“That son of a bitch.” Hallah’s voice rang out in the small cave located not far away from Wardona, the land she was abandoning. Her family had settled there many generations ago. Now she and the entire population of Wardona were giving it up to stay alive. Drought had led to famine, which had led to extreme measures like marrying Lord Rogin of Eastania, Wardona’s enemy. That was also why she was hiding in a cave for the moment instead of attending to duties in Wardona. She was avoiding Lord Rogin and his entourage. Avoiding discussion of the trip to Eastania. Not her proudest moment, but she needed some time away from responsibility.
“I could eat him for you.” Dunstan didn’t look fazed by her rant and the echo of her voice throughout the cavern. Nothing ever fazed him. He had to be the calmest dragon rider there was. Not that he was in any position of power, though he could have been. Lady Hallah had almost promoted him to captain, but because of her involvement with him, hadn’t. He’d even accepted that lack of promotion without upset. Lucky man to be so settled.
“He’d give you heartburn. Not to mention he’s a dragon rider too, so he’s not easy pickings.” If only he’d been human. The last ruler of Eastania had been human. Dunstan could have digested him without worry. Not that she advocated eating people to solve her problems. “You men have it lucky. No one is forcing you into a farce of a marriage to save your people with a man--dragon rider--you can’t stand.”
“No one is forcing me
into anything. But Rogin is
a man and last time I checked, he hadn’t offered marriage.” Dunstan’s voice was dry, and he met her gaze head-on. “He’s being forced into this like you are.”
She opened her mouth to rally her arguments, but the words died on her lips. Dunstan had a point. Rogin was in the same position as her--well, except his people weren’t dying. But Wardona had been attacking them so often in a last-ditch effort to conquer them that something had to be done about the situation. Marriage to her probably wasn’t Rogin’s dream of how his life would turn out.
“At least he’s getting a prize.” She humphed and sat down on a cold rock. She didn’t want to think about how this was affecting Rogin. Damn Dunstan. Right now, she only wanted to think about how it was impacting her life. She’d go through with the marriage for her people--she always did what was expected of her--but she needed to let off some steam first.
Many would have run from her when she was in such a state or told her what she wanted to hear. Dunstan never did, even when it put him in great peril. “Yes, he’s getting a prize.” The words came out as sarcastic and not the least bit sincere.
He flashed that grin at her--the one she could never stay mad at. The one that occasionally melted her insides as though she were the dragon rider who had the inner fire, not him. “You’re a prize to me. But I know you a hell of a lot better than he does.” He stalked over to sit by her. He put an arm about her shoulders and pulled her into his warmth. “You don’t know him well enough to say you can’t stand him. But he doesn’t know you well enough to know you’re a hell of a woman.”
He smelled like fire and woods. A comforting scent that tickled her nostrils as much as the smoke from the fire that kept them from getting chilled. She liked the warmth from his body better than any fire. “If only we’d done the mating marks before now.”
Dunstan stroked her shoulder. He squeezed her gently. “If we had done those marks, it would put you at a disadvantage in talks with Rogin. You’d not have any leverage because you’d have to include me in negotiations. You’ve already lost any advantage you might have had. You don’t need anything else to impede you.” She knew him well enough to know he was sincere, even if the reality was daunting for them.
“But then he’d have to accept you.” There lay the crux of the matter. Hallah was already involved with someone. From all reports, Rogin wasn’t. But because there were no mating marks, Rogin didn’t have
to accept Dunstan. He could pull them apart as easily as a man eating a chicken wing. “He might not accept you.” She felt her eyes sting. “If he decides to make this marriage more than a farce, he could keep me from you.” For all her big words, this was her greatest fear about the union.
Dunstan’s grip tightened on her almost to the point of pain. He was a big man and usually remembered that, but he wasn’t thinking right now. Her intake of breath reminded him to loosen his grip. “You think he could? He can’t keep you from me. Ever.
” His voice deepened. “No matter what.”
“He’s the lord of Eastania. It won’t take them long to figure out how bad things are in Wardona. He and I will be unifying our people, and he’ll have the upper hand. He can do whatever he wants.” If only she could spit those words out like some bitter taste and erase them.
“Not to me.” Dunstan leaned over to kiss the top of her head. “Lord Rogin will never keep me from you.”
Hallah moved away. If only she could believe that. But Rogin would have the means and the right. How could they keep him from denying them? She didn’t want to give up her lover, but she had to do right by her people. She’d never thought it would come to this. Wardona was about to cease to exist. Every time she thought about that, her stomach clenched. That was probably why she focused on keeping Dunstan--to keep her mind off her entire culture possibly going extinct. At least Dunstan was something she might stand a chance of winning. The other was a necessity. They’d be swallowed up by Eastania.
“We’ll find a way.” He pulled her back against him. His warmth shielded her against the chill of the air and the unpleasant subjects. He’d always known what to say and do to calm her down. Maybe now would be no exception. It couldn’t be. She couldn’t face Rogin like this. He’d know she held secrets, which would make him want to find them. “When is the wedding?”
Not a subject that would calm her down or anything she wanted to think about. “When we get back to Eastania.” Her life would be over then. Rogin could even make her a figurehead if he wanted to--with no power whatsoever. She had to take whatever he offered. He had all the cards, and she had none. Not a situation she was used to. Rogin didn’t know that yet, but even a dolt could figure it out.
“That gives us time.”
“To what?” Did her voice sound bitter? Only because the love of her life might be lost. She’d been born the lady to Wardona and had never felt the burden of leadership. Until now.
“To make him realize he needs both
of us in his life.”
She ran a finger over her lips. Dunstan had a way of convincing people. Maybe they could do that. With his help, maybe she could find a way to keep herself sane and not obsolete.
“He already needs you. To stop the Wardonan fights and to ease his fire.” Dunstan’s voice rumbled against the back of her head.
Dunstan wouldn’t see that Rogin had no need of her because he cared for her, but she did. “He’s not at the age of maturity yet.” And that means nothing. The other means nothing either. Dragon riders ease themselves with random humans all the time.
She shivered, not from cold, but Dunstan held her closer all the same.
“No, but he still needs that fire eased. It builds up worse after that age but is always there. So you’re already a need. You’re a human. As he could cut off your...other lovers, you can cut off his.”
She’d never thought of it like that. “But how do we convince him that he needs a male dragon rider as a lover too?” There was nothing in Rogin’s information to indicate whether he had a gender preference. Dragon riders were usually bisexual, but that didn’t mean Rogin was. If he didn’t go for men--if he preferred women--that could make it difficult. ’Course he could prefer men over women; again, that didn’t work in their favor. They’d need him to want both sexes.
“He doesn’t need a dragon rider.”
She gasped a little at that statement. That didn’t help their cause.
“He needs me
.” Dunstan’s voice was as confident as it usually was.
She couldn’t argue with that. She sometimes thought everyone needed Dunstan in their life, but there was only one of him, and luckily she had him. Or at least she had
had him. The degree to which Rogin would let Dunstan be in her life in the future remained to be seen. “Have you seen him?”
She couldn’t explain the sound behind the yes, but it was almost as if his voice tightened. “You’re interested in him.” Dunstan never put on airs or faked reactions, so his interest was genuine.
“Whether I am or not, we will be with him. Together.”
Yes, but it would help their cause if Dunstan wanted to be with Rogin for reasons other than remaining in a relationship. From the deepening of his voice and the interest reflected there, she could tell Dunstan found the man attractive. “But how do we--”
He cut off her words by easing her face up to plant a kiss on her mouth. His tongue gently probed between her lips, and soon she responded to his offering. He played with her tongue, nipping it between his teeth before pulling back. “We’ll find a way.”
He kept saying that. He believed it. But she had stopped believing in miracles when the drought had become critical. How many times had they prayed for rain that never came?
DUNSTAN RAISED HIS hand and stroked Hallah’s beautiful face. She nuzzled into him, seeking his touch much as a cat would. Talking wasn’t working to calm her down. He rarely overly discussed things. Hallah did, so he made the effort, but she only seemed to be getting more upset. He had a solution for that. He lowered his hand down her body to her breast. He had a sure-fire method to help bring down her stress levels.
She let out a small gasp and tried to shy away from him. “Dunstan.” She sounded like she did when was being the lady of Wardona. Her tone was clipped. But he could make her lose control and often did.
“Yes?” He didn’t remove his hand, nor did he let her move away from him. She wasn’t getting away that easily. They needed this time together, and he would see that they had it.
She stopped trying to avoid his touch and instead pressed into him. “We shouldn’t.” She shimmied more closely against him, belying her words with her actions.
He shook his head, finding her breast under her dress and stroking his finger across her. Her nipple pebbled under the pad of his finger. She opened her mouth with an exhalation of air before he spoke. “We should.”
Her breath caught in her mouth instead of flowing out to further the gasp. “Dunstan...”
Now that was more like it. Her voice had gone down several decibels and was breathy. That was the way he liked to hear her talk. “It will take your mind off everything. Plus...” He gazed at her, taking in his fill of looking at her body. “It could be a while before we can again.” He refused to believe this could be the last time. They would find a way to be together, but he wasn’t sure how long that would take. He didn’t like the idea of having sex with her once she had married Rogin, unless they could somehow pull him into a relationship with both of them. As the man didn’t know their personalities, that could take time.
Interesting how the lord and lady were the only ones to get married in a traditional sense. Dragon riders tended to bond using mating marks, but even that wasn’t done by all. It made sense, as it united their people.
Traditional or not, he didn’t want to cuckold some lord no matter how much he loved the woman in front of him. He would have to convince this lord that being with them was for the good of them all. Their future depended on it.
He saw her close her eyes while she probably focused on what she could feel. She knew it could be the end of their relationship, though he refused to consider that. She was a practical woman, sometimes more practical than him.
There was also the fact she always made him horny, so he’d always want this. His cock had been rock hard since she’d stormed into the cave to meet him. Even angry she was a beautiful sight--from her milky skin flushed due to emotion to the way her hands trembled by her side to green eyes that sparkled with passion. She was always a sight to behold, and he loved to behold her.
He reached up to undo the clip that held her hair and pulled it from the severe bun. Red waves tumbled down her back, and he played in the cascading locks. She only wore her hair down in private. For him. Would she do so with Rogin? He’d never made love to a woman with another man before. It would take some getting used to.
She put her hand on his arm and squeezed him hard. She had surprising strength for her size. “I can’t lose you. I won’t.” Her voice was stronger but not her lady voice. She kept her firm grasp on his arm.
She cursed the situation that had led them there, but he didn’t. Being lady was as much a part of her as breathing. He couldn’t imagine her as anything but the lady of Wardona, so it made no sense to wish it otherwise. In time, she’d make her peace with her standing, especially if they were successful with Rogin.
He slipped his hand across her neck, down to her chest, and then under the top of her scooped-neckline dress. Time to act. Someone would start looking for Hallah eventually. She had duties. He would need to find Rogin and start their plan. But he wasn’t about to hurry up this encounter. No, they’d take their time, or at least as much as they could.
She rolled her head up as he slid his hand down farther still, under her dress to her breast. She was swollen, tip still hard, ready for his touch.
Ready for his tasting.
Just like always.
He couldn’t wait to get her under his mouth. Under his body. He touched her, pinching her nipple between his fingers and rolling it around between the pad of his index finger and thumb.
She whined, the sound carrying in the cavern. Her whole body spasmed involuntarily.
So responsive to his touch. He loved how she’d react to anything he did to her. He removed his hand from her skin, prompting a groan from her. “Take off your dress for me, Hallah.” He stepped back from her.
In public, she was always “my lady,” “Lady,” or “Lady Hallah.” It was only here in private that he called her by her given name. He was the only one who did so that he’d encountered. She’d mentioned her first lover had never called her by her first name without Lady attached. He liked the way “Hallah” rolled from his lips.
“Only if you take off your clothes for me, Dunstan.” Her eyes were shining now. They’d been flashing when she arrived, then defeated. Now they were back to flashing but with a different emotion now than then. This was the way he liked her--challenging, engaging.
“Quid pro quo, huh?” It was a language long dead to their people, but some vestiges remained, especially between the lord, her father, who’d passed away in years past, and her. Dunstan had learned bits of speech from her. She always asked that what Dunstan did for her had to be done back to him in kind. It was the give and take of their relationship. “I guess I can do that.”
“Guess?” She arched a brow. Her hand was already at the buttons of her dress. She stopped. “Guess?” He needed to continue what he was doing. He needed to see her naked.
He didn’t answer her but pulled off his shirt in a fluid motion before tossing it to the cave floor. Best to act rather than speak in this situation. He lowered his hands, undid his belt and the top button of his pants. He didn’t have to look down to know his erection now showed in the revealing V. Her expression of want and wonder displayed what she could see. Raw hunger took up its place on her face.
She licked her lips, slipping her tongue out to moisten them with careful consideration. Sparks flew from her eyes.
That tongue’s motion hit him in places he couldn’t even begin to describe. His stomach muscles clenched in retaliation. What a woman. His woman.
Yes, they’d find a way. He wouldn’t give her up.
She undid her dress with hands that shook a little. She seemed to have problems controlling them. To know he was the cause always filled him with emotion. She was always so in control, he liked to make her lose that control with him and delighted when he was successful.
He moved closer and held his hands out toward her. “Let me.” No sense in wasting any time.
She submitted to his assistance, letting him undo the last five of the stubborn clasps. She always had too many buttons for his liking. He would have preferred it if she stayed naked all the time, but the others would frown upon that. Stupid morality.
He slipped the now-parted dress from her frame. God how he loved her shape. She was curvy in all the right places. He liked to kiss the spot where her stomach met her pelvis. Truth be told, he liked to kiss her everywhere, but that was one of his favorites.
The dress fell from her, revealing her naked body. His gaze marched down her body greedily before heading back up to meet her eyes.
It was his turn to arch a brow. “Naked under your dress? What did you think was going to happen with me?” He was teasing of course. She’d known as well as he had what would happen. They often knew things without having to say them. She always liked to play the proper lady and then come to him and be naughty as hell. He pushed Rogin and the thought that they were doing something dishonorable out of his mind. It wasn’t like Rogin and Hallah were married. Dunstan was many things, but a cheater wasn’t one of them. Until the marriage was final, royals were free to sleep with anyone they so chose, but after the marriage sleeping with others could be frowned upon.
“This.” She moved toward him and put a hand in the V of his splayed pants. “And more. At least I hoped it would happen.” He could feel the warmth of her touch above his heavy cock.
Her protest had been a token one. He’d suspected as much. She’d anticipated being with him one last time as much as he had. Still, he relaxed a little with that knowledge. He always wanted her to desire this as much as he did.
She pressed her hand down and met his cock.
He couldn’t help but rock toward her. Her palm was slightly cool and slid against his bare cock, which longed to be free and rear up to meet her.
“I think these pants need to come off.” She batted her lashes at him with a sneaky grin on her face.
He nodded and reached down to yank his waistband down as quickly as he could. He kicked his shoes off in a second, followed quickly by his pants.
She slapped his ass with one hand. “Calling me naughty. What about you?” She shook an errant piece of hair out of her face.
“I didn’t call you naughty.”
“You thought it.”
They were of the same mind as usual. “Well, yeah.” He grabbed her hips to pull her against him. She fell into him with a gasp.
Naked skin against naked skin.
He wanted to rub all over her and place every part of him against her. He met her mouth with his. Jumbled kisses kept away any conversation. He traced the seam of her lips with his tongue and demanded entrance.
She met his every stroke, and they played tug of war until she finally pulled her mouth from his. “I need you.”
Their mouths met again in a frenzy of joining. He reached down and placed his hand on her naked breasts. He tweaked her nipples and rubbed his palm against her again and again.
Slowly, he began backing them up to a blanket lying on the stone floor. Wouldn’t be much of a buffer against the rock, but it was something. He’d brought it the last time they’d met here before Lord Rogin had arrived.
Would he be looking for his soon-to-be wife anytime soon? Maybe Rogin finding them in this position wouldn’t be the best introduction. Or maybe it would be. Lots of people liked to be voyeurs. Regardless of the danger of being found, they would have this moment together.