Pari is a Ruby Dragon, or a halfling, anyway, who doesn’t know much about being any kind of Dragon, but he does know about the tyrannical royal family who has ruled the cursed kingdom where he lives for the past two hundred years. Since the beloved Pearl Prince of their kingdom was cruelly murdered by the evil Obsidian Queen so long ago, the people of the kingdom have suffered and still mourn his loss. Yet, Pari is determined to help free his countrymen if he can. When one of his raids on the king’s palace goes terribly wrong, he winds up running for his life and right into an ancient wizard who offers him a way out—through the reflection on a magic bronze shield that he can use to go back through time to save the life of the Pearl Prince. Once Pari arrives, he has to deal not only with misunderstandings, but an overwhelming attraction to the handsome Prince. Maxsim teaches Pari everything a good Dragon should know, including making love while flying. Treacherous trolls, evil black snow and an unexpected fall back to his own time threaten his new-found happiness with Maxsim. When he learns of the treachery around him, he has to find a way back to his love and be willing to sacrifice everything to save him and change the course of history. If he can pull it off, and if he doesn’t die in the attempt, he might just get everything his heart desires.
The guy was staring at him and Pari was finding it hard not to squirm. The man stood near the window just…watching.
And Pari was trying to understand why, after saving his life, these people were trying to starve him to death. “Just broth?” Pari moaned, looking down at the tray of food. Well—a tray that held only a bowl. Still, he didn’t mean to whine. He meant to sound decisive and strong, maybe scare the crap out of his babysitter who was clearly a servant but “serving” didn’t extend to Pari, apparently.
“Yes,” the servant scowled. “There was something on the knife. Should have died, they all said.” He grumbled something else Peri didn’t catch, but he figured he knew anyway, the ‘should have died’ comment playing a big part. “I guess the physician ordered the broth.”
“But I’m hungry.” Again, he hadn’t meant to whimper like a child, or even admit such a thing out loud. If he was able to stomp a foot, he would have. However, he was still confined to this bed, although it was a nice one. Which honestly should have made him happy. When was the last time he was able to lie about in such comfort? The answer to that was never.
“Do I look like I care, Ruby?”
“My name is Pari.”
The glare he received spoke volumes. It was a chilling expression and basically meant “Gads, you’re a Ruby Dragon shifter? Stay the fuck away from me!” Only without all the words. Pari had gotten pretty good at reading expressions. He’d seen enough of them back in his own time.
Pari sipped the broth. Tasteless. He might as well be drinking lukewarm water and he gagged with the thought. This cup of cloudy liquid wouldn’t even satisfy his thirst.
The man by the window huffed. “Problem?”
Yes. Quit the fuck staring at me. Is it my eyes? My hair? The fact I’m not bad-looking and you’re a pig? Pari almost laughed out loud at his last thought. This man was not into other men, that was obvious. He was barely able to be in the room with Pari, much less admire a Ruby’s attractiveness. Maybe if he were female. Should he act female? Flirt with this moron?
The repulsive man honked as he sucked in a wet breath through his nose, hawking up all that liquid snot, and spit the glob out onto the tiles.
Great gods, no.
“I already told you,” Pari mumbled as he shivered, his empty stomach turning.
The man sneered, coughed and turned away. At least he wasn’t ogling Pari anymore. Not for the moment anyway. Humans always did marvel over a Ruby’s eyes.
Pari smiled when the man groaned, obviously cursing his luck at having to be the one to guard the bothersome Ruby. The man certainly did not want to be here, that was for sure.
Hmm…Maybe he could use that.
“Too bad about The Crossed Swords, though.” Pari made as if to sip from his bowl.
That brought an immediate reaction. “What are you talking about? What do you know about The Crossed Swords?”
Pari shrugged. Absolutely nothing of course. He had only noticed the tavern on his way to the courtyard. It had reminded him of The Witch and Wain from his time. The innkeeper, Ariel, blamed every misfortune she ever had on Dragons. But the dried sausage and hazelnut bread had been pretty good. The ale only so-so. “Heard the owner was celebrating a birthday or something. Free ale. All day.” Ariel had actually done that very thing a month or so ago. Naturally, Rubies were not welcome. Especially half-breeds. Well—specifically Pari…
The man narrowed his eyes at Pari, most likely wondering if he was telling the truth. Pari smiled.
“Oh well,” Pari assured in his best sing-song voice. “There’s always next year.”
“What the fuck you talking about, next year?”
“Or what, Ruby?”
“Or you could head on over there right now. I won’t tell anyone.” Pari stretched and yawned. “I’m tired. I need some rest. Besides, all your snorting and farting annoy me.” It was too far. He knew it. But there were just some things he couldn’t hold back.
“I don’t fucking snort or fart, you worthless piece of horse dung!”
Oh, such words destroyed his very soul! Or at least that was what Pari tried to convey with his facial expressions as he grabbed his chest and pretended to choke out, “I’m… sorry. I… didn’t mean anything. I just… well, I figured you might be… upset you have to miss such a time. I’m sure your friends are all down there, too. Right now. Laughing, drinking, having a great time. And here you are… I feel…so guilty.”
Like fucking hell.
The man huffed. Pari could see the wheels turning. He only hoped he hadn’t overplayed his hand. The man appeared to be thinking it over. Not easy, Pari was sure, with a brain as small as his.
“You said you were going to sleep?”
“Like a baby.”
The man growled and pounded his fist on the window sill. “Fuck. As much as I want to, I can’t leave you by yourself.”
Pari slumped. “Suit yourself.” He set the bowl of broth back on the tray, setting both on the small table to the side of the bed and scooted himself under the quilt. Turning away from his keeper, he closed his eyes. Within a few moments he forced his breathing into a rhythm that mimicked sleep, even slipping in some soft snoring. The servant muttered something about “look who’s fucking snorting now” and came closer, peering over Pari’s shoulder, probably to try and determine if he was truly sleeping. He appeared to be convinced, because a couple minutes later the door to the room opened and closed.
To be safe, Pari remained still a few more minutes. Until his stomach growled loud enough to reverberate through the entire room, even from under the thick cover. Now, how was he going to get out of here with no one, especially the prince, finding out? What do to, what to do?
Of course, Pari decided that first he had to find the kitchen and some real food.
Time to go.
He whipped back the quilt and slid off the bed.
Only to remember he was naked.
Why would they have stripped him of all his clothes? He had been stabbed in the chest, not below the waist.
Oh yeah. Stabbed. By the infamous Obsidian studded knife laced with poison.
He glanced at the strips of cloth covering the wound, touching the area gently. Such a primitive dressing. There was little discomfort, which surprised him. Maybe they had given him something for the pain. The dressing did seem to be thick, like there was some kind of poultice underneath.
For motives beyond his understanding, they had worked hard to save his life. In the stories the prince died quickly after being stabbed, yet Pari was alive and seemingly on the road to a fast recovery. Odd. Unless the poison had been enchanted specifically to kill a Pearl Dragon.
And oh crap, he had saved the Pearl Prince’s life. The Pearl Prince! Standing and watching as the Obsidian Queen approached the beautiful man, everything in him had focused completely on that one act and exactly what he had to do to stop her. And for some reason his heart thrilled that he had been able to accomplish it, actually leaped, just thinking the prince was alive. What was it about the man that affected him so? That tumble of gorgeous white hair, those amazingly pale blue eyes? Even the man’s rumbly voice sent shivers through him.
Of course, he knew all the stories by heart. Every single one. How Prince Maxsim fled from the Obsidian Queen and retreated to the far north, taking many people with him, protecting them with his stunning ability with a sword. He helped build shelters with his own hands, hunted game himself, along with his soldiers, to feed his people. Then, later, when he realized he had more than half the kingdom flocking to his half of the country, and after the true king, his father, had died, he built his shining white Saint Claire castle. He stepped up to the throne as prince over the north, officially splitting the kingdom. But that didn’t stop the man from fighting for his people. He did not become a lazy ruler. He personally trained his knights and they became the most talented fighting force in both kingdoms, shutting down attack after attack as the evil queen attempted to take back what she deemed hers. The beautiful, strong prince led every charge.
And still the man helped his people. As a child, Pari had loved hearing about his exploits. Like the fact the prince listened to every dispute himself, judging them with his brilliant and pure mind, punishing only when absolutely necessary. And when there was a need of any kind? The prince provided. Continuing to leave his beautiful castle to help hunt, fish or take up an ax. The only thing he held close to his heart were the treasures the people gave him for his loyalty and leadership. Everything else he gave freely. Even opening the castle up to shelter his subjects from the Emberwraiths that had filled the sky one fateful night, dark magic sent from the southern queen. The black creatures were evilly created to feed on the people. Resembling giant flying spiders with sharp teeth and eight long legs capable of crushing its victims, they killed and ate mindlessly. Maxsim had shifted into his dragon and taken to the sky, facing the hoard of creatures alone. One by one he took them all out with his white flames and expert hunting skills.
Yes, his prince had been amazing.
When he died, the people were so devastated and mourned him so deeply, they simply gave up. The cruel and wicked queen leveled everything, including, and most specifically, the beautiful Saint Claire castle. But the people had no fight left in them anyway. Even the Pearl Prince’s fighting knights threw down their swords. They wouldn’t have been able to defeat a black fire-breathing Obsidian Dragon anyway but without their beautiful prince leading them, they no longer had even the will to try.
But Prince Maxsim was alive now… and real.
And that reality hadn’t disappointed him either. He couldn’t imagine a king any more handsome or noble. Of course, he hadn’t actually met the man. Not yet, anyway. People said you should never meet your heroes, because no one can possibly live up to your expectations. But Pari had seen his in the flesh, and so far, he had no regrets.
As a child he had cried every time the storyteller would get to the part where the prince had died. How could the story end like that? Why had something so tragic become so popular? So, in his young imagination, he had the prince discover the plot and beat the evil queen while the people cheered. Sometimes he had the prince appear to have died, only to rise again to attack and cut off the Obsidian Dragon’s head. And there were even times when he had the Pearl Prince strike against the Queen even before she came to kill him, winning the day and Pari’s heart every time.
As he grew older, his imagination of a surviving Pearl Prince began to include Pari himself. That Pari was there in the castle when the prince would return from his victories. The beautiful man would sweep Pari off his feet, kiss him passionately and take him to his bed to make love to him.
It was especially then that Pari would become choked up, knowing the prince had lived far before Pari’s time. Even if the prince had somehow survived the queen’s attack, Pari had never had any hope of ever being a part of the prince’s life. But, of course, the truth was the prince had died, and it was an ugly, pointless death at the evil queen’s personal hand. Life as Pari knew it reflected that horrible wickedness as well. Fat, greasy, sweaty King Mondi proved that every day.
Had all that changed now? Had the fact Pari saved the Pearl Prince’s life changed the future?
Which brought up a depressing thought. At some point he would have to go back to his own time. The fact he had been able to actually see the man of his fantasies, the man he had dreamt and fantasized about all of his life, meant nothing.