To his family, Elan is something precious and beautiful to be secreted away and protected at all costs. He's never allowed to be alone and his only hope of freedom is when his parents decide to mate him off. He's felt like a prisoner for years, and he's sick of it. He's a hawk, and he just wants to fly away.
Raja was badly burned in a magical fire, and his scars have left him feeling like a monster. He lives a life of isolation, only interrupted by his father's insistence that he get out and explore the world and stop letting his physical appearance limit him. At his wit’s end, his father decides to mate him to Elan, a man Raja could never hope to attract the attention of on his own.
Elan wants his freedom, and Raja only wants to be left alone. It should be a simple arrangement where they both get exactly what they want, only falling in love is never so easy, especially when it comes to a beauty and a beast.
Elan lay stretched out on the roof of his family's home. He'd managed to sneak away, and so far, no one had noticed he was gone. It was practically a miracle anyone was leaving him alone that long. On a good day, he shared the house below him with only ten other people. Some of his extended family was visiting as well, though, so that made fifteen of them, plus him, and he'd had to give up his room to sleep on the couch for the past three nights.
If his parents would let him visit his best friend, Jackson, then he knew Jackson and Kirin would let him crash at their place for a while. Maybe forever if he asked nicely and promised to clean up after himself. But that was out of the question. He'd already tried and failed in that regard. No, he needed to be there, and he needed to help out because everyone in the house was family and that's what was expected of him.
Just once he wished he could have a smaller family or one that wasn't so overprotective of the unmated virgin in their midst. He looked up at the sky, and at the swiftly moving clouds. A storm was coming. Some days he just wanted to shift into a hawk and fly away and forget everything, leaving everyone behind. But he wasn't so bold and knew he would miss his family too much, as obnoxious and loud as they were. All the blood relatives were bird of prey shifters. He often thought they should understand how cruel it was to keep him locked up so tightly, but they didn’t. They were all so human, he didn’t think some of them even remembered how to fly. It was their birthright, and they never did it.
He was too bound up and needed his freedom. If he didn’t get it soon, he might just jump off the roof and not shift before he smacked into the ground. That might teach them to let up on the jesses and let each other fly free.
"Elan! You better not be out here, boy!"
He cringed at the sound of his grandmother's screech. If he held very still and didn't make a sound maybe she wouldn't notice. He only wanted a few more minutes of peace.
"Elan! Inside! Now! Before we sell you to a natural history museum!"
It was such an old threat. He had taken it seriously, once, maybe when he was five or something like that. But the threat didn't mean much to him anymore, not after so many years of hearing it.
She shifted and joined him on the roof. There was nothing quite like having a giant golden eagle screeching in his face to make him do what she wanted him to. "Okay, fine, I surrender. I'll go back in," he said as he sat up. He threw his hands into the air when she continued, this time flying in his face.
Elan slid to the edge of the roof and then dropped down. It was only about ten feet from the roof of the porch to the grass below, and, being a hawk, heights didn't really bother him. His grandmother joined him a moment later, and as soon as she had her robe on again, she grabbed him by his ear and marched him right inside to the kitchen where his mother was scowling.
"Ow! That really hurts!" Elan protested as his grandmother plopped him into a chair at the kitchen table.
"Maybe it'll teach you a lesson then. You come when you're called, no exceptions," she chided.
Elan looked to his mother for help, but she only put a bowl and spoon in front of him. "Here, make yourself useful and stir this," she said.
He sighed and stirred the potatoes like he'd been told. "I'm not a child," he grumbled.
His mother gave him a sharp look. "You're not out of this house and mated yet either, young man. Until then, you live under our roof, and you listen to your elders. And no more running away to the roof. Someone could see you up there."
Elan rolled his eyes. "Maybe Jackson and Kirin want to mate with me." Even as he said it, he knew that would never happen, and he wouldn't have been happy with them either. He adored Jackson, and Kirin was a nice guy from the little time his family had allowed him to spend with his best friend and his mate, but if Elan ever got mated he wanted it to be to his own person and on his terms. Not like that would ever happen, but he could still hope. With his luck, he’d end up mated to some old fart who was on his fifth husband and liked to keep his young men chained to the bed or something equally perverse.
His mother made an indignant sound. "Not a chance, mister. Not in this family. You'll get to be mated to one man, that's more than enough for you. Now shush and stir those potatoes if you want dinner."
Elan wasn't all that sure that he really did. He sighed and stirred anyway. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as he thought it would be. "Are you still looking for a mate for me?"
She didn't even have to think about it, apparently, as she instantly answered. "Yes. You'll be mated by your next birthday if I have anything to say about it."
That was only in four months. Elan tried not to care about that as he stared into the white lumpy pile of potatoes. "Do I get a say?"
He pursed his lips. He kept hoping he’d have a say, even though none of his other siblings had.