“Mate...” I choked, my tone thick with raw emotion.
Stunned silence stretched across the expansive room as my mate and I continued staring at each other.
Her mossy colored left eye and indigo colored right eye seemed to see straight into my soul. I couldn’t breathe. My legs had given out as I’d felt her soul connect with mine. I stared up at her as she stood on the slab of stone, trying, and failing, to recall a time when I’d ever knelt before anyone.
I couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening around me as my dragon roared with carnal joy and excitement inside of my mind.
Brenya, Brenya, Brenya...
Mate, Mate, Mate...
Mine, Mine, Mine...
He knew... All this time, he knew... Even if neither of us had fully realized it. His instant liking to her, his unmanageable urge to protect her, his constant anxiety when she wasn’t with us...
His erratic behavior, which had frustrated me to maddening ends, now made complete sense. My dragon could sense that she was my mate, even if I wasn’t able to.
I didn’t realize the truth before now because her human form had been suppressing her true self. The mate bond had drawn us together, but it wasn’t able to make itself known, or snap into place, because she hadn’t been in her true form yet.
All the times I’d touched her, yearned for her, told her that she was mine... They had been because of this. She was my mate.
And now that my dragon and I knew the truth... Every primal instinct in my body was screaming at me to take her. Right here, right now. I had to claim her. Naturally, the act of intimacy sealed the bond. And if you put off sealing the bond for long, it could get very dangerous.
It caused the instinct of protectiveness and possessiveness to escalate into maximum overdrive. Males were known to kill others for coming too close to their mates in the first few weeks of the bond. Even now, as several male members from the crowd had their eyes on her, I felt my desire to end their lives.
She was mine.
But how? No one had ever been mated outside of their race before. There was no record of there ever being a Dragon and Fae mate bond. It was completely unheard of. How was this possible?
“What the fuck did you just say?!” Ronan growled, moving toward me from across the stage.
Threat, Threat, Threat...
Kill, Kill, Kill...
Reluctantly, I tore my eyes away from Brenya and glared at Ronan from beneath my brows, baring my teeth, trying desperately to contain my instinctual drive to rip his head from his body. If he made one wrong move, I was not sure I’d be able to stop myself from killing him.
My hand instinctively went to the hilt of my sword, which was sheathed at my hip. One strike with this, and he’d be fucking dead.
Good, Good, Good...
Riddance, Riddance, Riddance...
“I said... She’s my mate...” I growled through clenched teeth. “And I would advise that you be very careful about what you say next.” The effort I was using to restrain myself was staggering. I felt every muscle, every tendon in my body, tightening as I glared at him.
He halted, his eyes widening as his gaze zeroed in on my weapon. He hesitated, glancing between Brenya and I, as the crowd began to murmur.
“Th-That cannot be! You are Dragon... She is Fae!” He stuttered, retreating a step.
“Do you challenge my candor?” I snarled, using every ounce of my rationality to keep from slaughtering him in front of the entire Aviary.
“It’s true...” Brenya suddenly said. Her voice sounded different somehow... It was stronger and softer, all at once. Strong, yet breakable... Like porcelain titanium.
I wanted to look at her, examine the changes in her new, Fae appearance... But I could not, would not, remove my eyes from Ronan.
He was a threat.
He wanted my mate.
And I wanted his blood.
I wanted him to fuck up. I wanted him to make one wrong move so that I could watch the light leave his eyes as I killed him. But he remained as still as a statue as he stared at me.
His stillness mattered not. His presence angered me. His existence angered me. I wanted him dead. Gone.
Yes, Yes, Yes...
Blood, Blood, Blood...
Death, Death, Death...
“It’s impossible.” Ronan whispered, his eyes glued to her.
“You’ve questioned my honesty and now my mate’s, as well. One more mistake, Ronan, and I will lose my patience.” I hissed.
The crowd gasped at my threat as Ronan’s eyes darkened. I kept my eyes on him.
There was a sudden presence at my side.
“Dristan-” Warrick’s voice said, touching my shoulder briefly.
I snarled, standing and spinning to face him. I knew who he was... I knew he meant me no harm... But my instincts were taking over.
There were too many people. There were too many threats. I needed her, now. Alone. I needed everyone to leave, before I hurt someone.
Warrick lifted his hands in defense, his palms facing me, as he backed away with raised brows.
“Calm down... Everything is okay.” He said softly.
My eyes flicked over his shoulder, landing on Torryn, who stood still and stone faced in front of his own mate. Andromeda stared at me over his shoulder, her eyes wide and wary.
My eyes settled on Warrick again. “Get them out. All of them. Everyone.”
His eyes swept over the crowd and then back to me. He made no move to obey and my dragon snarled with impatience inside of my skull.
“Now!” I bellowed, my wings flaring with emphasis behind me.
Warrick turned to face the crowd, his mouth set into a hard line and determination shining in his dark eyes.
“Everyone, please exit the room in a calm and orderly fashion! Return to your rooms immediately and await further instructions!” He bellowed, moving toward the crowd.
I turned back toward Ronan as the crowd continued to gasp and whisper to each other. It grew louder and a dull roar filled the room as they began to move toward the exit, their eyes shifting back towards us over their shoulders now and then.
I waited until they were gone. The only people left in the room were Brenya, Ronan, Warrick, Torryn, Andromeda and myself.
“Step away from her... Slowly... Get off the stage and move to the far wall.” I said to Ronan, as calmly as possible, as my eyes burned into him.
He blinked and remained where he was.
“She is still my fiancé-”
Those three things were all I could comprehend as I roared in fury, unsheathed my sword, and stalked toward him.
Someone grabbed me from behind.
A very bad move.
I growled as I threw my elbow back, sending a powerful blow into Warrick’s chest. He grunted in pain as he flew backward.
I continued toward Ronan, who was lifting his hands in front of him, as Warrick lunged again. He wrapped his arm around my throat, moving his torso out of range of my elbow this time.
“Dristan, Get ahold of yourself!” Warrick bellowed into my ear.
“Get the fuck off me!” I roared, reaching back and grasping the back of his neck. I ducked forward as I threw him over my body. He catapulted to the ground, three feet in front of me, as I rose back to my feet.
I stepped over him and lifted my eyes back to Ronan.
Strike, Strike, Strike...
Him, Him, Him...
Down, Down, Down...
The animal inside of my consciousness merged fully with my own and I could control myself no longer. I surged forward as Ronan stumbled back, his eyes wide with alarm. And the loud, sickening crunch that sounded as my first connected with his jaw was the most satisfying sound I’d ever heard.
He grunted in pain as his head was rocked to the side, and blood shot out of his mouth. The crimson liquid splashed onto the ground, staining it with it’s filth.
“She is not your anything!” I roared, rearing my fist back to strike him again. “She is mine!”
He growled, turning his face back to me, and lifted his hands, which were now glowing with a bright red ball of light. The fool was going to try to fight back.
Good, Good, Good...
Kill, Kill, Kill...
Him, Him, Him...
Just as I was about to lunge again, something unexpected happened. A bright blue ball of light exploded from somewhere to my left and hurdled straight for Ronan. His eyes widened and he turned his head, but he was too late...
The light struck him, and he sailed sideways through the air, as a stunned shout escaped his lips.
I whipped my head to the side and found Brenya with her arms outstretched, her hands glowing with blue light, as she stood atop the table.
Her eyes were glowing with the same, bright blue hue as her magic, and her teeth were bared in a ferocious expression.
I turned my head back to Ronan and my eyes widened as I realized that he was suspended ten feet in the air, his body completely immobile. There was an expression of shock and pain on his face. He made no sound, no movement... He just hung in the air, his body rigid and frozen.
“Gods above...” Warrick whispered, standing to his feet. “How did she do that? She hasn’t even been trained to use her power yet.”
I turned to him, my eyes still raging. I didn’t have an answer for him. I shook my head.
A sudden cry from Brenya distracted me, and I turned toward her again. She held out her hand, gripping her wrist with the other, as the blue light faded away.
“It burns! It burns!” She cried, sinking to her knees. Her eyes were wide with confusion and pain as she gripped her wrist tightly.
I rushed toward her, sheathing my weapon. I grasped her face in my hands, relieved to feel her skin on mine, but also terrified because I didn’t know why she was in pain.
Was her magic too strong? Was it hurting her?
“Brenya? What is it, what’s wrong?” I gasped, searching her face.
“M-my wrist! It burns, oh gods, Dristan, it burns!” She screamed as her eyes screwed shut. “Make it stop, please!”
I furrowed my brows in confused panic as my hands left her face and gripped her arm. I struggled to move her hand away from her wrist so I could see what was happening to her.
I wrenched her hand away as she continued to scream in agony and my eyes widened as I realized what was happening.
The binding rune...
It was disappearing.
My anxiety transformed into profound relief as I watched the disgusting mark fading away...
The mate bond...
It was overruling the rune.
Of course it was... The mate bond was the strongest, most sacred, most unbreakable magic that existed in our world. Nothing came close to it’s power.
A choked laugh of relief bubbled up my throat as I watched it disappear completely, replaced by pure, unmarked skin.
Her cries subsided and she was left panting, her body crumpling and going limp. I curled my arms around her and lifted her from the table as she was rendered unconscious.
With my mate bundled in my arms, I turned toward my comrades. They stood ten feet away, their eyes wide with wariness and confusion, as they stared at me.
“Chain him. Take him to the dungeons. I want ten guards outside of his cell. Meet me in the council room in two hours.” I commanded them with lethal calm.
They did not hesitate as they scurried away. I stormed from the room, staring down into my mate’s sleeping face, as I carried her to my chambers.
My eyes fluttered open and I found myself staring up at the ceiling. I was in bed...
I closed my eyes again and groaned in pain. The light from the window was too bright. What a strange dream I’d had... A strange, perfect, beautiful dream...
“You’re awake.” A familiar voice said from my right.
I jumped at the unexpected presence, nearly falling off the side of the bed. I turned and gaped at Dristan, who was sitting in an armchair nearby.
Wait a moment... I glanced around the room in confusion. These weren’t my chambers... I was in Dristan’s room. But how did I get here?
“What...?” I muttered, squeezing my eyes shut and rubbing them with my fists. Why was everything so damned bright?
“You fainted after you struck Ronan with your magic.” He said softly, his voice hardly above a whisper.
I stilled. That was what had happened in my dream... Which meant that it hadn’t been a dream at all. A gasp of shock escaped my lips.
Flashes of the ritual came flooding into my mind. I saw myself trashing on the table in agony as the drums played relentlessly in the background. I saw myself being lifted into their air in a ball of blinding light. I saw myself growing fangs and pointed ears, and the look on the people’s faces as they gazed upon my new form. I saw the Fae ring, remembered the way it had transformed into a bejeweled key of some sort...
And I saw Dristan. My eyes snapped open, reality settling back in.
Mate. My mate...
He stared into me as he lounged casually in the armchair, one of his hands occupied with a glass of bourbon. His white dress shirt was undone at the collar, his tie hanging loosely over one of his shoulders.
“All this time... All this gods damned time... I’ve wanted you more than anything that I’ve ever coveted before. I’ve believed all this time that I couldn’t have you... And yet, you were my mate, all along...” He mused quietly.
He took a swig of his drink. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised... What, with you being the most frustrating woman I’ve ever know, it should really come as no surprise to find out that I could’ve had you from day one.” He chuckled softly.
I couldn’t find my voice. I couldn’t even form a coherent thought in my mind, apart from that one word, which echoed through my stunned mind, over and over again.
Mate, mate, mate...
My eyes began to water. I couldn’t even blink, too amazed by his otherworldly beauty. One blink would be one second in which I wasn’t looking at him, and that was one second too many.
With my new eyes, he looked the same, but somehow different. Every detail of his tanned, handsome face seemed sharper... As if his features had all been magnified. How had I never noticed the exact slope of his lower lip before, the way it was slightly fuller than the top? Or the way his sapphire eyes had flecks of green around their pupils? His hair, which I’d always thought of as black, now seemed a very particular shade of deep brown, like dark cocoa, with undercurrents of onyx.
“Do you know how exasperating you are, my mate?” He whispered with narrowed eyes.
There was that beautiful word again. I wanted to hear him say it over and over again, for the rest of my existence.
Mate... My mate...
All I could do was stare at him. The silence between us stretched on, seemingly never ending. After several minutes, he stood slowly from his chair, his eyes never leaving mine. He lifted his glass and swallowed the rest of the amber colored liquor. His eyes darkened as he gazed at me over the brim of the cup.
I felt my throat bob as he set the glass down in an unhurried manner and began to move toward me. His movements were calm and leisurely, but his eyes told a different story. His ocean colored depths were two raging pits of stormy sea as he drew closer and closer...
Each step he took toward me was like an answer to some unspoken prayer. I could feel his essence, his spirit, his energy... It grew stronger the closer her became. It was as if my senses were hot wired to his own. Our energies were feeding off of each other, both fanning the flames of the other’s desire.
He walked around the foot of the bed and stopped a foot away from me. There was a pull between our bodies, like we were magnets, destined to collide, to merge and become one.
“Do you feel it?” He whispered.
“Yes...” I answered, a tear falling over the apple of my cheek.
I shifted forward, but he held up a hand, stopping me.
“Brenya...” He murmured, closing his eyes briefly. “If you touch me... I won’t be able to stop myself from taking you right here, right now... The instinct to claim you and seal the bond is unbearable enough just by looking at you.”
I furrowed my brows in confusion. “Who said I wanted to stop you?”
I lifted onto my knees, ready to pull him down onto the bed with me, but he stepped away and out of my reach.
“What are you doing?” I complained. The need to claim his as my mate was almost painful. I needed him. I needed him now.
“Brenya...” He sighed, shaking his head slightly.
Rejection and hurt flashed through my heart. I winced as a small gasp escaped my lips and I sank back onto the bed. Was he rejecting the mate bond?
“Y-you... You don’t... Want me?”
His eyes widened. “Of course I do! Gods damnit, if you only knew...” He stopped, closing his eyes. His jaw flexed as he ground his teeth.
Relief rush through me.
His eyes re-opened, slowly. “Brenya... We only have twenty minutes before we have to be in the council room...And the things that I plan to do to you...” He paused, the corner of his lip turning upward. “Will require much more time than that.”
My eyes widened. “Oh....”
“Yes... And there is much to discuss.” He said, sighing deeply and crossing his arms.
He was right. The mate bond wasn’t the only shocking thing that had transpired as I’d shifted to my Fae form. My ring...
I gasped. “The key! Where is the key?”
“Relax. I have it.” He said, pulling the dazzling array of sparkles from his pocket.
I sighed in relief. He must’ve grabbed it when I’d fainted...
My relief was short lived when I suddenly remembered why I’d fainted in the first place. My wrist... It’d felt like it was on fire. It felt just like my leg had when Ronan removed the rune, only worse. But what had caused it?
“My wrist...” I mumbled, furrowing my brows. “What happened? I remember the pain... But why was it burning like that?”
He ran his index finger over his lower lip as his eyes twinkled at me with wicked delight. “The binding rune was removing itself from your wrist.”
My eyes bulged. “What?!”
I looked down into my lap, flipping my wrist over. The once marked skin was now smooth and unscathed. I moved my wrist closer to my face in disbelief, searching for any trace of the wretched rune... But it was gone.
Slowly, I lifted my eyes back to his, my mouth gaping. “How is that possible?”
He grinned briefly. “The mate bond is the oldest, most sacred, most powerful form of natural magic in existence. It overruled the magic of the binding rune. You cannot be bound to another when you are mated.”
My eyes burned with emotion as his words sank into my mind. The gods, whom I had thought had cursed me for so long, had actually had this planned all along... We were destined to be together, and no magic could tell destiny any differently.
A choked sob of joy and relief escaped my lips as he smiled down at me. I rose onto my knees again, reaching for him, desperate to feel his arms wrap around me, to merge with him as I’d always been fated to do...
But he stepped away, restraint evident on his taught face. He closed his eyes. “Brenya...”
I sighed, my shoulders slumping, and I rolled off of the bed. “I know, I know... Must you always be so responsible and restrained?” I complained.
“Well, one of us needs to be.” He chucked softly.
I scowled and padded toward his closet. I needed to change. I pulled out an over-sized, grey sweater and a pair of black leggings... And an idea popped into my head.
He wouldn’t let me touch him... It wasn’t the first time he’d made me wait. He was always teasing me, one way or another. Well, fine then... It was payback time.
I glanced at him over my shoulder and found him watching me from beneath lowered brows. Every muscle in his body was tense. The veins beneath the skin of his broad shoulders and muscular arms bulged with effort as he stared at my back, fighting the primal urge to claim me.
With my eyes still locked with his, I slid the thin strap of my white dress off of my shoulder. His nostrils flared. I pulled the other strap down too, letting it fall loosely over my arm. His eyes darkened as the loose dress began to slowly slide down my body.
When my bare back was fully exposed to him, I halted my movements, letting a small smile grace my lips as we glared at each other.
“Brenya... Don’t.” He growled, baring his teeth. His hands balled into fists at his side.
My brows rose in mock innocence. “Don’t what?” I asked, just before I let go of the dress. It billowed into a pool of pearly silk around my bare feet. The cold air kissed the skin of my fully naked body.
It was a good thing I’d decided not to wear underwear today...
His slitted eyes raked down my back, over my ass, down my legs... And then back up again. When his eyes met with mine, they were in flames.
I stepped out of the dress and slowly bent over to pick it up. I took my time, smiling to myself as I felt his eyes on me.
I stood and tossed the dress to the side. It draped itself gracefully over the side of the dresser.
When I turned to face him, I realized he’d moved noticeably closer to me, but he still kept his distance. His jaw was tight as his burning, blue eyes dug into mine.
“What the rutting hell are you doing?” He growled.
I smiled sweetly as I lifted the sweater over my head. His eyes flicked down to my bare breasts and a soft growl rumbled up his throat.
I pulled the sweater on, followed by the leggings, and then stalked toward him with intentional slowness. I ran my index finger down the middle of his chest as I whispered...
“I just wanted to give you something to think about... While we’re at the meeting.”
His mouth popped open.
I stepped around him and stormed out of the bedroom, through the living room, and opened the front door.
I grinned to myself as I left the room, the ghost of his response still floating through the air.