Qildor, a crossbreed shunned for not being fully elf or shifter, is resigned to his lonely existence high in Felhone's mountains. Then a harsh winter and the destruction of the oaks and his waterfall convince him he must warn King Cerdic that something is very wrong in the kingdom.
Pilore, a nature mage, believes him and with the help of Cerdic's husband Tony, and Alpha shifter Folen, they attempt to discover what or who is causing the problem. What Pilore learns leads him to believe that a powerful wizard is responsible, bent on bringing an end to life as they know it.
As they and others work to stop the wizard, Pilore does his best to convince Qildor to believe in himself and his worth. They form a bond based on mutual attraction, but will they be able to take it beyond that -- and will they even get the chance when they are forced to deal face-to-face with the wizard and his minions?
"The places are endless," Qildor murmured. "How will we find where he is in time to stop further damage to the kingdom?"
"With the help of all of Felhone's mages and the strongest of Folen's and Wulf's shifters," Pilore replied, having overheard him. He took the chair beside Qildor, laying his hand on his arm. "Do not give up hope, it will happen."
Qildor barely comprehended what he had said as his attention was immediately and solely focused on Pilore touching him ... again. Is that just his way when he is speaking to someone? He tried to remember seeing him do that with anyone else -- and couldn't. Perhaps he sees me as someone who needs reassurance that they are important. Important enough that he wants me to truly hear to his words and believe them. He might wish it was more than that, but he knew it was impossible.
"Where have you gone to in your thoughts?" Pilore asked with more than a trace of curiosity in his words. "Somewhere important, I would say since you have stopped paying attention to me."
"I have not!" Qildor protested a bit more vehemently than was necessary. "You said we will find the wizard, with everyone's help. I can only pray that is true."
"Please look at me, not my hand," Pilore said softly.
Qildor lifted his gaze, his amber eyes meeting Pilore's bright blue ones, and he saw something he had never seen before, a man who seemed to care about him despite what he was. Me. Not some ubiquitous person but me, Qildor the Crossbreed.
* * * *
"Good. Now as I was asking, what were you thinking?"
"I ... I cannot tell you ..." Qildor stuttered out.
"Then let me tell you. When I touched you, you began to wonder if there was an ulterior motive in my suggesting you come here to do your thinking. After all, I am certain Cerdic could have found you a quiet place in the castle, for instance his chambers." He traced a finger down to Qildor's hand, evoking a shiver from the younger man that made him smile. "I will admit there was, although you may not like it."
Pilore was well aware that he had to be quite careful with his reply. He knew some men would be offended by what he had to say. He thought Qildor might not be from small clues he'd picked up, but he could have been misreading them. They could have been the result of Qildor reacting to friendship, which he sorely lacked in his life. I will no know unless I say what is on my mind.
"I find you a very interesting man. Very different from others I know. You are not worldly-wise, which is unique within my circle of friends -- and I do consider you a friend although we have known each other for only a short time. I want to know you better in ..." He hesitated. "In every way possible. I will admit this surprises me. I am not like ... All right, you do not know what Leofric is like, or what he was like before he met Ylandar. Be that as it may, although we have the same tastes, as it were, I ... Damn it, how do I explain so you understand and will not take offense if you are not of like mind?"
Qildor's eyes widened in shock and Pilore was certain he was going to get up and leave a quickly as possible, and undoubtedly avoid any contact with him from now on unless it was absolutely necessary. In that, he was mistaken.
"You are like me, a lover of men, not women." Qildor smiled slowly. "At least I hope that is what you are trying to say."
Blowing out a long, if silent breath of relief, Pilore nodded. "That is precisely what I am saying. Not that it makes any difference if your feelings for me are purely those of a friend, if you even consider me as one."
"Of course I do. You and the others I have met. But with you I wished, I hoped ..." Qildor bit his lip then grabbed Pilore's hand. "I wanted you to like me for me and perhaps see me for who I am beyond my obvious differences."
Pilore resisted wincing at the strength of Qildor's grip, replying, "Differences that are not all that obvious, as you put it. If one did not know who you were, they would judge you by what they see, a rather shy, good-looking man who radiates a feeling of concern for others."
"Oh, yes, because you are concerned for other's welfare. If you were not, you would not have come here to let us know about the problems you saw that could be extremely harmful to Felhone."
"It could have been out of self-interest, because of my waterfall."
When Qildor started to move his hand, Pilore turned his to link their fingers together. "But it was not. You know this and so do I."
Looking at their hands, Qildor smiled shyly as he replied, "You are right, of course. I suspect you always are in most things."
"I wish, but no. I am, however, correct about two things. One, you are a gentle, compassionate man, most people's opinions to the contrary. Two, I would like to know you better and I believe you feel the same about me."