Ciendon McDoffrey just had his life turned upside down. Everything he thought he knew about himself and his brothers has been stripped away. While attempting to rob a dragon of its hoard, Ciendon learns he’s been manipulated by his brother, Ronin, for years. His other brother, Thom, had never hated him. Thom even convinces his dragon lover, whom Ciendon had been trying to rob, to spare his life. Instead, as penance, Ciendon is assigned to a dragon named Paigon, who puts him to work tending livestock. Ciendon considers it a far lighter punishment than what he deserves, especially when he and Paigon discover a mutual attraction which they quickly act upon. When Thom reveals that the Circle of Elders have given several dragons the right to court Ciendon, and Paigon isn’t one of them, will Ciendon accept bonding with a strange dragon, believing it’s the punishment he truly deserves? Or will he forgive himself and fight for what he wants?
“Still can’t get used to ye with that short hair.”
Ciendon turned his head and stared at Thom…his other brother, Thom McDoffrey. “Had to shave me head. Got lice when I stayed at a dirty inn about a fortnight ago,” he admitted, rubbing his head self-consciously once more.
Until just a few days before, he hadn’t seen his youngest brother in nearly five summers. He hadn’t even been aware that Ronin kept track of him. When Ronin had told him that dragons were real and Thom had found them and their treasure, he’d actually believed his youngest brother had wanted to share the wealth with them. He hated admitting how he believed everything his dead brother had ever said.
“How are ye feeling?” Thom asked, striding closer.
Smiling a bit, he nodded. “Better, thanks to ye,” he said. It was true, too. If it wasn’t for Thom, he’d be dead. He’d either have been killed by a dragon tracking down the treasure he and his brother had stolen—had they been successful—or he’d have been killed in the cavern by Thom’s dragon consort. Hell, mayhap he would have been hung.
Thom gave him that small smile right back. Aye, Ciendon knew he and his brother had a long way to go. Hell, they’d been practically estranged for years. “I’m glad to hear it, Cien,” he rumbled. “Hope ye’re well enough to work. Yer penance starts today.”
Ciendon pushed the furs aside, shoving the blankets off of his lower body. “Aye, I’m ready.” As he moved into a sitting position, the healing wounds on his belly tightened a bit, making his skin ache. He reached up to rub them, then remembered he’d put fresh cream on the wounds so reached for a bandage, instead.
“What do they need me to do?” Ciendon asked as he started wrapping the strips of cloth around his torso.
“I’m not sure,” Thom admitted. “Here.” Stepping forward, Thom took over bandaging his belly. “Ye’re paired up with Paigon. He’s a brown dragon. That’s the caste that tends the crops and cares for the animals, so it’ll probably have something to do with that,” he finished, talking and with wrapping Ciendon’s stomach, and stepped backward a pace.
What’s a caste?
When Thom glared and growled, “Look, don’t be an arse. We both know it’s better than ye deserve,” Ciendon realized his brother misunderstood his reaction.
Hell, Thom was right. Ciendon didn’t know what God he’d pleased to get a second chance, but he wasn’t going to waste it. “Nay, wait,” Ciendon called when Thom turned away from him. “Ye’re right. I don’t deserve this.”
“Then what’s ye’re problem?” Thom snapped.
Ciendon hated admitting how dumb he was. Ronin, his other brother who was dead now, had always complained about how stupid he was. “What’s a caste?”
Thom’s brows shot up and his mouth opened just a bit. His surprise couldn’t be more evident.
“Aye, I know I’m a dumb f***,” Ciendon muttered, his gaze lowering to the floor beneath his feet. “But it’d be nice to know.”
A hand landed on Ciendon’s shoulder, pulling his attention away from the stone ground. He looked at his brother, seeing concern—not condescension or even pity—in his eyes. “My apologies,” Thom murmured. “I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions like that. Please forgive me?”
Now Ciendon gaped a bit. Not wanting to appear as a slack-jawed yokel—not a good look on any man—he snapped his jaw shut, then said, “Aye. Ronin was always tellin’ me how stupid I am. Guess he was right about that.” His face heated a bit at the admission, but shite it was true enough.
Thom’s brows drew together. His eyes darkening with anger. “Ye’re not stupid and ye’re not a dumb f***,” he stated gruffly. “Ye just need to have things explained, that’s all. Nay crime in that.” He squeezed the shoulder he held. “Nay more talk like that. If ye don’t understand somethin’, come to me and I’ll explain.”
Surprised and pleased by the vow, Ciendon smiled, this time a real one. “Aye, Thom. I thank ye.”