I’m standing in the forest. I can hear the distant song of birds, and the melodic chirping of frogs and insects surrounding me. A subtle breeze ruffles my hair playfully, and sends the scent of decaying leaves toward my keen nose.
Why am I here?
A twig snaps behind me.
I turn around, startled.
My father stand before me, his body twisted, and broken. His stance is awkward, his face filled with tortured pain.
His skin tears and falls away in bloody ribbons.
A giant, terrifying wolf takes his place.
The pack leader...
“No... You’re dead...”
He snarls, and charges toward me.
I stumble backward, fear prickling my scalp.
I throw my hands outward.
The wolf freezes as chunks of earth and rock begin to fly toward him, forcing their way down his throat, into his ears, and eyes...
The wolf shifts back into my father.
I instantly lower my hands....
The earth keeps moving.
“No... No, stop!”
He shifts again.
This time, Warrick takes his place.
Then Andromeda... Then Ronan...
I scream as Dristan appears next.
He cries out in agony as rocks beat against him, breaking his bones. He gags and chokes, clawing at the air, as earth shoots down his windpipe.
“Make it stop!”
Trees, bushes, boulders and clumps of earth are ripped from the ground. They fly at him, pounding against his bloody body relentlessly.
He falls into the dirt.
“STOP! STOP IT!”
I cannot control it.
The earth beneath my feet begins to quiver.
I take a step back.
The ground breaks.
It’s falling away, revealing a pit of molten lava beneath the surface. Dristan falls through the cracks, and his body sizzles as it hits the magma. I can smell his flesh burning.
I turn to run. Vines from the forest floor wrap around my ankles. I kick against them, desperate to flee... But I cannot.
I am going to be devoured.
I’m being pulled down, down, down...
Into the pits of hell.
I shot up out of the bed, my eyes wide and wet with tears. My body was trembling, and damp with sweat. It was dark, and silent... I glanced around in confusion, not remembering where I was right away. When I realized I was in Dristan’s bed, I let out a sob of relief.
A dream.... Just a dream...
Strong, warm arms wrapped around my waist from behind, and I closed my eyes at the soothing comfort they brought to me. I covered my face with my hands, trying to rid myself of the memory of the nightmare I’d just had.
“Bad dream?” Dristan’s voice whispered from somewhere behind me.
I lowered my hands from my face and sighed. “Yes...”
I leaned back against the pillows and turned my body to face him, scooting closer to the smoldering heat of his body. I was so cold...
He pulled me flush against his bare chest and buried his face into my hair. “You’re shaking.” He whispered with hushed concern.
I was silent as I breathed in his pine and flame scent, willing it to calm me down, to bring me back to reality. The dream had felt so real... I buried my face further into my mate’s chest.
Just a dream... Just a dream...
“Do you want to talk about it?” He murmured softly.
I shook my head mutely.
“Are you sure?”
I exhaled an unsteady breath. “If I talk about it now... If I unleash my grief... I don’t know how long it’ll take to pick up the pieces. I’m... I’m not ready.”
Silence stretched between us.
“Alright... ” He whispered.
He held me against him with one arm, while his other hand gently toyed with loose strands of my hair. The sensation was relaxing, and I nearly purred against him.
We didn’t speak for awhile. He simply held me, and continued to lightly brush his fingers through my hair. I pushed the bad dream out of my mind and tried to forget about it.
I wouldn’t think of the grief of my father’s death, which burned just beneath the surface of my skin...
This was the first morning Dristan and I were spending together as official mates. I couldn’t let myself ruin that, no matter how many dark emotions I was sweeping beneath the carpets of my mind.
After awhile, soft, golden light began to pour through the lone, bedroom window. Dawn had arrived, and I couldn’t sleep any longer. I began lightly trailing my index finger over random, silvery scars on his chest, absentmindedly wondering how he’d acquired each one.
“What would you like for breakfast?” He asked suddenly, his hushed voice cutting through the silence like a blade.
A small smile crept across my lips as I thought of the only other time I’d shared a real breakfast with him.
“Waffles... And coffee.”
I pulled away to look up at him. He grinned. “I was thinking the same thing.”
He planted a swift, playful kiss on my lips.
I giggled and rolled away from him, toward the edge of the bed. “Dristan! I haven’t brushed my teeth yet!”
His arms caught me easily, disrupting my escape, and he pulled my back flush against his chest. He nuzzled his face into the crook of my neck.
“I don’t care.” He murmured against my skin.
The scruffiness of his facial hair tickled my skin, and I squealed as I tried to squirm out of his grasp. His arms tightened around me and I felt him smile against my shoulder. I laughed as I continued pulling against the iron like caging of his arms.
“Let go of me, you brute!” I laughed, as he continued tickling me with his beard.
“Mmm...” He complained softly, his arms loosening from around me. “Are you always so cruel in the morning?”
I untangled myself from his grasp and scooted to the edge of the bed. I grinned at him over my shoulder and found him gazing up at me, propped up on one elbow, with a lopsided smile on his face.
“Only when stubborn Dragon Lords try to tickle me to death before breakfast.”
His grin widened, and his white teeth flashed through the dim lighting.
“Does that mean I am allowed to tickle you to death after you’ve had breakfast?”
I tried to disguise my laughter with a scoff. “Absolutely not!” I jumped to my feet, smiling like a fool, and threw my pillow at him before I darted into the washroom.
The sound of his deep chuckling followed me out of the room, and I shut the washroom door with more force than was necessary.
After I’d brushed my teeth, had a long, hot shower, and brushed out the long, damp tangles of my hair, I returned to the bedroom to find a fresh set of clothes waiting for me. They were my favorite kind. I pulled on the warm, black leggings and the thick, cream colored sweater with a smile of contentment on my face.
I plopped down onto the edge of the bed, ready to pull my socks on, and winced. There was a very noticeable soreness between my legs.
I growled as I sheathed my feet into the black socks. I couldn’t let Dristan know how sore I was. If he realized I was in pain, he’d likely not touch me intimately again for awhile. That was a risk I was not willing to take.
Damned overprotective, fire breathing beast...
When I emerged into the open living area, I glanced across the living room and into the kitchen. I found my mate there, pouring two mugs of fresh coffee from the stone, “pour over” contraption that he always used to make it.
I padded toward him. “You know, all you have to do is wish for a cup of coffee and the room will make it for you. I don’t understand why you go through the trouble of making it yourself.”
I perched on one of the bar stools and rested my chin on my fist.
He smirked and pushed my mug toward me. “It’s not the same.”
I furrowed my brows. “What do you mean?”
He took a small sip of his coffee and sighed as he closed his eyes in appreciation. “There is... A certain feeling of satisfaction that I get when I make my own coffee in the morning. It tastes better when I make it myself.”
I raised an eyebrow as I took a sip of the pungent, brown liquid. It sent warmth straight though my entire body and I nearly moaned at the taste. Although, it didn’t taste much different than the coffee I always found waiting for me, back in my own room.
I shrugged as I set the mug back down. “It tastes the same, to me.”
He slid onto the bar stool beside me. “It’s the principal, Brenya. I worked for this coffee. Therefor, the reward tastes better. Not everything has to be instantly gratifying.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled. “You and your never ending self control...”
Two plates of thick, fluffy, buttermilk waffles appeared before us. The decadent, caky scent filled my senses and I nearly moaned. Each stack was piled high with fresh butter, and sweet smelling syrup. Mine were topped with strawberries, Dristan’s with blueberries. My mouth watered.
We both dug in, and silence ensued. I didn’t know about him, but the physical exertion from last night had left me completely starved. I groaned in appreciation as the sweet, maple taste coated my tongue.
Halfway through my waffles, I glanced sideways and found Dristan watching me with subtle amusement. His sapphire eyes twinkled with some other, unnamed emotion, and I silently wondered what it was.
‘You’d better stop moaning like that, or we won’t make it to the end of this meal.’
It took me a moment to realize that he’d sent his thought into my mind.
His voice sounded different in my head, somehow. Softer, almost like an echo. It was like the soft caress of a hand against the outer edges of my consciousness.
I nearly choked.
My fork fell from my hand and clattered noisily against my plate as I practically jumped out of my skin. “Ah!”
He threw his head back and laughed. I might’ve smacked him in the chest if I hadn’t been so distracted by his otherworldly beauty.
His laughter had always been so rare... But lately, it seemed to be happening more, and more often. When I realized that it was thanks to me, thanks to him finding his happiness, his mate, I couldn’t help but grin right along with him.
“How did you do that?” I asked as my giggling died out. I took a long drink of my coffee to wash down the bite of waffle I’d nearly choked on.
He leaned back, an expression of contemplation painted across his features. “It’s hard to explain...”
He glanced around the room. “Here, take this.” He plucked a pink carnation out of a nearby vase and offered it to me.
I looked at it quizzically as he held it out to me. He nodded, his brows raised in encouragement.
I took the flower from him, perplexed.
“You can feel it in your hand... You can feel the texture beneath your fingers, yes?” He asked, turning toward me.
“Yes.” I said, fighting a grin.
“Don’t laugh...” He said, suppressing his own smile. “Now, think of the bond between us. Remember how it felt, when it was straining between us. What does it look like, in your minds eye?”
I furrowed my brows. “I don’t know...Like a string... A rope, but stronger. Like it was made of steel.”
He nodded. “Close your eyes.”
I obeyed, feeling a bit foolish.
He took the flower from my hand, his fingers lightly brushing against my own. His voice continued to instruct me from the other side of my closed lids.
“Now, imagine a rope made of steel. Imagine it stretching between our minds, one end connected to each of us. Imagine what it looks like, what it feels like...”
I could see it now. It extended from my body, stretching out into the dark abyss beyond my own consciousness. I couldn’t see the other end of the rope, but I could feel something on the other end of it. I could feel Dristan there, somehow. I could sense his mood, his emotions...
“I’ve got it.” I whispered.
“Good. Do you feel me on the other side?”
I nodded slowly.
“Grab hold of the rope with your consciousness... Don’t overthink it. When you feel the rope in your hands, send a thought down it. The thought will travel down the bond to me, if you will it to do so.”
He went silent as I concentrated. I imagined myself reaching out and brushing the back of my fingers against the rope. Instantly, I could feel him. I could sense him on the other side, waiting patiently for me to say something.
With my metaphorical hands, I caressed the bond a second time. This time, I imagined my thought traveling down, through the rope, and to his own consciousness.
‘I love you...’
Suddenly, I was scooped up, and off of the bar stool. I gasped in surprise, my eyes flying open, as Dristan swept me into his arms. The soft warmth of his lips pressed against mine as he set me onto the island counter top.
‘I love you more.’
I wrapped my legs tightly around his waist as I flicked my tongue into his mouth, tasting the lingering flavor of maple and blueberries on his breath. He groaned against my lips as I rolled my hips, grinding my core against him.
I winced as the motion caused a spasm of pain to rock through me. Gods, I was so damned tender after what he’d done to me... But I didn’t care. I wanted more.
He pulled away slightly, his body tensing.
‘What was that?’
‘What was what?’
‘You winced... I could feel a flash of pain on your end.’
I tried to pull his face back to mine, but he resisted. He stared into my eyes, his expression darkening.
'I hurt you...'
I shook my head, my brows screwing together.
This time, he spoke out loud. “Yes, I did. You can’t hide things from me now, Brenya. I can feel your emotions and... your pain.” He growled, untangling himself from my arms.
“It’s not that serious! I'm just a little bit sore, that’s all.” I complained.
He shook his head and returned to his bar stool.
Damn, damn, damn...
“It’s better to wait awhile, anyway... We have much to discuss.” He said, his tone a bit softer.
I sighed as I slid off of the counter top. “Yes, I suppose your are right...”
I came to his side, leaning my elbows against the counter top. “Can we go for a walk while we talk about everything? I need to exercise my legs, and I’m feeling restless.”
He hesitated. “Are you sure? Perhaps you should rest...”
I scoffed. “I’ve had plenty of rest.”
He eyed me speculatively.
I scooted a bit closer to him, letting my arm brush against his. “Besides... If I’m cooped up in these chambers with you for much longer, I don’t think I’ll be able to control my urges.”
His eyes widened a fraction before a small grin lifted the corner of his lips.
“Alright... You win.” He sighed.
I chastely kissed his cheek. “Of course I do. Now, let’s go!”
I twirled away from him, giggling, and as his cerulean eyes followed my movements, his face lit up into a breathtaking, white smile.
A smile that, I had the feeling, I would be seeing much more of in the future.