Excerpt for A Courtship of Dragons by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




A

COURTSHIP

of

DRAGONS



~ A Dragonlands Romance ~



BECCA LUSHER





All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Copyright © Becca Lusher 2017

Cover design Copyright © Becca Lusher

Except: Dragon Silhouettes Copyright © Freepik


Smashwords Edition

1st Edition


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.

It was intended as a free gift from this author to the readers. If you would like to share this book with another person, please download an additional copy for each recipient or go to beccalusher.com to find out where you can read it for free online.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.





Table of Contents


A Courtship of Dragons

Introduction

1. The Daisy

2. Rock Cakes

3. The Dinner Bell

4. Banquet I

5. Banquet II

6. Banquet III

7. Humming

8. Tea

9. Elder Blazeborn

10. The Morning After

11. Making a Meal of Things

12. Sigh

13. Smooth Awakening

14. Sleeper Awakes

15. The Second Gift

16. A Gift of Meaning

17. Chores

18. Pout

19. Rainstorm

20. Courage

21. Thoughts

22. Shells

23. Gossip

24. Run

25. The Cavern

26. Breathe

27. Talk

28. Well…

29. Party

30. Two Sides…

31. Cooking

32. Fifth Gift

33. Dinner

34. Rose

35. My Precious

36. Wooden Heart

37. Delay

38. Waiting

39. ARGH!

40. Surrender

41. Enough

42. Scales

43. Tease

44. Risk

45. Fury

46. Um…

47. Water Awakening

48. Goryal’s Gift

49. The Seventh Gift

50. Love

Overworld Terms

Blazing Dawn

Storm Rising

Wingborn

About the Author





~ ~ ~

To love and friendship.

For the romantics and the sceptics,

the shy ones and the deep ones,

the jokers and the anxious.

To light-hearted smiles and warm-hearted hugs.

To companionship and knowing that even if you don’t fit

the mould, you don’t have to be alone.

Embrace your differences,

and may you be blessed to find those who will embrace you.

~ ~ ~





Introduction

WELCOME TO THE Overworld, or more precisely, the Dragonlands. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Overworld has been cursed by Gods to be covered in clouds, drowning the lowlands and oceans and leaving mountaintops as isolated islands. The reasons for this have been lost over the centuries, but tension still remains between humans and dragons over who was at fault. (The dragons blame the humans, the humans can’t remember, the Gods aren’t talking.)

Not that any of that is particularly relevant to this book, it’s just a bit of background as to why my travellers are holed up in the mountains during the Storm Season.

If you are familiar with the Overworld, and the DRAGONLANDS series in particular, then this story is set a few weeks after the events of Blazing Dawn. You don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this, although it will have introduced you to all the necessary characters.

Chief amongst them being Estenarven kin Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart and Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight, my two young dragons, whose courtship this book is about.

If you’re familiar with the Overworld because of the WINGBORN series, then this is set about two hundred years before Mhysra and co, back when dragons still interacted with humans and women were still part of the Rift Riders. Although the focus in this book is primarily on my young dragons, a few Rift Riders do make appearances, along with a few other characters from Blazing Dawn.

So whether you’re a frequent visitor to these lands or new to the whole place... Welcome! I hope you enjoy this sweet little romance between a watery, anxious dragon and the stone stubborn Boulderforce who loves him. And hopefully I’ll see you around this world again soon.





1

The Daisy

Highstrike, Tempestfury Kinlands

2nd Storm Month, 579 Cloud Era

THERE WAS A flower on his pillow.

Mastekh kin Rainstorm Clan Flowflight paused just inside the narrow chamber hed been assigned for this unplanned but necessary stay with kin Tempestfury. Beyond the narrow window slit, the Storm Season raged in all its fury, filling the sky with force and making it impossible for most dragons and skyships to fly. Safely inside and protected from the weather, Mastekh clutched his recipe book to his chest and cautiously approached the bed.

It was narrow and carved from stone, in the traditional draconic style, but the blankets were thickly woven wool and the pillows were plush and soft and smelled like goosedown. Not that he spared much attention for the furnishings as he reached out a cautious hand towards the flower.

Small and straggly, it was a weed. A plain, common weed with bright white petals overlapping and crowding around a sunshine-yellow centre. The whole thing was barely the size of his thumbnail, with a dark green stalk trailing forlornly below in search of roots it could no longer feel.

A daisy.

Mastekh pinched the stalk between thumb and finger and raised it slowly towards his nose. He breathed in deep: meadows, sunshine and Estenarven.

Sighing, he smiled and held the flower up before his eyes, twirling it first one way, then the other, thinking about the big, broad-shouldered Boulderforce dragon and the way his bright smile softened whenever Mastekh came near.

And who had once kissed him as though Mastekh was the very air he needed to breathe.

A kiss and a rescue. Wonderment and joy. Strength from weakness.

That had been ten days ago and there hadnt been any sign of anything more since.

Estenarven hadnt been ignoring Mastekh exactly, but he hadnt sought him out either, and Mastekh had never been the sort to make the first move. Or any move really. They had both been busy and Mastekh had begun to think it was a one off, a mistake, a case of excited emotions overwhelmed by the moment.

He twirled the daisy again, this common little weed that flourished everywhere, including strange, out of the way places and brought a splash of sunshine inside on this gloomiest of days. A little ray of hope.

Something bubbled up inside him and he tucked the daisy behind his ear, flopping onto the bed to crack open the recipe book and flip through the pages. So many delicious treats and delicacies awaited him inside, but he already knew what he wanted to prepare next.

Rock cakes.

Grinning, Mastekh brushed his thumb over the soft petals beside his ear and studied how best to begin wooing a Boulderforce.





2

Rock Cakes

ESTENARVEN KIN BOULDERFORCE Clan Stoneheart was hungry. It wasnt quite time for dinner yet, but hed missed lunch – and breakfast, now that he thought about it. His day had been all go since before dawn, when a particularly nasty storm had struck the Skylark, threatening to throw the human ship from the sky and into the cursed Cloud Sea below.

Obeying the orders of Elder Blazeborn, Estenarven had done his best to bolster the ship and keep it airborne while Mastekh and Jesral kin Lightstorm Clan Skystorm had gone ahead with Elder Goryal in search of sanctuary and shelter.

Which was how theyd ended up here: Highstrike, home of kin Tempestfury. A rocky, spiky, exposed and unforgiving tower that dug deep into the crag it had been built upon, while the steep ravine below provided shelter for both dragons and skyships alike. It wasnt a place Estenarven would have personally chosen to visit or stay in, but so far the Tempestfury dragons had been welcoming and it was an easy enough place to learn his way around.

Getting the Skylark to Highstrike had been only the start of his busy day. The rest had been spent moving Elder Blazeborns things to his suite, unpacking the blankets, quilts and oddities that would make the elder feel at home without Khennik even noticing they were there. Then Estenarven had met up with the other aides to ensure that they all knew exactly how best to serve their elders in this new environment.

Estenarven was exhausted, quite frankly, and his stomach was threatening to take his legs hostage if he didnt do something about its emptiness soon. Honestly, anyone would think he was still a dragonling, needing five big meals a day. He was old enough that one meal should suffice, but he was a big Boulderforce – even in human shape – and he had been rather busy. No one would begrudge him a mid-afternoon snack to tide him over.

The trouble was, in order to have said snack, Estenarven would have to trudge down fifteen floors to reach the kitchen and, even though it was all downhill, he couldnt quite face the exertion. Which was why he opted to find his room instead.

Situated off the main area of Elder Blazeborns suite, Estenarvens temporary quarters werent much to write home about. He had a bed, a tall, narrow window, a tiny alcove that some might optimistically described as a dressing area and a wash basin with its own hot and cold water taps. It wasnt exactly spacious, and too small by far for him to assume his native form inside it, but it would do. Hed had worse and at least he didnt have to share it with anyone.

Although, he wouldnt necessarily mind sharing with Mastekh – if only the bed was bigger. Estenarven eyed the item in question, doubtful he could fit into it on his own, let alone share it with anyone else. True, he was on the larger size of the kin and Clan scale, but Tempestfurys were hardly small. There was no excuse for such puny furniture.

Oh well, he would make the best of it. He usually did.

Filling his basin with warm water, Estenarven washed his face and ran some cold water into his hands for a drink. His stomach gurgled in anticipation before rumbling its disappointed opinion of such a weak offering.

It was no use, hed have to visit the kitchens. If not he might start eyeing the furniture and none of it was really big enough for him to pick off a piece here and there. Besides, as a Boulderforce Clan Stoneheart, some might deem a little pebble nibbling to be cannibalism.

Chuckling, Estenarven straightened his dark grey robe and left his room, wanting to check Elder Blazeborns things one last time before visiting the kitchens.

Warm, sweet, sugary goodness stopped him in his tracks.

Estenarven paused in the doorway, head raised like a hunting hound. He sniffed the air, wondered if he was imagining things and sniffed again.

Food. There was food in the room. Fresh and warm and delicious.

Following his nose, he walked cautiously forward. Knowing his luck this would be a welcome gift intended for the elder – which he wouldnt be allowed to touch. Except there wasnt a hint of spice to the scent, nothing fiery or remotely tempting for a Sunlord.

No, this treat was sweet. Not the usual fare one might use to coax a Stoneheart from his lair either, but the perfect fodder for this particular Boulderforce.

As he crossed the room, he was drawn to the seating area, where a series of chairs and settees had been arranged to promote conversation. Estenarven didnt care about any of that, all that mattered was the table he could now see over the back of the nearest settee.

There was a platter. A stone platter piled high with chunky, round, fist-sized cakes. Flecks of dried fruit showed in one, melted spots of chocolate in another, another was dusted with sugar and icing. They were golden and bulging, and by the Family, he couldnt resist any longer.

Jumping over the back of the seat, Estenarven landed in a crouch before the table. He reached for the platter, hesitated and glanced over his shoulder.

Nothing stirred. No one moved. He was alone.

He touched the edge of the platter and paused again, sniffing cautiously. Cakes, sweet, tempting and delicious, underlain with the faintest hint of dampness and pond lilies.

Mastekh.

Chuckling with delight, Estenarven snatched the topmost cake and took an enormous bite. He groaned, shoving the rest of the morsel into his bulging cheeks. There was nothing dainty or delicate about these cakes. They were thick and heavy and doughy.

Rock cakes. Proper rock cakes. The way they should be baked. The way a Stoneheart would make them. And packed with additional sweetness.

Snatching up the platter, Estenarven clutched them protectively to his chest and stood up, looking around the room again. Empty. Still.

Estenarven chewed his delicious mouthful and glanced at the door on the opposite side of the suite from his own. It was closed. If it had been open even the smallest crack he might have approached, but it wasnt. Probably for the best. He still had fifteen cakes to scoff and right now his manners werent at their best.

Hording his prize like an ancient drake of old, Estenarven hurried back to his room where he could enjoy himself in peace.

Halfway there, the main door of the suite clicked open. Estenarven paused, the second cake already on the way to his open mouth.

Elder Blazeborn swept inside in a swirl of bronze silk, heat and fiery power. Golden eyes fixed upon Estenarven and slowly dropped to the platter held protectively close to his chest. His gaze narrowed as Estenarven unconsciously hunched his shoulders inwards, turning slightly away to better conceal his prize.

The elders lips twitched. Hungry, Estenarven?

Feeling half-foolish, half-defiant, Estenarven cleared his throat. A little, he replied, voice thick with the first cake hed devoured.

Elder Blazeborn snorted. Carry on then. He waved him away and Estenarven didnt hesitate to obey. Any longer beneath those knowing golden eyes and his manners would have prompted him to offer the other dragon a cake, which would be awful.

These rock cakes were his. Mastekh had made them for him.

Scuttling into his room like a dragonling after a kitchen raid, Estenarven shut the door by leaning back against it and shoved a cake into his mouth.

Sibling Stone, that tasted good. Chocolate and sugar and doughy goodness. Nothing could compare to this. He slid down the door, propped the plate on his knees and methodically worked his way through the stack.

After his sixth cake, he paused. Now that the sharpest edge had been taken off his hunger, he studied the seventh offering. He could still smell water lilies, a little more strongly now that the cakes had cooled and were no longer overwhelming his olfactory senses with temptation.

Mastekh had made these for him.

Mastekh had been thinking of him.

While it was true his fellow aide did enjoy cooking, especially for Elder Blazeborn – using his newfound skills to try and win the fiery dragons favour – hed never baked rock cakes before. Hed never made anything without the sole intent of pleasing their elder.

Hed never made anything for Estenarven.

Until now.

Nibbling on his seventh cake, Estenarven rested his head back against the door and smiled.

The daisy must have worked.

Placing the remains of the cake on the platter, Estenarven licked his fingers and put the rest of his treats aside. He crawled across the floor and pulled a small travelling chest out from beneath the bed.

For ten whole days the kiss hed shared with Mastekh had been all he could think about, but storm winds, troublesome dragons and aide duties had left him little time for action. Until he saw the daisy.

It had been a feeble effort at best, a spur of the moment decision when theyd paused overnight inside a small ravine surrounded by empty meadows. He wasnt even sure that Mastekh cared about him. Theyd grown close while working together to look after Elder Blazeborn, but although the kiss had been an enjoyable joint effort, Mastekh had shown no signs of following up on it. Hed barely been able to look Estenarven in the face since.

Then again, Mastekh was so shy and nervy that this wasnt necessarily a new development and might have had nothing whatsoever to do with the kiss.

But perhaps it had. Perhaps the kiss had overwhelmed him as much as it had Estenarven and now his dear little Puddle was at a loss for how to act next. Estenarven certainly was. Which was why hed picked the daisy. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, especially as duties had kept Estenarven too busy to worry about it ever since hed stolen a brief moment to lay it on Mastekhs pillow.

Now rock cakes.

Estenarven took another bite and opened his chest, digging through his meagre collection of belongings in search of the small box hed been certain had been left on the top.

No matter, he soon found it, nestled inside a screwed-up blanket. He cracked open the lid and smiled at the contents.

If the last ten days had taught Estenarven anything it was that Mastekh was not his usual type of lover, not someone as bold and brash as himself, unafraid to take what they both wanted without always needing to ask.

No, Mastekh was quiet, he was sweet, he was shy. He wasnt a taker, nor was he one to be flattered by sudden demands.

He needed to be coaxed, wooed, won.

He needed to be courted.

Smiling, Estenarven shut the box and ran his fingers thoughtfully over the top.

Let the gifting games begin.





3

The Dinner Bell

MASTEKH HAD WOUND himself into a fine state by the time the bell rang for dinner. Anxiety pinched high and tight inside his chest as he paced the narrow confines of his room. He knew such restless movement wasnt helping, but sitting still was worse.

What had he done? Oh, what had he done?

Courting a Boulderforce, him? What had come over him? How did one even go about courting a Boulderforce anyway?

Mastekh paced and wrung his hands, wondering if hed done the right thing or made a terrible mistake. Had Estenarven liked the cakes? What if hed hated them? It could be the sand bread all over again, when hed tried so hard to impress Elder Blazeborn and got it terribly wrong.

Maybe Estenarven hated him now. After all, rock cakes werent normally made with chocolate or so much sugar. But Estenarven loved sweet things. Yet rock cakes were supposed to be savoury. What right had he to change an ancient Stoneheart recipe?

And what business did a puny little Rainstorm have in courting a Boulderforce anyway?

Did Estenarven even know they were a courting gift?

Sibling Water, he couldnt cope with this. His heart was beating triple time and he was only pacing his room.

Breathe, he counselled himself. Breathe.

It was unlikely that Estenarven thought it was a courting gift anyway. He probably thought it was just something Mastekh had made while bored.

Whoever heard of a Flowflight and a Stoneheart anyway? While other Clans might mix romantically with different dragons without a second thought, ever since the Curse had covered the lowlands of the world in a thick layer of clouds, Flowflights had kept to themselves. With so many of their kin lost in the water beneath the Curse, they had pulled inwards, determined not to dilute their diminished bloodlines any further. Romances were frowned upon, mate-alliances refused. Flowflights had learnt to keep to their own.

Oh, but

Mastekh shook his head and wrung his hands, feeling them starting to drip. He was loosing control. He couldnt lose control, not in here. His hold on his human form was improving every day, but stress made it worse and hed always had trouble focusing. If he wasnt careful his thoughts tended to spiral and when they went down, they went all the way down into the depths of anxiety and worry and oh, oh, oh —

“S-stop it!” he hissed at himself, standing still and closing his eyes.

He couldnt lose control in here. The room wasnt big enough. If he gave into his fears his human skin would slide off like oil over water and hed be left cramped and cursing and embarrassed in a room too small to hold him.

Deep breath. In and out.

He had to remind himself that the pinch in his chest was just anxiety, not a heart attack. Though he wouldnt be surprised if he did worry himself into a heart attack one of these days. It was so hard to breathe at times.

Oh, no. Oh, no! He couldnt breathe!

Stop.

He clenched his damp fists and forced his heavy tail to vanish again, settling down his rippling skin and pulling in all of the water that kept trying to escape.

He was stronger than this. Better than this.

Elder Blazeborn expected better. Mastekh would be better.

Allowing a shaking breath to escape his tight lips, he opened his eyes and sighed. Much better.

“Mastekh?” Elder Blazeborn called from the room beyond. “Are you coming to dinner?”

Oh no, oh no, he was making the elder wait.

Panic swept over him again as a knock sounded on his door.

Oh, oh, he hated being a bother. He hated being late. It was so rude, so terribly rude.

He wrenched open the door and barrelled out, bubbling apologies – and slammed straight into a wall.

A wall which shifted so that two strong hands could grip Mastekh by the elbows, holding him steady when he would otherwise have reeled backwards.

“Oh!” He looked up into a dark face and beautiful, laughing black eyes.

A slow smile spread across Estenarvens mouth. Hello, Puddle.

Mastekh gulped and the anxiety melted inside his chest, warmth seeping in where there had only previously been cold. Hello, P-Pebble, he whispered.

“I’ll go on ahead, shall I? Elder Blazeborn muttered, seemingly aware that no one was paying him the least bit of attention.

The sound of the door thumping shut made Mastekh jump. Estenarven tightened his grip on his elbows – and that was when Mastekh noticed where his own hands were.

On Estenarvens chest.

Not just on the dark silk robe the other dragon wore, but on his chest. Because Estenarven was careless with how he tied his sash and didnt much care if he left a lot of skin showing. Mastekh didnt much care either because Estenarvens chest was like the rest of him – broad and sturdy and strong and smooth, so smooth. Warm too, with a hint of softness that was missing in the Boulderforces much larger and more solid native form.

As a dragon he lived up to his kin name, but as a human he had a little give in his strong muscles. Which Mastekh couldnt help but notice as he stared straight ahead at where his fingers were flexing and squeezing.

A low rumble hummed against his hands: Estenarven was laughing.

“Oh!” Mastekh snatched his hands away, staring down at them as if they belonged to someone else, a mortified blush rushing to his face. “I’m s-s-sorry.

“Don’t apologise, Puddle, Estenarven chuckled again, grabbing Mastekhs hand before he could scuttle back inside his room and bolt the door for eternity. Never apologise for touching me. You can do it a bit more later if you like, but sadly we dont have time for that now.

Mastekh could only blink as the other dragon towed him towards the door.

“The banquet,” Estenarven explained, smiling at Mastekh’s blank face. Elder Blazeborn is expecting us.

“Oh.” This time he couldn’t hide his disappointment inside the small but eternally adaptable sound. He flexed his fingers inside of Estenarvens and felt a warm, reassuring, wonderful squeeze in return.

Chuckling again, Estenarven pulled Mastekh out into the corridor. Well talk later, he promised, brushing a brief yet astonishing kiss across Mastekhs knuckles.

Heat rushed to his face again, but Mastekh didnt mind so much this time and spent the rest of the walk through the halls of Highstrike grinning like a fool.





4

Banquet I

KIN TEMPESTFURY WERE a lively bunch. Especially during the Storm Season, when their powers were high and they seized upon any excuse to throw a party. Hence this banquet, which had been dragged together at short notice to welcome the human ambassador, her Rift Rider guard and the dragon delegation assigned to accompany them throughout the Dragonlands.

Estenarven had visited a few dragon courts in his three and a bit centuries of life, but hed rarely seen any quite as relaxed as this one. A high table stood at the head of the great hall, where the dragon elders, ambassador and Rider captain were seated alongside the Elder of kin Tempestfury with a certain air of formality. The rest of the hall was taken up with long tables, a hundred Rift Riders and nearly three hundred dragons, all talking at once, reaching over each other for food and frequently swapping seats in search of a more interesting conversation.

He loved it. This was just his sort of night. Good food, even better wine and friendly people: what more could a dragon ask for?

Well, a seat closer to Mastekh might have been nice. Not that Estenarven wasnt enjoying his present companions. Hed been seated next to two Rider lieutenants, Anhardyne and Vish, who were a lot like him – loud, friendly and frequently flirty. Estenarven had liked them both from the moment theyd met and any dinner spent next to them was bound to pass in laughter and merriment. It was just a shame that Mastekh had been seated with the other lieutenants on the opposite side of the table. One that was wide enough to support Estenarven in natural form and currently piled high with all kinds of delicious food – which had the unfortunate effect of obstructing his view.

They were unable to share anything more than the occasional glance between platters, but Estenarven had still managed a fair few at the beginning of the evening, wondering how long it would take before the seat beside Mastekh was empty. However, as time progressed, he noted the way the humans were taking care of his Puddle and started to relax. Mastekh would be safe with Nera and Gharrik. They were quiet and steady and would never drink too much or let the nervous dragon be overwhelmed by unwanted company.

Unlike Estenarvens side of the table.

“A toast!” Anhardyne shouted, seated on Vish’s lap, her stone goblet raised high. Whether there was much wine left in it, Estenarven was highly doubtful, but he still admired the fine sight the human pair made. She was tawny and gold, her fine blonde hair like a cloud around her head. Vish, by contrast, was dark and brown, with long eyelashes that he fluttered in his lovers direction to make Anhardyne laugh.

“To love and friendships and wine and song!” Anhardyne’s words raised a rousing cheer and she leant towards Estenarven, goblet first. Drink, drink! she urged, almost dropping the whole lot in his lap as Vish reeled her back in.

“Leave the dragon room to breathe, Hardy. You’ll never gain his attention that way.

Catching the goblet before it could soak him, Estenarven grinned and raised it in response to Vishs flirty wink. Once he might have taken them up on their not-so-subtle offer. Rumour had it that neither human minded too much who shared their bed, as long as they all had fun, and it seemed that even after the pair of them had finally given into their mutual attraction and formed a partnership, they were still open to offers, so long as both of them could partake.

He would have been tempted not too long ago. They were tall and athletic and exuberant – everything that Estenarven had revelled in since gaining control of his wings and changes. But their kind of fun no longer seemed so appealing, and all because of the small dragon sitting hunched up on the other side of the table. Estenarven stared at Mastekh until he looked up, raised the goblet in a silent toast and held Mastekhs eyes as he drained every last drop, slowly licking the last few from his lips.

The Rainstorm flushed green with embarrassment and looked away, pretending to be interested in something Lieutenant Nera had to say.

A drunken giggle drew his attention to find both Vish and Anhardyne watching him with knowing smirks.

“You do like a challenge, don’t you? Anhardyne snickered, closing her eyes as Vish ran his fingers up the back of her head, spreading them through her hair.

“I’m pretty sure those are the only ones worth having, the second Rider chuckled as Anhardyne pressed into his hand, practically purring.

True enough. Estenarven reached across the table for the wine jug and refilled goblets for them all. To worthy challenges, he said, raising his drink.

“And rewards well won,” Anhardyne agreed, smiling slyly as she tapped her goblet against his.

Now that was definitely something he could drink to. He smiled and sat back, ready to make the most of whatever else the evening had to offer.





5

Banquet II

MASTEKH HATED BANQUETS. They were always so noisy, so full of people, so full of food. Sitting hunched in his chair, he stared at the soup in front of him. It was cold. It had to be by now. Soup had been the first course, the only one brought in by the draco servants. The rest of the food had been piled in the middle of the table for all and sundry to serve themselves with as much or as little as they liked, while extra dishes were added as and when they were needed.

Mastekh hadnt eaten any of it. He couldnt. He was too edgy, his stomach a mass of confusion and anxiety.

Estenarven sat directly opposite him, across the wide expanse of tabletop, laughing and completely at ease. As well he might be in a crowd such as this; the Boulderforce was naturally gregarious and always popular. Lieutenants Anhardyne and Vish were seated next to him and they made quite the striking trio – young, beautiful, tall – but where the humans were slender and lithe, Estenarven was broad and dark and —

Oh, dear. Mastekh sighed and stared down at his untouched soup. He felt like that soup: cold, colourless and utterly unappetising. Why would Estenarven ever want him when he had such a rich feast available?

Rumour had told him all about the young Boulderforce long before Estenarven had been assigned to Elder Blazeborn as an aide in punishment for playing too roughly with humans. Mastekh cast him another glance and sighed again. It seemed little had changed, since Estenarven appeared as eager as ever to play with the Riders.

Not that Mastekh could blame him. Humans were vibrant and fun, and those two in particular were extremely flirtatious. And more. Mastekh had heard rumours about them too. Their reputations for excitement and experimentation more than matched Estenarvens before Mastekh had ever met him. The dragons of Teirenlai had had only good things to say about the Boulderforce in all areas.

Mastekh shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He wasnt a prude, nor was he shocked or even surprised. He was a Rainstorm and Flowflight dragons were known for being fluid in most aspects of their nature, be it relationships, gender or sexual preferences. Flowflights rarely settled forever in anything. But sitting in that hall, watching Estenarven flirt rather outrageously with the humans, Mastekh felt young and inexperienced and small.

He may have grown up a Rainstorm, but attraction was new to Mastekh. Hed always known he wasnt like his other clutch mates and fellow fledglings. Hed never been attracted to them, couldnt imagine ever being intimate with any of them. Hed thought he wasnt much that way inclined. It happened, even amongst the fluid Flowflights, and hed been happy enough with that thought. After all, he could barely make it through the day without spontaneously melting into a puddle, so throwing romantic entanglements into the mix would surely only make things worse.

Not that anyone would ever choose to get involved with him. Why would they? He could barely stand his own company, so why would anyone else ever choose to willingly spend time with him?

But Estenarven

Mastekh was staring again. He couldnt help it. Estenarven was everything he wasnt. People wanted to be close to him, and who could blame them? It wasnt just that the Boulderforce was handsome, it wasnt even that he was friendly. There was just something about him that made Mastekh feel safe, made him feel calm, and that wasnt anything hed ever encountered before. No one had ever made Mastekh feel safe, no one had ever quieted the doubts and fears that constantly warred and chattered inside his head.

With Estenarven he could breathe.

But that was selfish. What could Mastekh possibly have to offer in return?

Feeling miserable, he stared across the table as a laughing Anhardyne picked up something sticky with sauce and pressed it to Estenarvens lips. The Boulderforce opened without hesitation, licking her fingers clean afterwards.

Mastekh stopped breathing.

Dark eyes flickered his way, shimmering with the pale blue of the surrounding glow globes.

Mastekh dropped his gaze, fists clenching in his lap. He had no right to feel this way. No right at all.

But the daisy

Hed baked rock cakes

Nothing had been said. No promises exchanged. Even if Estenarven had kissed him, there had been no vows offered, no words given. If there was even anything between them, it didnt mean they were exclusive. Estenarven was a free dragon; he owed Mastekh nothing. Kisses werent anything to get flustered over.

He looked up, blinking away a wash of tears and found the seats opposite now empty.

Theyd gone then. Vish, Anhardyne, Estenarven. Off to have even more fun together somewhere secluded and private. Mastekh wished them well of their evening, even if his chest felt hollowed out and his heart trampled beneath their carefree feet.

“They don’t mean anything by it. A soft voice drew his attention sideways.

Mastekh tilted his head the tiniest fraction to see Lieutenant Nera watching him with compassionate dark eyes. Mastekh twitched his head away, unable to bear her pity, barely holding himself together.

He felt like ice, cold and frozen, but knew that ice was just a thin layer over the roiling waters beneath. If he moved too much or too fast, the ice would crack and all the hurt and fears and unworthiness would come flooding out. Hed lose control and embarrass everyone. He had to hold on. He couldnt afford to crack.

“It’s only flirting, Nera continued, her voice low beneath the babble of excited chatter. They cant help it. Its as easy to them as breathing – Esten too. But hes barely taken his eyes off you all evening. Theyre just having fun.

Mastekhs breathing hitched, almost a sob, but he couldnt respond. He wanted to thank Nera for trying to be kind, wanted to tell her it didnt matter. He knew they were just flirting, that it didnt mean anything. He also wanted to tell her that she was wrong. It was more than flirting and it meant everything, everything bad and hurtful, proving everything that was wrong with him.

Why else would their seats be empty? Where else could Estenarven have gone, except back to the room the lieutenants would have been assigned, along with a big bed that offered so many more opportunities than the cramped, shared quarters available to them on the Skylark? Estenarven was a big dragon, even in human shape, he would need room to stretch out. More room than hed been assigned in Elder Blazeborns suite. They could offer it to him.

Stone scraped over stone as the chair to Mastekhs left was dragged out. He didnt move, couldnt, didnt want to know who was sitting there now. He hadnt even noticed that the other dragon had left. Hed been seated beside an older Tempestfury all evening, one who had been interested in nothing but the food in front of him. His lack of conversation had suited Mastekh perfectly, although he wished the gobbling old drake hadnt left so early. He was not in the mood for fending off the conversation of strangers.

A warm, heavy hand settled on his thigh and Mastekh jumped. The ice threatened to crack as he stared aghast at the newcomer.

Dark eyes, pupils blown wide, gazed back, accompanied by a lopsided grin in a broad and beautifully familiar face. “’lo, Puddle.

Estenarven.

Mastekh could have cried. Estenarven was here. He had come to him. He could have the pick of the room, hed already had two humans enjoying his company, but no, Estenarven hadnt chosen to be with any of them. Hed come to Mastekh. He was here. Mastekh breathed in a short, stuttering breath, trying to hold back the tears.

Estenarven smiled and Mastekh melted.

The ice covering him faded away, but he didnt break. No flood of feelings poured forth, he didnt lose control. Instead the waters inside him settled and calmed and he was back, safe inside his own skin, wanting to be nowhere more than where he was right then.

“Missed you,” Estenarven mumbled, pitching sideways until his head rested on Mastekh’s shoulder, his face pressed against his throat.

Oh.

The calm waters began to bubble and fizz beneath his skin, sending a wash of heat rushing through him.

He hadnt expected that.

Just as he didnt expect Estenarven to half-turn towards him, one hand still pressed against his thigh, the other stretching across Mastekhs body to link their fingers together. The Boulderforce hummed with contentment, setting Mastekh fizzing and bubbling once more. Their hands were so different – Estenarvens broad and strong, with thick fingers and calloused skin. Mastekhs hands were slender and cool and soft – not to mention trembling as Estenarven shifted his grip to Mastekhs wrist. Then he slid his fingers slowly, slowly down, over fragile veins and tendons, tickling against his palm then teasing between his fingers, where fine webbing extended between each to the middle knuckle.

By the Family! Mastekh shivered.

Estenarven hummed with approval. Sensitive?

He swallowed as the Boulderforces lips brushed against his throat and nodded. He hadnt known, hed had no idea but, gracious, as Estenarven teased his fingertips over the webs again, Mastekh couldnt restrain a full body shudder. Nothing had ever felt so strange, yet wonderful, and oh, he wanted more.

“Es-t-ten…”

Chuckling, Estenarven slid his other hand down Mastekhs thigh towards his knee. He circled his thumb slowly, keeping time with his fingers as they stroked the webs, Mastekhs palm, his wrist, slipping inside the sleeve of his robe and up to the crook of his elbow.

What was he doing to him?

Sibling Water, have mercy.

“Oh…”

Estenarven opened his mouth against Mastekhs neck and licked, just as the hand on his thigh began to move upwards.

A loud laugh broke the spell and Mastekh flinched, raising his shoulder quick and sharp and catching Estenarven on the cheek. He also pressed his hand hard against the one on his thigh, stopping it from exploring any further.

“Not h-h-here!”

Grumbling, Estenarven shifted back onto his own chair and rubbed his cheek. Sorry, Puddle, forgot youre not one for exhibitions.

Mastekh hadnt thought himself one for sensual touches either, but look how wrong hed been. S-sorry. He hugged his arms miserably over his middle. Yet another way that he was less than other dragons.

“Don’t apologise, Estenarven said, clucking his tongue and prising one of Mastekhs hands loose. He pressed the palm against his lips and sighed. Never apologise. Im the one who should have known better.

Yes, he should have known far better than to have ever expressed interest in an inexperienced, anxious, watery, wimpy, useless excuse for a dragon such as —

“Oh!”

Estenarven smiled against Mastekhs palm, then slowly licked the web between his fore and middle finger again.

“Oh, m-m-my.”

“Bad thoughts gone?” Estenarven chuckled, lowering Mastekh’s hand.

He shivered all over and stared at the Boulderforce. What th-thoughts? he asked, dazed and then dazzled as Estenarven smiled at him. It was wicked and sultry and all for him.

Mastekhs insides fizzed and bubbled again.

“Perfect.”





6

Banquet III

ESTENARVEN WAS DRUNK. Oh, hed known he was a bit merry when he was sitting with Anhardyne and Vish, basking in their attention and drinking far more wine than was probably wise. But it had been right there and it was a very good vintage. Plus hed felt Mastekhs eyes on him, so he might have been showing off a little.

But still, hed kept his head. Mostly. Enough to enjoy himself while he waited for the gluttonous drake to finally finish stuffing his face and leave the seat beside Mastekh empty. It had taken longer than Estenarven had anticipated – hence the wine.

Still, hed been fine until after hed bid the lieutenants a fine and adventurous night and made his way around the long table. Hed been completely in control of himself when hed pulled out the chair and dropped into the space.

Then hed put a hand on Mastekhs leg to gain his attention and completely lost his head.

Mastekh was cool and sweet and smelled like water lilies. The shivers, the closeness, the sounds he made.

Yes, Estenarven was drunk, utterly and completely soused, foxed, pissed, rat-arsed, tap-shackled, scale-shucked, loose-winged and every other description on the Overworld. But it had nothing to do with the wine and everything to do with his companion.

And Mastekh had absolutely no idea, if the way he was blushing was any indication. His poor dear Puddle was utterly green in the face, the colour also spreading down his neck.

Estenarven stared at where the blush vanished beneath the collar of Mastekhs robe and couldnt help wondering how far down it went. Was his chest pale or dark, mottled or clear, muscled or slender? Where were his scales? Every dragon had them, regardless of form, but the small patches they retained in human form could show up anywhere.

Estenarven had two patches, one small smudge on his left buttock, the other a slender line that spiralled around his right thigh. Where were Mastekhs? Somewhere naughty, he hoped, since scale patches were often sensitive. As sensitive as the webs between his fingers? Estenarven certainly hoped so.

He couldnt wait to explore, to uncover his Puddles every last secret, to —

“Estenar-v-v-ven?” Mastekh’s shaky breath was accompanied by a sharp, insistent tug.

Estenarven paused and looked down. By the Family, he really was drunk. Hed been licking Mastekhs hand again, focusing all of his attention on those same webs, eyes closed, lost to the exploration.

Poor Mastekhs face wasnt just green now, he was blushing so hard it was almost black.

Estenarven reluctantly released his hand. Sorry.

Mastekhs mouth moved, but no sound came out. Poor Puddle, hed been shocked speechless. All because Estenarven was drunk on the nearness of him and had forgotten himself. Again. They were in a crowded room and even though no one was paying them any attention – nor would they be shocked even if they were – Mastekh was not an exhibitionist. Estenarven had to stop forgetting that, forgetting himself, forgetting where they were. It might not bother him, but it would bother Mastekh and that was not something he should ever forget.

“Forgive me.” He pressed a hand to his heart and bowed his head with remorse.

A cool hand slid over his cheek and he looked up into green eyes almost swallowed by dark, wide pupils. Dont, Mastekh whispered, rubbing a thumb over Estenarvens cheek.

He closed his eyes and leant into the touch, thinking of all the things he could do if that hand moved closer to his mouth. All the things he wanted to do, to start, to explore.

Huffing in frustration at himself, Estenarven opened his eyes and forced himself to pull away from the temptation of Mastekhs hands. Hed never been particularly interested in hands before, not on their own, but with Mastekh everything was different.

He couldnt resist taking hold of Mastekhs hand again, but forced himself not to bring it back to his mouth or to stroke it. He just held it pressed between both of his and tried to think sweet, pure, innocent thoughts.

Which was tricky in a room that had grown as loud and as rowdy as this one.

Estenarven frowned, rapidly losing his happy, wine-induced haze and passing into an grumpy, irritated aftermath. Lets go, he urged, pushing back his chair and getting to his feet.

Mastekhs eyes widened, but he didnt object when Estenarven hauled him upright.

“We can talk in the morning. Everything will be better then,” he said, weaving through the raucous crowd and making for the nearest door.

“You w-won’t, Mastekh replied, cringing against Estenarvens side as a drunken mixed party of dragons and Riders attempted to drag him into their dancing circle.

“Won’t what? Estenarven asked distractedly as he stepped over a passed-out Rider still clutching a flagon of ale to his chest. He turned and lifted Mastekh up and over the man without thinking.

Wide eyes stared down in surprise. Estenarven blinked up, clasping Mastekh against his chest and barely noticing the weight of him. Liking the feeling of keeping his Puddle so close, Estenarven strode the last few steps until they were out of the hall and in the much quieter corridor beyond.

Then he had to put him down, because the temptation to pin him to the nearest wall was just too great.

Mastekh kept his hands pressed against Estenarvens chest, eyes still wide, barely blinking.

Smiling, Estenarven rubbed his knuckles down the Rainstorms cheek and pressed his thumb beneath his jaw to close his gaping mouth. It was simply too tempting left open.

“Won’t what? he repeated, remembering the question hed asked before.

Mastekh snatched his hands away and folded his arms across his chest, rubbing at his shoulders, face flushed green once more. He shivered and offered up a tremulous smile. You w-wont feel b-b-better in the m-morning.

Estenarven blinked in surprise – and burst out laughing.

Mastekh folded his arms, huffing with indignation. Well, you w-wont. After all the w-wine youve d-d-drunk, youll have a t-t-terrible headache. And dont c-come c-crying to me when you d-d-do.

It was one of the longest sentences Estenarven had heard the Rainstorm mutter and it made him laugh even harder. Oh, Puddle, he sighed, draping an arm across the smaller dragons shoulders before he could storm off in a huff. We really have to work on your seductive invitations.

Which earned him a slap on the chest. It w-wasnt an invitation you l-lout. As if Id in-v-v-vite you any-wh-where.

“A dragon can dream,” Estenarven sighed soulfully, slightly embarrassed to realise his wistfulness wasn’t entirely feigned.

“F-fool.”

“Yes,” he agreed cheerfully. “Completely. I’m a absolute fool for you. He pressed his lips against Mastekhs cool cheek, delighted to feel it heat beneath his lips. And now to bed, before I ravish you right here. I know youre not one for exhibitions.

This time the soulful sigh came from his companion. A dragon can d-d-dream.

Estenarven could only hope that his wistfulness wasnt entirely feigned either. Dont tempt me, Puddle. You might not like the outcome.

“I’ll s-save it for when youre not d-d-drunk, P-Pebble. You might dr-drop me.

“Oh, really?” Estenarven roared with mock indignation, spinning Mastekh around. Catching the Rainstorm by surprise, he upended him over his shoulder and started running towards Elder Blazeborn’s suite.

“Put me d-d-down, you f-fool!”

Laughing, Estenarven ignored the kicking legs and fists thumping his back, knowing that if Mastekh really wanted to escape all he had to do was shift and flatten him. I heard a challenge, Puddle, and a good dragon never turns down a challenge.

“You’re d-d-drunk!

Yes, utterly. Completely drunk on Mastekh and the light, silly, foolish feelings he stirred up inside. Estenarven hadnt been lying when hed said he was a fool for Mastekh. He would be anything for this Rainstorm; he only needed to ask.

As Estenarven jogged up staircase after staircase, Mastekhs struggles slowed and shifted. The fists that had been thumping his back turned to caresses smoothed over silk. By the time Estenarven reached their suite, his breath was heaving, his legs were shaking and he felt rather light-headed. None of which had to do with the weight of his captive or the distance hed travelled. His back tingled all over from Mastekhs teasing touches.

Unlocking the door, he staggered inside and carefully lowered his burden.

When Estenarven straightened, Mastekh grabbed hold of his head before he could reach his full height. Green eyes glowing with determination, the Rainstorm stared intently at him for a long moment.

There were so many silent questions in his eyes that Estenarven couldnt bear it. So he kissed him.

At first it was clumsy: a hard push that mashed their lips against their teeth. Mastekh clenched his hands around the back of Estenarvens neck as if afraid he would try and escape.

Estenarven wasnt going anywhere. Reaching back, he touched Mastekhs wrists and rubbed the insides with his thumbs, urging the Rainstorm to relax. Then he slid his fingers over the back of Mastekhs hands to slip between his fingers and stroke the sensitive webs.

Mastekh gasped, relaxing his firm grip.

Estenarven took full advantage, pulling back to take a breath and gain some room, then darting in to bring his tongue into play.

Ah, such play. Mastekh melted against his chest and Estenarven turned their kiss into a lazy, thorough exploration that left them both panting and shaking, holding tight to shoulders and waists in an effort to keep standing.

And they were both still fully dressed.

Estenarven had never felt like this with anyone before – certainly not without naked skin and a solid, supporting surface involved.

It was too much.

It wasnt nearly enough.

And Mastekh wasnt ready for more.

Estenarven eased the kiss until he could pull away, cupping Mastekhs face in his hands. Wide eyes, more black now than green, gazed up at him, kiss-swollen lips trembling with uncertainty, anxiety already draining the passion from his face.

No, they would go no further tonight.

But Estenarven stole another kiss anyway – a sweet, delicious sip – before pulling away with a sigh.

“Goodnight, Puddle,” he murmured, resting his forehead against Mastekh’s.

“Goodnight, P-Pebble,” came his reply.

Then they parted for their tiny, solitary rooms on opposite sides of Elder Blazeborns suite.

It turned out that Mastekh was right: Estenarven was not going to feel better in the morning. He certainly wasnt about to sleep any time soon.

But it had been worth every single moment.

And he would willingly do it all again on the morrow.





7

Humming

3rd Storm Month

MASTEKH WOKE IN a very good mood, having slept extremely well the night before. He hadnt expected to. After his time with Estenarven and the kisses theyd shared, he had expected to spend the whole night awake, reliving the sensations and agonising over what it all meant.

Instead hed slept peacefully – and woken with a smile. Estenarven had been right, everything did look better in the morning. Apart from the weather, of course, but that was to be expected when spending the Storm Season in the Tempestfury kinlands.

Rising early, Mastekh slipped away from Elder Blazeborns suite and headed for the kitchens. Time for tea. The elder enjoyed a refreshing cup in the morning and, as Estenarven often joked, Mastekh was good at tea. There were times when he felt it was probably the only thing he was good at, the only truly helpful thing he did for the elder, but not today. Today was not a day for doubts. Today was a day for humming.

Hed never thought of himself as particularly musical before, but for some reason this morning music kept bubbling up inside him. A rippling little melody like a mountain spring bursting up through rock and ice after the winter thaw.

That was what he felt like – lively, vibrant and new, refreshed after a long period of cold and dark. So he hummed, exchanging shy smiles with the busy dracos who worked around him while he waited for the elders water to boil. Normally he felt useless, gawky and in the way of the smaller servants and their industrious work. Today they welcomed him into their pattern, murmuring appreciatively over his little tune. They even thanked him when he had finished preparing the tea and headed for the door. As if any draco ever had a single thing to thank a dragon for. The servants always worked so hard – surely any gratitude went the other way.

So he made sure to thank them with shy, stammering words, then picked up his tray and headed back to the suite. Humming all the way.





8

Tea

SOMEONE WAS HUMMING. Elder Khennik kin Blazeborn Clan Sunlord frowned down at his desk and the report he was supposed to be writing to his Clan elder. The suite was too quiet, magnifying the clatter of hailstones against the windows and the shudder of the wind as it whistled around the tower. Lightning flickered and thunder snarled. Khennik attempted to ignore it all as he hunched over his desk beside the fire on the opposite side of the room. Usually the crackle, pop and hiss of the flames would be enough to settle him, but it was early and he was tired after a late night.

And now someone was humming.

Sighing, he dropped his quill and rubbed his eyes as the main door to the suite opened, admitting the hummer with his tray of tea.

Mastekh.

Khenniks eyebrows rose in surprise and he rested his chin on his hand, watching his usually anxious aide back into the room before turning and closing the door with his heel. Still humming.

Mastekh didnt hum. In fact, Khenniks Rainstorm aide rarely made any sound at all, except for squeaks and the occasional stuttered sentence. Not that he was a quiet or restful presence. Mastekh might not have used his voice all that often, but his emotions were often loud. Trembling, shuffling, jittering, wringing his hands, lurking in the background, trying to be unobtrusive and always failing. It had driven Khennik distracted when theyd first been assigned to each other. However, hed grown used to it over time and occasionally even missed Mastekh when he wasnt in the room.

Khennik wouldnt have said he was fond of humming, especially wordless tunes that bubbled and rambled without any form or reason, but it was an interesting change. He was almost certain he knew what had put that small smile on his younger aides face too.

Oh. Elder B-Blazeborn. Youre up al-r-ready.

The happy hum faded but, much to Khenniks surprise, the smile remained. Mastekh didnt smile at him, he was usually too worried or anxious to please, holding himself tense as if always braced for a reprimand or a blow. Khennik tried not to ever give the former and would never use the latter. The mere prospect of being mistaken for such a thuggish bully had often made him moody and equally tense at first, until he realised that the only way Mastekh would relax around him was if he relaxed first. So Khennik mostly attempted to ignore his aide, since Mastekh appeared happiest that way.

Not this morning. This morning he seemed prepared for conversation, so Khennik cleared a space on his desk for the tea tray and nodded congenially. Good morning. I trust you slept well.

Mastekh bobbed his head in agreement, placing the tray on the table with a lot less clatter and rattling than usual. There werent any stray water drops either. Progress.

Estenarven is still abed, I take it? Khennik asked as Mastekh began pouring the tea.

P-p-pardon? Mastekh flinched, sending hot water all over the stone tray and across the desk. Oh, n-n-no! he wailed, dropping the tea pot with a clatter and flapping over the spilled liquid.

Sighing, Khennik rescued his most important papers and stood before the tea reached the edge of the table and dripped into his lap. Its all right, Mastekh. No harm done. After all, this wouldnt be the first time Mastekh had almost dumped a pot of tea all over him – nor the second. Khennik had learnt to be perpetually wary whenever his aide was holding anything in his vicinity and to move quickly when necessary. He had hoped the humming and smiles would herald a new era in their working relationship.

No such luck. One offhand question and his aide had collapsed back into a bubbling, anxious, apologetic mess and Khennik could feel all his old irritations rising. He tried not to get angry, because he knew Mastekh couldnt help being the way he was, but it was frustrating.

One tiny tiptoe forward, a massive leap back. That was how things seemed destined to always be between them.

Ill finish this in my room, he said, unable to hold back a sigh as he gathered the rest of his papers into his arms and shook tea from the end of his quill pen.

Im so s-s-sorry, el-d-der, Mastekh whimpered, patting the desk with his palm and leaving dry stone behind. His hand had darkened to the shade of ginger tea.

The sight reminded Khennik of how thirsty he was, so he piled his things on his chair and poured himself a cup of what little was left in the pot. Mm, spicy.

Its all right, Mastekh, he murmured again, retrieving his papers and sipping from his cup. These things happen, and there was no harm done.

Mastekh hung his head pitifully. Khennik considered reaching out and patting the young Rainstorms shoulder, but he wasnt a particularly tactile dragon and the last thing he wanted was to make Mastekh recoil. Their relationship was shaky enough as it was.

So he contented himself with another sigh – mostly filled with bafflement over what his young aide needed from him – and retreated back into his room. It would probably be safer for all involved if he stayed there until the Storm Season had passed and the Skylark sailed onwards.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-42 show above.)