t a good combination. His cock erected itself like a mast on a ship. Geant tried to think about anything that would disgust him and take his reaction away.
The man walked in a half circle around Geant that kept him from coming too close into the chain’s reach. If only he’d make a misstep. Alin’s eyes had flamed up at the word “eased,” but he didn’t comment on Geant’s erection, though he had to notice.
“How hot is your fire burning right now?”
Geant looked within himself. He was hot. It wasn’t bad now. Not yet. But it would get bad without Elesia. “Imprison me here, and the wrath of Eastania will come down upon your head.”Another show of weakness with an empty threat. No one had seen Alin take him. Wardona could make Eastania think he was dead if they wanted to. Alin did have him over a barrel and knew it.
“You didn’t answer my question, though. I wonder why that is. Don’t want to talk to me?” Alin looked at him as though he’d get an answer from Geant’s face. Not likely.
Geant stood in stony silence.
“Must not be bad yet. I don’t see a heat flare-up. But it will get bad. You’ll have to take a human here.” Alin waved a hand toward Geant as if that answered everything.
Geant shook his head.
Alin looked surprised at his negative answer. “You’ll have to. Or you will burn up, my friend.”
“I’m not your friend.” Geant spat the words as though they were distasteful. He would never take a lover here, not even to save himself. Not this way. But he wasn’t explaining that to Alin.
Alin blinked a couple of times, as though he couldn’t believe Geant’s answers. “You’re saying you won’t take a human while you’re here?”
“Yep.” Geant held his head as high as he could under the circumstances. “I can wait.”
“This lover must be pretty special for you to wait.” Alin’s face turned thoughtful, as though he was contemplating his next move.
Elesia was special. She was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and sometimes Geant was still surprised she was with him. No other human could compare to her, so he’d not take on another human lover here. “Yes, she is.”
“You’d risk everything to stay faithful to her?” Another calculated look.
Geant nodded. That wasn’t his reason for not planning to accept a human lover from Wardona, but let Alin think it was. He had no plans to sleep with an enemy to take his fire away, even if he burned in the process. His reasoning was complicated, but he’d never been with anyone without Elesia. He didn’t intend to start now. She’d probably be fine with it as long as he didn’t burn, but he didn’t want to do that. Not to mention he didn’t want to do what his enemy wanted him to do. A foolish sentiment, but Elesia had always said his stubbornness knew no bounds.
Alin shook his head. “I had no idea dragons from Eastania could be so loyal. And so stupid.”
Geant growled and bared his teeth again. How dare his enemy call him stupid? The bastard.
Alin’s smile was just as unpleasant the second time. “Will be interesting to see how long you take that stand. And how long I let you be loyal. You’re not going to explode on my watch and take out my city with you.”
That had occurred to Geant too. Being underground like this, under the bowels of the complex of Wardona, if he combusted it would probably do some damage. He tried to look innocent. Probably didn’t succeed, especially if Alin’s expression was any indication.
“When I decide, you will take a lover.” Alin folded his arms in front of his chest and continued to circle around him.
Geant stared stonily ahead. He would not be dictated to by Alin or any other. He’d decide when and whom he took as a lover, his fire be damned.
“The heat will build. And you will be singing a different tune. Eventually.” Alin looked entirely too sure of himself.
Geant clamped his mouth shut as he seethed with anger. If only he could slap that smug look from Alin’s face. Elesia would want him home safely and not care how he came back to her, but Geant couldn’t stand the thought of doing what this man
wanted him to do. Forget the enemy. It was all about this man
. Also, he didn’t like the idea of taking someone simply because of his heat. Some dragon riders wouldn’t care. He did. He’d feel like he was using them, not a good thing to reconcile with his own moral code.
Of course, this ran opposite of what he’d instructed two dragon riders under his charge back in Eastania to do. He’d told them to find a human at any cost.
Irony was a bitch and should be slapped.
Alin watched the man watching him as Geant waited to see if Alin would walk into the chain’s range. What would he do if Alin did? Wasn’t like he could ever break free, even if he killed Alin. There was an army outside those doors. Alin might be the head of the dragon riders and responsible for taking down Geant, but he couldn’t have done it without help. He had to admire Geant’s balls.
From the instant he’d gone after Geant’s dragon, he’d admired the man’s fortitude. His courage. It had taken an army to pin him down, which was hardly fair, but that was what Alin had been asked to do and was for a greater good. The survival of his people. After they’d returned to Wardona and he’d seen Geant as a man, he’d admired other things. His body. The older man was a force to be reckoned with. Few stood up to Alin. He was a big man even among other big men. His size wasn’t the only reason he’d gotten his position, but it hadn’t hurt. He found himself fascinated by his nemesis.
A dangerous business.
Geant was the enemy. Alin had been told to hunt him to give them leverage against Eastania. The plans for Eastania’s dragon rider captain didn’t involve Alin doing anything with him. Yet Alin couldn’t stop himself from coming to see Geant, from interacting with him. And he’d found a lively man, not cowed at all by his kidnapping. Hell, even the idea of burning from the inside out didn’t seem to get this man down.
“You’re one stubborn cuss.” Alin stepped close, near to the range of the chain but not in it.
Geant had straightened up as he approached, but now he settled back down. “I don’t have to do anything.”
Ah, so part of his reluctance was the implied force involved. He didn’t like taking orders. Neither did Alin, but he’d found sometimes he had to. Geant had to have found the same in the position he was in. “You won’t have any choice.”
“There are always choices.” Geant swallowed. His mouth must be dry because he hadn’t had water since he’d been there. “Always. Even if you don’t like them.”
Alin looked toward the water bucket that stood out of reach of the chain. “Are you thirsty?”
Geant’s tongue came out to lick around his lips. Alin couldn’t take his gaze from that errant muscle.
“Come now. You have to be thirsty. You haven’t had anything to drink since before you turned dragon.”
Geant shook his head again.
Yes, this man was an enigma. One of the last of the old guard, where nobility and loyalty met in magnificent glory. “Not drinking won’t do anything for you. Not when there is water.” He pointed toward the bucket and dipper. “You’re a smart man. You had to be to get where you are. Use those brains now.”
Geant hesitated. He looked toward his bonds and then the bucket again. His tongue slipped out a second time, making Alin’s heart race.
“Fine. I’ll drink.”
He hadn’t admitted anything but was accepting the water. That was the most Alin could hope for right now. Alin moved toward the bucket and then stopped. “Couple of things you have to promise before I help you to water.”
“You have to promise not to attack me.”
Geant’s grin was fierce, as was the accompanying look. “Whyever would I attack you?” He tried to sound innocent but failed as he had earlier with his angelic look.
Alin pushed a shock of hair back from his face toward his queue. “Because you want to be free. Because I have to come into the chain’s reach to give you water, and you’ve been waiting for me to do that. Before water, you have to promise.”
“Like I’d keep my promise?” Geant looked directly into Alin’s gaze. He didn’t waver or lower his head. He might be a prisoner, but he wasn’t acting like one.
“You won’t break your word.”
“You don’t know that.”
Alin laughed, the first real laugh he’d had in a long time. “I do. Because I know a little about you, Geant. I know you have a human lover, Elesia. I know you’re the captain of the dragon riders for Eastania. I know you’re an honorable man. You honor your oaths.” Unlike so many of their kind.
Geant’s snort was worthy of a dragon despite his being in human form, and he didn’t look surprised at what Alin spouted. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know enough.” He waited for Geant to promise. Once spoken, Geant wouldn’t go back on his word.
give me water?” The man licked his dry lips. Geant’s eyes glowed with a fire most would never, ever have.
A fire Alin found himself wanting to possess.
He ran his hand across his face as though he could wipe his attraction to his prisoner away. Geant wasn’t meant for him. Never would be. At the end of this, when Wardona had what they needed, Geant would go home to his lover in Eastania and never return.
Alin had to keep that in mind, even as he faced down the man who didn’t trust him at his word. “I will. I promise that.”
“Promises can be broken. Especially by Wardona scumdogs like you.”
If the man had any moisture, he probably would have spit in Alin’s direction, but instead he glared with eyes that could have shot daggers from their depths.
Alin rocked back on his heels. He didn’t let the insult bother him. “Want the water or not?” He picked up the dipper and began sloshing it through the water. He even dripped some on the ground, making it apparent what was in the bucket. He turned back toward Geant with the dipper in his hand.
Geant’s face was impassive, but a swallow moved down his throat. “Water.” His voice was hoarse.
“Promise you won’t attack me.” Alin held out the dipper but not close enough for Geant to grab it.
“Say the words.” He pulled the dipper toward himself.
“I won’t attack you.”
“When you come into my chain’s reach.”
“When you come into my chain’s reach. To give me water. I won’t attack you.”
Alin had to smile at the addendum that released Geant from an agreement not to attack him at other times. Geant had gall, that was for sure. Alin stepped forward and held out the dipper.
Geant reached for it, his chains clanging.
Alin held on to it, and they wrestled for a second over the water-laden spoon. “I’m not letting go.”
Geant finally stopped and guided the dipper to his mouth with Alin’s help. He noisily slurped water.
Alin refilled the dipper three times before Geant seemed sated. He quickly stepped back to the bucket, out of Geant’s reach.
“You’re scared of me.”
A ripple moved along Alin’s spine down to his still-erect cock. He was, but not for the reasons Geant thought. Geant was the most tempting man Alin had had the pleasure of imprisoning. He’d become thoroughly acquainted with him before the capture. Maybe even a little obsessed. He had to keep in mind what he was doing was for the greater good, not his gain.
The greater good. My people’s survival.
“I’m not scared of you.” Alin moved away from the dipper and bucket as he looked at Geant’s still-glittering eyes.
“Yeah, right.” Geant moved toward the back of his chain length. It was an encouragement for Alin to move closer.
Which Alin wasn’t doing. “I’m only here to make sure your stay in the dungeon is comfortable. We aren’t out to hurt you, Geant.” He liked the way the man’s name fell from his lips.
“You’re only out to keep me prisoner.”
Alin didn’t answer that. It was true.
“What do you mean?” Alin stepped around, moving toward a point on the side but staying out of reach.
“Why take me
prisoner? I’m not anybody important.”
Was the man in leave of his senses? “You’re only captain of their dragon riders.”
Geant waved a hand, clanking the chains. “I
can be replaced. I’m
not the lord. I’m
...not vital to Eastania. Why keep me
Alin sat down on a rocky ledge. “You’re important to Eastania. To their dragon riders.”
“For what? Why does that make my capture crucial? What are you trying to do?”
“You’re the backbone of the dragon riders. They won’t rest until you’re back with them, and they won’t do as well without your leadership. Your capture will convince your lord to marry our lady. To merge our two societies and stop the fighting.”
“So I’m the bait. To get my lord to come here.”
Alin had never thought of it that way. “Yes.” They’d known the lord of Eastania would compromise to get his captain back. He was that kind of man. They had met an impasse with negotiations for the lord and lady to marry. This would hopefully push them into an alliance.
“Why does Wardona need this alliance? Why are you attacking us?”
Did they not know? How could they not know? Seemed like they would have been spying on Wardona as much as Wardona was spying on Eastania. He hadn’t been ordered not to talk about it, and considering the coming alliance, Eastania was about to find out all their secrets. The wedding would already be in progress by the time Eastania learned Wardona’s true situation, so Eastania couldn’t take advantage of the situation. Alin saw no harm in telling Geant. Geant had no one to tell. “We’re dying.”
Geant lifted his head in unhidden surprise.
“We have infertile land. We can’t sustain our people. We need the fertile ground of Eastania. Our numbers are dwindling from starvation and from the...fights.” Another reason that Alin, young as he was, had gotten to take over. Most of the older dragon riders were wounded or dead.
“Why didn’t you come to us? For help? Why attack? Why this goddamned charade?” Geant sounded more troubled than he should, which didn’t thrill Alin. He’d expected many reactions but not this more sympathetic one. He could have handled anger. This comeback was harder to take.
He sneered at Geant. “Don’t pity us, old man.” Alin got up to pace again. “You would have taken advantage of our need. This way you won’t take the upper hand. We’ll be on equal footing.”
Geant shook his head. “You don’t know as much as you think you know. My lord...”
“I know this way your people won’t take advantage of the situation and my people.” Alin blew out a deep breath. “We have you. Your lord will now negotiate with us without knowing we are in need.” It wasn’t the best situation. But in desperate times, desperate measures were called for.
And his people were desperate.
Geant turned his back before Alin made his exit.
There was nothing else to say.
* * * *
Elesia flipped over again and again in the bed. She tossed and turned more than a dragon rider in the air.
She’d done nothing but pace since Geant hadn’t returned from his dragon fight with Wardona, until she’d finally decided to lie down for a little while.
Surely I’d know if something had happened to him.
But she couldn’t imagine what would keep him from coming back. Nothing short of hell could bring him down, could it?
Wherever he was, he was probably one pissed off dragon rider.
She turned over again, facing the wall. She hadn’t slept much during the night; she never did. She was on a dragon rider’s schedule. Now she was too keyed up with worry to sleep. He couldn’t be dead...
Which led to one thought and one thought only.
He’d been captured.
That was the only thing she could think of that would keep him from returning to Eastania. To her.
How they’d done it was a mystery, but he would have fought them with everything he had. It probably took an army.
She rubbed her throbbing temples. Geant often rubbed her head when it hurt. His large thumbs could be so tender on her brow. Odd how he could be so rough and so tender at the same time. He had hands that were textured, never smooth. She’d always liked their touch.
She closed her eyes, remembering a young dragon rider who had just started to adjust to his dragon half. He’d turned her head the instant she’d seen him. She wasn’t the only one. Many a human had tried to catch his attention. But he’d taken one look at her and never looked to another human. The feeling had been mutual and permanent.
They’d thought about adding lovers over the years, but no one seemed to work. It took a special man to be with Geant. The other dragon riders thought he was a staid, by-the-book kind of man. The kind who never did anything outside the bounds of law. A crock. He only let them see that part of him, but there was another part, a wild part, that he showed her and her only. He’d never been able to break down and display that side of himself to others they’d tried to bring in. He also liked to dominate and could do that quite effectively, which some didn’t take to too well.
She wasn’t exactly easy to live with either. Most knew her as quiet, but she had an assertive side she showed to only a few. She could be difficult, and he’d always known how to deal with her temper and wild side. She didn’t say a lot to the other dragon riders, so they’d often commented on her shyness. Those who had gotten to know her couldn’t believe they ever thought she was shy.
Yes, anyone who came into their relationship would have to be special, and so far, they hadn’t found a person to complement them in the way they wanted. The way they needed. Some dragon riders didn’t take on a mate, much less a second one, but some of the happiest relationships in Eastania were those among threesomes. The dragon riders’ bisexual nature was best satisfied when they had two lovers of opposite genders.
She opened her eyes and glanced around the bedroom. Geant’s clothes rested on the chair. She’d brought them back from the aviary platform, the large, flat rooftop where all the dragon riders took flight from and returned to. It had seemed wrong to leave them there.
She ran her hand over her mouth.
He couldn’t be dead. She’d know if he were. Which meant he’d be coming back to her. Eventually. He’d just take the long way around. A usual Geant move. Her mouth curved into a smile.
On legs that shook slightly, she got up and moseyed to the chair. How many times had they had sex on this chair? Too many to count. They’d had intimate moments from wild, frenzied fucking all over the room to him brushing her hair.
This damn room that now didn’t hold the one thing she wanted to find.
She picked up the clothes. Held them to her body. They were cold. It had been hours since a body had been in them. She pressed them to her face.
They smelled like Geant, though. His woodsy, musky scent permeated the cloth.
She inhaled, taking in the smell of the man she couldn’t get out of her mind. For several minutes she sat there and huffed in the closest thing she could to Geant. She carried the clothes back to the bed and lay down with them clasped to her nose so his essence was all she could focus on.
She couldn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. Not until she knew for sure what had happened to him. Drowsily, she hovered somewhere between sleeping and waking. Thoughts of Geant burdened her mind.
In her dreams, he thrust his body toward hers, reassuring her he was fine and would never leave her...