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Royal Fire
Author: Megan Derr








He's too vulnerable in his current rooms. Even if they were intending to move Prince Tevra to new quarters, well away from the ones where he'd nearly been stabbed to death in his bed, the security in the palace was abysmal. The way Their Majesties and his brother had nearly been assassinated—Their Majesties twice now in a matter of days—said that plainly enough. If he was the royal guard, he'd resign in shame and humiliation at how bad he was at his job.

Thankfully for everyone, Najlah was not bad at his job, and he would protect Tevra at all costs, just as he'd been ordered.

First, though, Tevra needed to be moved somewhere far safer. As safe as the stupid palace got, anyway, with all its open walkways and countless doors and absurdly large windows that were always open or easily broken.

Barkus cast him an amused look. "Somehow I'm not surprised that's the conclusion you've reached."

What is that supposed to mean?

Barkus only laughed, and his thoughts were not remotely helpful, kept cagey and elusive.

Najlah had the distinct feeling he was missing something, and he didn't remotely like it. He growled and hissed, shifted restlessly in his flames. If you're just going to be annoying, go away.

I'm saying you like him, or at least find him intriguing. Of course you'd want him close. It's the way you are. Not so different than a wolf.

No, not so different than a wolf. If he'd learned anything, it was that for all Tahjili were fire and Lukos were ice, they had a great deal in common.

Najlah slithered out of the flames, shaking off ash and embers, and crawled across the room to where Barkus was sprawled out on a low, wide settee reading a book—one of the very, very few that existed about Tahjil and got nearly everything right.

"Do you really go swimming in lava? I can't imagine it, rock so hot it melts into essentially liquid fire."

Eyes swirling green with amusement, Najlah rumbled and replied, No, we don't swim in it. Lava is too thick for that. It would be like swimming in that sticky stuff you dump on your breakfast cakes but worse. Usually we simply run across it. Some of the horned brutes have fallen into it a few times, but unless it's shallow and they can quickly climb out again, it's likely to kill them. Even we have limits.

"What's the hottest you can tolerate?"

It doesn't get any hotter than crawling into a volcano and running across lava. Even other dragons can't do that; it's exclusive to the black scales, we who live in and around the volcanoes. How much cold can you tolerate?

"I can swim in freezing water for several minutes as a wolf. So I guess the opposite of your lava, after a fashion."

Najlah growled and rose up enough to lick him—face, neck, the bit of chest bared by the shirt Barkus hadn't bothered to lace properly yet. His eyes swirled from green to red, and in short order he had Barkus bent over the back of the settee gasping and panting, begging for more with every hard thrust. Najlah obeyed, leaving marks with tooth and claws, snarling and growling as his own climax took him.

When they were finished, he sprawled out on the floor, leaving Barkus to the settee.

Far, far in the back of his thoughts, he could feel the amusement of the other wolves living in the palace.

He could also smell his brother, likely coming to pester him about something, even though he'd already said Najlah's official protection duties would begin in the morning. At the moment, there were so many healers and guards with Tevra, Najlah wasn't really needed.

Growling, he went and dumped himself in the bath, scrubbing off quickly and climbing out right as Ajith arrived, eyes swirling with smug amusement like always. "I might have known you'd be lying about like the useless spotted lizard you are."

"Stop being annoying and tell me what you want."

"Your charge is inviting the two of you to dinner. He was about to send a servant, but I was coming this way anyway and said I'd do it."

"Since when do you come here to do anything but bother me?”

"I'm heading for the frost gardens to pick berries. This way takes a little longer, but it's usually quieter."

"How adorable, the brute is fetching treats for his bitch."

Ajith bared his teeth. "Mock me all you like. Pretty soon you'll be bringing a human treats."


Ajith's eyes were brilliant green with hints of turquoise, a soft rumble in his chest further proclaiming his amusement. "I'm going to enjoy being right."

Najlah made a note to take him down a notch later. Horned brutes were impossible, especially when their bitches were expecting, like they had anything to do with the matter past some rutting. He growled, claws twitching, but refrained. This was not the time nor place to knock some of the smugness out of his brother. "Speaking of His Highness, he is not safe enough where he is."

"That's why you'll be there."

"No. I want him moved here, to my hall. It's quiet, as you said, and he can't remain in the place where he was already attacked once."

Barkus's amusement rolled through his mind as he finished his own bath and climbed out to get dressed. As delightful as he looked, though, more fucking would have to wait.

Ajith snorted, but he looked even more amused than Barkus. "Trying to build your own den, little hornless?"

Najlah snarled, flexing his claws. "I will turn you into food for starving kits, you worthless bag of bones and meat. Cease with your mockery. Go away if you have nothing useful left to say."

Ajith's eyes just swirled a brighter green than ever, with touches of turquoise for fondness. "I'm going, I'm going. I'll pass on your request about His Highness. Shall I tell him you'll join him for dinner as well?"

"Of course."

"See you later, then."

Ajith departed, leaving Najlah cranky and confused. "Why does it feel like everyone knows something I don't?"

"You're intrigued by Tevra, at least as intrigued as you were by me when we met. Not something anyone expected, given he's entirely human."

Najlah started to deny that, because honestly, it was such a stupid accusation. He didn't care about weak, stupid humans who snapped and crunched as easily as firebirds.

That being said, Tevra had some hornless brute toothiness to him, and Najlah could not ignore that.

Fine, he groused, as Barkus's laughter filled his mind. Wait, when is this dinner we're going to? That obnoxious fool I call brother didn't specify.

"I'll send someone to figure it out," Barkus replied, and Najlah could feel it as he sent a request to one of the other wolves, who replied happily, clearly pleased to have something to do. "What shall we do for now?"

"The grounds. I want to explore them, for all it requires going out in the stupid snow."

Barkus grinned and shifted, and moments later they were headed outside, into the wretched cold, kept warm and safe by the warmth of the pack bond.

The snow was exactly as miserable as he'd known it would be, but anything was better than the way he and Barkus had gotten trapped in freezing cold caves for days, with no idea where exactly they were or when they'd find their way out.

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