King Críostóir looked from the parchment to his advisor and back again in stunned disbelief. He couldn’t believe what he was reading. It seemed that the council was enforcing the mate challenge rule. Since taking over as king, Críostóir had done everything his father’s advisors suggested in an effort to make the change of leadership smooth for his people. But he was met with opposition at every turn. Not only were his people in a state of unrest, but it seemed his enemies thought this was the perfect opportunity to attack.
He might not want to be king, but he refused to be dethroned. He wouldn’t allow anyone to take his position or his crown. Críostóir would fight. He had already done everything he could to insure that his borders were strengthened by bonding the dragon leaders with the human leaders. They had been able to repel all invaders so far.
And yet, the council still wasn’t satisfied. If he had his way, Críostóir would remove each council member from their positions and send them packing. He was just as tired of their interference as his father had been. Unfortunately, they seemed to be a necessary evil.
The normal one-month celebration period that most new kings enjoyed had been turned into a yearlong odyssey for Críostóir due to the fact that his older brother had been trained to be king and not him. The council wanted to give him time to learn the laws and grow used to wearing the crown. If all fared well, he would officially take the crown one year from when his father died. Until then, he was on a bizarre form of royal probation.
“Is this supposed to be a joke?”
“No, sire.” His advisor bowed his head respectfully. “This is the way things are done. Now that each territory is secure, you need to find a mate. It’s the only way…”
“The only way to…?” He stared at the man, waiting for him to finish his thoughts.
“It’s the only way your people will continue to follow your command, sire. It’s the only way to secure your position. You need a mate and an heir. It will give the impression that you’ve settled down and that you are mature enough to take the position from your father.”
“I was chosen by my father to be his heir. This wasn’t my decision. I’ve given you a lot of leeway since you were my father’s advisor and he respected you, but this”—Críostóir balled up the parchment paper and tossed it across the room—“isn’t happening. I will not choose a mate based on an archaic ritual.”
“Unfortunately, you cannot change this particular law, Your Majesty. It was created centuries ago when our kingdom was in a great period of unrest. Many have tried to change it, but it’s impossible.”
Críostóir scoffed at the idea he couldn’t change one lousy law. If there was a way to change it, he was going to be the one to do it. He was the king, after all. If he couldn’t change the laws, what good was he?
The law was archaic at best, outdated and overdue for a change. How could anyone be expected to find a mate based on a challenge? Men competing to become his lover, it was ridiculous. The strongest man could win and still be a horrible choice for him and his kingdom. Críostóir refused to be mated to someone he didn’t choose.
The advisor continued, “The summons have already been sent out, Your Majesty. Two men will arrive from each territory, one human and one dragon, within the next two days.”
“The council expects me to find a mate from these men?” Críostóir raised a brow. Would the council really accept someone of a lower station to serve the court by Críostóir’s side? “Anyone? Their status doesn’t matter? The council will accept the winner without question?”
“Yes, sire. Current social standings do not matter in a mate challenge. All the men will compete in various challenges. It’s not solely based on physical strength or mental aptitude. It’s a combination of many trials. There will be a point system and the winner will become your mate.”
Leaning back against his throne, Críostóir blew out an aggravated breath. It didn’t seem as though he had any options. He had to fulfill his father’s last wish and become king. His older brother wasn’t an option, and his father had known it for ages. Críostóir adored his brother and understood his father’s decision, accepted it.
He had always had a close relationship with his father. The former king was one of the only men that Críostóir confided in. If only his father were here now, Críostóir would ask for his advice and guidance. He wouldn’t let his father down, not now.
“What are the conditions of this mate challenge?” He wanted to know how much wiggle room he had to work with.
“According to the ancient law, one dragon and one human from each of the kingdom’s territories must be summoned to participate in the mate challenge. They are to be given tests to insure the strongest and the wisest is chosen to mate with the king.”
“And that is all the law says?”
“I will agree to the mate challenge on two conditions.”
“There will be one winner from each territory, human or dragon does not matter. That includes this territory.”
“You’ve sent out summons to the territories to the west, north, east, and south. You need to include the center of our kingdom.”
Surprisingly, the advisor grinned. “Yes, sir.”
“I want a warrior named Kurgan to be notified. He will be the dragon chosen from our kingdom to compete. I also want the council to understand that winning the challenge does not guarantee that I will choose the winner to be my mate. I will choose the best person for the position from those participating, both as my mate and my royal consort. Also, the winner needs to agree to be my mate without coercion from anyone. I will not mate with an unwilling man. I will not tie someone to me that doesn’t want to be my mate. I won’t doom us both to a lifetime of misery.”
Círan put down his belongings, and Kurgan rushed him, wrapping his arms around the only man he’d ever loved. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“It’s good to see you again,” Círan replied.
Hearing Círan’s voice was a soothing balm to his soul. How long had he been hoping and praying to see the man again? Their relationship had been a secret that lasted years. Whenever they were in the same territory, the heat and attraction between them was instantly sparked and Kurgan found himself falling back into bed with the handsome man. No promises were ever made, but Kurgan wanted the other man to know how much he meant even if the two of them couldn’t be together.
Kurgan reluctantly let go of Círan.
Stepping back, he allowed himself the pleasure of looking the other man up and down, inspecting his form. Círan stood at six foot four inches with golden eyes and black hair. He looked exactly the same, even after years of separation. In his mind, Kurgan had always been able to conjure up Círan’s image. But over time, it seemed that his memory hadn’t been able to do the man justice.
Círan was breathtaking.
“Gods…” Kurgan breathed out. He shook his head, still unable to believe that the man was really standing before him.
Círan grinned, flashing a line of straight white teeth. “I’ve missed you.”
Kurgan cupped Círan’s face with his hand. He knew that he should stop and have a conversation, but he couldn’t control himself. Lifting the man’s face, Kurgan leaned down and connected their lips. Nothing else mattered. Kurgan needed to taste Círan more than he needed his next breath. Círan seemed to melt into Kurgan as their bodies connected. His chest met Círan’s, and Kurgan cursed, wishing they were naked.
Kurgan moved his hands, caressing and touching, as he moved his fingers. He gripped the bottom of Círan’s tunic and pulled up. He disconnected their lips for only a moment, long enough to remove the tunic and toss it to the ground, before reconnecting their lips in a passionate kiss. Kurgan tilted Círan’s head back, giving him better access to the man’s mouth, before pushing his tongue between Círan’s lips.
Kurgan groaned when Círan’s tongue met his, dancing and swirling. Moving one hand to the back of Círan’s head, he dropped the other to the man’s ass, gripping the muscled flesh still hidden behind the material of his pants. He pulled Círan closer, forcing their straining erections to touch. When Círan moaned and started moving his hips, Kurgan grinned. It was always the same between them. Hot and erotic.
It didn’t seem to matter how much time passed, they easily fell into the same routine as if there was no separation at all.
Kurgan dropped his hands and pulled the string that kept Círan’s pants up. One hard tug and the material fell away.
“Gods above,” Círan whispered.
“Mmm…” Kurgan licked his lips, tasting Círan. “I want to feel you around my cock.” Kurgan wrapped his palm around Círan’s hard dick, and the man bucked, fucking his hand in wild strokes. “Bed. Now.”
Kurgan needed space for what he hand planned. He didn’t want to abandon his lover, but the two single beds wouldn’t be enough. Dropping his hand, Kurgan immediately started pushing the beds together. When he was satisfied, Kurgan turned back toward his lover. Círan stood gloriously naked, a big smile on his face.
“Come here, baby.” Kurgan rarely used endearments, but with Círan he couldn’t seem to help himself. He wanted to caress and love. He wanted an infinite amount of time to taste and kiss. It always seemed like they were under some sort of time limit before the next call of duty. Today though, Kurgan planned to take his time. He didn’t give a damn about the mate challenge. They could start without him.
Círan strode toward him, and Kurgan sat down on the edge of the bed. He touched Círan’s hips, moving his hands up, down, and around. The man’s skin was soft and warm against his callused hands. “You’re so beautiful.”
“You always say that.”
“That’s because it’s the truth.” Kurgan touched every inch of flesh he could reach, purposely ignoring the cock begging for attention. When a pearly drop of pre-cum bubbled from the head of Círan’s dick, Kurgan leaned forward and licked it up.
“Please!” Círan shouted out, his hips rocking forward.
Kurgan understood the plea. It had been a long damn time since they had been together. Not wanting to punish them both for another second, Kurgan gripped Círan’s hips and wrapped his mouth around the man’s cock. Having Círan’s needy cock in his mouth made Kurgan moan. He inhaled Círan’s masculine scent through his nose and became light-headed.
“Kurgan…Kurgan…Kurgan…” Círan chanted his name like a prayer. Kurgan wrapped his forked tongue around Círan’s dick as he sucked. “Ah…ah…ah…” Erotic, nonsensical sounds spilled from Círan’s lips, spurring him on.
Kurgan’s mouth was full. He swallowed, taking the entire length down his throat. Círan shoved his fingers through Kurgan’s hair and gripped the strands as he started moving his hips, fucking Kurgan’s mouth. Kurgan opened wide, allowing Círan to do whatever he wanted.
“I’m gonna…” That was the only warning he received before Círan came down his throat.
Pulling back, Kurgan licked and kissed Círan’s shaft. He stared at Círan. With his mouth open and cheeks flushed, the man was entirely too sexy. He was everything Kurgan had ever wanted in a lover. Having Círan back made Kurgan’s heart yearn for something he couldn’t have, a long-term relationship. They had discussed it before, but each time came to the same conclusion. Their family obligations were too great and stood in their way.
“I thought you were going to fuck me,” Círan said, breaking the silence.
Kurgan raised a brow and grinned wickedly. “I’m not done with you yet.”