I numbly drifted through the suite, running my hands over the rich, leather couches, touching the cool, stone walls, gazing around at the beautiful, high ceilings with exposed wooden beams and candle lit chandeliers. Intricately woven rugs covered the polished wood floors, and breathtaking pieces of art covered the walls. The chambers had a warm, comforting, rustic feel to them, but somehow, I found little comfort in the beauty that surrounded me.
I supposed I should’ve felt ecstatic as I wandered the expansive rooms. I should’ve been jumping up and down as I marveled at the plush, inviting living room and it’s expensive looking, leather furniture. Like the rest of the suite, it was designed with exposed wooden beams in the ceiling and had walls made up of many, smooth, round stones. A fireplace crackled peacefully near the couches.
I should’ve felt excitement when I discovered the cozy bedroom. It was designed with soft, cream colored furniture, wooden floors and walls, and an enticing, stone fireplace near the bed. The windows on either side of the fireplace allowed for natural lighting, and provided a magnificent view of the world outside.
Anyone would’ve squealed in delight when they laid their eyes upon the huge, marble and stone washroom, complete with a tub big enough for three. It had vaulted ceilings, several lovely vanities, bay windows, even a shower. It was a washroom big enough for several people to use at the same time. But I felt nothing as I studied it.
There was even a kitchen, carved from stone and wood like the rest of the rooms, with gorgeous floors and exposed ceiling beams. It had an island with bar stools, and the tabletop was littered with bowls filled with mouthwatering fruit. But none of it appealed to my stomach. The kitchen was connected to the dining room, which had a table big enough for ten people to sit at and share a feast fit for royalty.
But perhaps the most wonderful part of the chambers was the massive patio, which connected to the open kitchen and dining room area. Lanterns hung from the roof, and the sides of the space were completely open. It overlooked the forest, far below, and the snow capped mountain ranges in the distance. It had a fantastic, stone fireplace and several plush chairs, perfect for relaxing and chatting away with company.
But I hadn’t any company. I had no friends, no family. I had no one...
The one person I did have would never truly be mine, not in the way I’d always hoped for, at least. The thought brought me an unbearable sense of loneliness, and fresh tears ran silently down my cheeks.
I padded into the bathroom, stripped myself of my grimy clothing, and slowly ascended the white, stone steps that led up to the tub. Perhaps a long, hot soak would calm me down and clear my head. As the bathtub filled, I grabbed the first bottle of oil I saw and poured it into the steaming water. The smell of oranges and nutmeg filled the steamy air and I sighed instantly with pleasure.
Yes... This was just what I needed.
I only got out of the water when it began to grow cold. I could’ve stayed there all night, lost in the pleasure of the bath. It felt safe there. As soon as my feet left the water and touched the cold, marble steps, reality came crashing back over me. Depression came billowing back over my head, like a black, ghostly sheet of sorrow.
My motions were robotic as I dressed. The bedroom had a closet full of clothes that, none to my surprise, fit me just right. I pulled on a pair of white, silk pajama shorts and a matching tank top. I ran my fingers over the fabric, distantly aware of how soft and silky it felt on my body. I pulled my damp hair into a messy knot on the top of my head, and scowled at the reflection of my red, splotchy face in the mirror. The hours of crying had made my eyes red rimmed and puffy, and the tip of my nose matched.
When I padded into the kitchen, suddenly craving a hot cup of lavender tea, I found a steaming mug of it sitting on the island. I was shocked for a split second, but I was getting so used to magic that I simply shrugged, scooped it up and kept walking.
I found myself wandering back to the patio with a cotton blanket that I’d snagged from the couch. I sank onto one of the chairs and gazed out over the distant mountains. It was so quiet up here. Not even the sound of bugs or frogs touched the quiet air.
Night had fallen, and I couldn’t see much aside from the silhouettes of the pointed peaks. The sky was what really caught my attention.
Out here, away from the lights of the cities, the sky was much different. Every single area of the dark void was freckled with luminous stars. A translucent, wavy, cloudy looking streak cut across the middle of the sky, and I wondered what it was. I wondered what any of it was.
The sky, the stars, the blackness... So far away, so mysterious, ancient and secret... I gazed at the full moon and felt sorry for it. Was the moon lonely like me? Well, if it was, we were here together now. And as the glowing moon and the countless, bright stars stared down at me, I did feel a little bit less alone.
I did not know how long I’d been sitting out there, lost in deep thought about the stars, when a sudden knocking at my front door made me jump. A bit of my tea spilled at my jerky reaction, and ran onto my bare thigh. I hissed at the burning sensation and cursed under my breath.
I made my way to the door, wary of who would be on the other side. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, especially not Dristan. I prayed that it wasn’t him, but as I hesitantly pulled the door open a fraction and peeked out, I found that my prayers had been ignored.
He was back in his human form, which I found a bit odd, but I didn’t comment on it. He stared at me with a small smile on his lips, but as I stared back blankly, his face began to fall. He cocked his head to the side.
“You’ve been crying.” He pointed out in subtle concern.
“Go away.” I whispered. I began to push the door shut, but he shoved his foot between the door and the frame, stopping me.
“Let me in.” He said.
“No.” I growled, pushing against the door as hard as I could. His foot may as well have been an anvil.
“What’s wrong with you?” He said, trying to open the door. My strength was nothing compared to his, and I grunted in frustration as he pushed the door in. My bare feet slid across the floor as it opened, squeaking against the polished wood.
His towering frame stepped into the room and I turned away from him as he shut the door behind him. He was silent for a beat.
“What’s wrong... What happened?” He said with quiet anger.
“Don’t worry about it.” I murmured. I wrapped my arms around myself and walked toward the living room. Of course, he followed me.
I was forced to stop as he circled around me and stepped into my path. I looked up at him, irritation flaring inside of my chest.
He stared down at me with furrowed brows. “Tell me what’s happened. Has someone done something to upset you? Tell me and I will take care of it.” He growled.
I clenched my jaw and inhaled as the anger inside of me transformed from a glowing ember, to a full on, blazing ball of fire. I couldn’t stop it from erupting out of me like lava. I didn’t want to.
“You are what’s bothering me!” I shouted, shoving my fists outward and pushing him away from me. He stumbled backward as shock crossed his features.
“What the hell are you talking about?!” He hissed, straightening himself. He rubbed his chest where my fists has connected with him.
“Just get out!” I bellowed. He gaped at me, but did not move.
I glanced to my right and picked up a blue vase that was sitting on the end table by the couch.
“I said.... GET... OUT!” I lifted it, ready to throw it at his head if he didn’t do as I said.
His sapphire eyes darkened as he eyed the vase, and then me. He backed up a few steps, but he made no move to leave.
“Brenya... Don’t.” He warned, his tone laced with dark promise.
I bared my teeth at him before throwing the vase with as much force as I could. It flew right at his stupid, perfect, maddening, beautiful face.
He caught it in one hand, not even flinching, before it could hit home. He glared at me as he set the vase down, his nostrils flared in anger. He stalked toward me and I shrank beneath his piercing eyes as tears began flowing down my cheeks again.
“Damn you.. Just leave me alone...” I whispered, covering my eyes with my hands, desperate to evade his gaze. I listened to his footsteps as he drew closer. I braced myself for him to scold me, to yell at me for acting so violently toward him. But that’s not what happened.
I felt his arms snake around me, and he gently pulled me against his chest. I stiffened as he rested his cheek on top of my head. I felt his warmth seep into me through both of our clothes and I automatically relaxed against him, burying my face into his shirt, breathing in his pine needle scent. The anger lessened as he held me.
“Tell me what’s wrong.” He breathed onto my hair.
“It doesn’t matter...” I whispered.
His arms tightened around me. “Of course it matters.”
“Why do you even care?” I grumbled, frustrated.
He pulled away slightly and slid his index finger under my chin. He lifted my face to meet his gaze and studied my eyes intensely.
“Because I care about you.” He whispered.
I stared at him as the anger began to return, poisoning my insides with its filthiness.
“You’ve been away for five years. I should think you’d be more interested in visiting with your fiance rather than worrying about me.”
I pulled out of his embrace, pushing him away, as shock crossed his features.
“What?” He said, narrowing his eyes.
“Your precious ‘Andi’ told me everything.” I spat, backing away from him. His face turned to stone as he watched me. “Why didn’t you tell me that you were engaged?!” I cried, shaking my head.
He lowered his eyes to the floor and his throat bobbed up and down as he swallowed. His arms lowered and hung limply at his sides. He looked back up at me, remorse shining inside of his ocean eyes.
“Brenya... It’s not... ” He sighed, running his hands through his hair. “It’s not like that...”
“What the rutting hell do you mean, its not like that?” I hissed, my back bumping into the wall.
He stepped toward me, but the hostile look in my eyes made him pause. He ran a hand through his hair again, frustration obvious on his face.
“We’re not engaged... We’re betrothed... There’s a difference. We have been intended for a long time, since birth. There was never any choice involved.” He said it as if the words tasted bad in his mouth.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I said coldly. We stared at each other from across the room, both silent for a few beats.
“I have never wanted her.” He said slowly, stepping closer to me.
“But you are her’s, all the same!” I shouted, my lower lip wobbling as a tear slipped out.
“Brenya...” His face contorted in anguish as he took another step.
“If it’s true, then... Why did you tell me that your dragon was infatuated with me? Why did you kill the wolf for touching me? Why have you led me to believe that you care for me that way? You have you allowed me to grow these feelings... Why did you lead me on like this?!” I gasped in lungfuls or air as sobs threatened to break through me again.
“I told you it could never be.... I. Told. You. That....” He said through clenched teeth. He stepped even closer, only a foot away from me now, his face shining with growing irritation.
“But it is... I feel it growing, every time I look at you..” I whispered through the tears.
“And you think that I don’t?!” He growled, suddenly lunging forward and slamming his palms against the wall on either side of my head. I gasped, staring up at him, as he glared down at me with fury and some other, unnamed emotion.
“You think that I don’t look at you, and feel as though I cannot breathe? You think that I don’t hear your voice, and rejoice at the way the sound of it soothes the beast inside of me?”
My heart stopped in my chest, and then picked up again, pounding against my ribs as if it were trying to burst out of me. His face was only inches from mine and his minty breath fanned across my cheeks as he panted angrily, in and out. He studied each of my eyes in turn as he watched his words register in my mind.
“You think... that it doesn’t tear me apart inside... to know that I can never have you?” He said in a low, gravely voice. His eyes lowered, landing on my parted lips, and his pupils dilated. “You think that I don’t dream about your skin on mine?”
My entire body began to tremble and my breaths came out in quick, shallow gasps.
“Because if you think... that every molecule of my being is not dying to be with you... You are fucking wrong.”
Heat and desire like I had never felt before uncurled lazily in the deepest pits of my core, stretching it’s spine like a cat. It spread throughout my belly, traveling lower, and lower... Until I felt dampness gathering between my legs.
Dristan’s nostrils flared and he inhaled deeply as his eyes snapped back to mine. He let out a low, gutteral growl, which only intensified my growing arousal. I couldn’t think of anything apart from the hypnotizing flame inside of his eyes, which were suddenly glowing and slitted again, like his dragon’s. I couldn’t remember why this was wrong anymore.
I couldn’t even remember my own name as I suddenly reached up and tangled my hands into his dark, tousled hair and roughly pulled his mouth down to mine.
My lips crashed into his with feverish intensity and he groaned against my mouth. When I realized that he was kissing me back, I gasped, and he took the opportunity to flick his tongue in between my parted lips.
I opened my mouth wider, granting him an all access pass, which he eagerly took advantage of. His hands entangled into my damp hair, giving him complete control as he tasted and explored every inch of my mouth.
Colors danced behind my closed eyelids as he took from me, and I gave with an inflamed sense of eagerness. My entire body tingled with lust and need as he pressed his body into mine, leaving no spaces between us.
His lips continued to move fervently with mine as our tongues trashed against each other wildly, fighting for dominance in this sudden, desperate display of unleashed desire. I let out a cry of both surprise and pleasure as he sucked my lower lip between his teeth and bit down on it, hard. He tasted like rain and sweet mint as I swept my tongue over the fullness of his lower lip.
“You stubborn, maddening woman...” He whispered against my lips. “Do you know how you torture me?”
His hands left my hair and slid down my sides, over the dip of my waist, and then stopped at my hips. I gasped in surprise as he suddenly shifted his hands to the back of my thighs, just beneath my butt, and lifted me up.
Instinctively, I wrapped my legs around his hips and locked my ankles together while tightening my arms around his neck and gripping his hair even harder. He grunted in slight pain, his tongue still entwined with mine, and I moaned at the sound.
He carried me into the kitchen and set me down on top of the cold marble of the island’s table top. He nestled his hips between my parted legs and pushed himself against my chest, effectively laying me back onto the counter.
“Do you have any idea what you do to us?” He growled. I gasped as I realized he meant himself and his dragon.
He propped himself up with one arm, while his other hand reached back and wrapped my right leg more tightly around his back. He nipped at my jawline, his breath hot against my skin, sending goosebumps down my arms. I moaned and he moved his mouth back over mine, as if he could absorb the sounds.
His hand left my leg, entangling in my hair again as he kissed me. His movement knocked over the bowl that had been sitting on the island and it tumbled to the floor with a loud clattering sound. Apples and oranges went bouncing across the floor, and the sudden noise seemed to snap me back into reality for a split second.
What the hell are we doing?
“Dristan...” I gasped against his lips. “We can’t...”
He stilled and pulled his face back a fraction.
“... I know...” His hand trailed down the side of my rib cage. He gripped my hip tightly and pressed his forehead against mine. “I know.”
I ran my fingers gently through his hair, savoring the feel of him against me. Why did it have to be this way? Why was life so cruel and unfair?
“I’m sorry...” He said, opening his eyes and staring into mine. Sorrow shone in his cerulean orbs and I felt my own eyes burning with despair.
“It’s my fault. I started it...” I said sheepishly.
“I’m not apologizing for this.” He growled, tightening his grip on my hip, pulling me tighter against him. I tried not to gasp as I felt the evidence of his shockingly large, rock hard erection pressing against my thigh.
“I’m apologizing that I cannot give you more... I’m apologizing because I’ve failed to hide my feelings for you, from the very start... I’m apologizing because I can never truly be with you... I’m so sorry, Brenya...”
Tears sprang to my sore, dry eyes, spilling over my temples and running into my ears as I gazed up at his heartbreakingly soft expression.
“I know.” I said. I trailed my fingers over his jaw, feeling the scratchy stubble that was starting to grow there. “So am I.”
We gazed at each other for awhile, both silently basking in each other’s essence, sharing breath and trailing soft, lingering touches across the others heated skin. I wasn’t sure how long we stayed there, like that. I savored each second, locked it away in my heart, memorizing each gentle touch that he gave to me.
“I should go.” He finally said. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and nodded up at him slowly. His eyes trailed down to my lips, then back to my eyes again.
He lowered his head, giving me one last, impossibly tender kiss. His lips brushed feather light against mine, once, twice, before he pressed his mouth softly against mine.
It was over much too quickly.
He pulled away from me, grief and conflict flashing across his tanned face, as he stood. I sat up slowly and stared blankly at his chest. His hands were still firmly set upon the tops of each of my bare thighs. The silk shorts I’d been wearing were barely enough to keep me covered.
“This cannot happen again.” I whispered. “It will kill me if I have to stop myself again...”
He was silent.
I had to be strong. I couldn’t be with someone who was promised to another. It wasn’t right and it made me feel... Dirty. Cheap. Worthless...
And that felt worse than being without him.
“Don’t come back.” I breathed, a tear slipping out. “Now that we’ve finally made it to the Aviary, I don’t need you to protect me every second of the day, so... Let’s just... Stay away from each other...”
I couldn’t meet his eyes. He didn’t answer for a few moments and I held my breath.
“If that is what you wish...” He said emotionlessly.
“It is.” I lied.
My heart fissured and cracked inside of my chest in places I’d never even realized were there.
“I understand.” I hardly heard his answer.
I lifted my eyes to his face, and found him staring down at his hands on my thighs. He moved to pull away, but he paused.
His brows pulled together as he stared down at my lap. “What is that...?” He asked.
I mirrored his expression, my brows knitting together. “What is what?”
“That...” He ran his thumb over the sensitive skin on my inner thigh. I looked down at his hand.
“That’s just my birthmark.” I said.
I’d always had it. It was just an oddly shaped, brown splotch. I narrowed my eyes at him as he stared at it.
“You should go...” I said, pushing his hands away.
“Wait!” He said, his eyes suddenly widening. His grip tightened on my thigh as he stared at it.
“That’s not a birthmark...” His head snapped up and his eyes blazed into mine.
I gave him a quizzical look. “What is it, then?”
He studied each of my eyes in turn, staring intently into my blue orb, before switching to the green one.
“It’s a rune.”