Malcolm, a sorcerer in Melara, heads north to meet with another magic user, who happens to be the land’s new queen. But on the way there, Malcolm rescues Christopher, a handsome young man who casts a completely different kind of spell on the sorcerer. Malcolm tries to focus on his diplomatic mission, but the queen insists the two men met for a reason. They’re just beginning to explore this connection when the kingdom is threatened, and Malcolm finds himself fighting not only for his new friends but also for the man he’s growing to love.
Malcolm patted his blue roan stallion on the neck as it veered off course again. He glanced around, not seeing anything to distress the beast. He’d always had a way with animals, and Beau had never been spooked easily.
“What’s wrong, Beau? You smell something?” He allowed the horse to slow as they neared the woods. The sun shone brightly above them, and not even birds made the leaves stir. Yet as he reached out with his senses, he did feel something odd. As a sorcerer, he could sense things in nature and from other people. The feelings often only came through in a vague way, but he felt a twinge of fear in the air. Perhaps some animal was hurt. Or maybe a large predator waited nearby.
A loud crash caught his ear, and a horse came tearing out of the woods. The red bay mare made a lot of noise, her midnight black tail swishing in terror. Her saddle sat askew and tilted as she galloped off. Malcolm immediately thought of the rider, who was likely injured. He jumped off and spoke gently to Beau to calm him, not wanting to tie the horse in case a predator lurked nearby. Malcolm hurried to the trees, listening for any cries of pain and distress.
He heard a limb crack, and the fear in the air grew denser. Trying to avoid making any noise, he moved forward as quickly as he dared. His gaze searched the treetops, and he soon spotted a terrified young man clinging to a branch. He swung his legs to get on top of it, then sat astride it, wrapping his arms and legs around it. The reason for his fear soon came into Malcolm’s line of vision. A large shadowcat circled beneath the tree, its yellow eyes standing out against its jet-black fur. The creature was beautiful—he’d always admired shadowcats—but it also felt threatened, which was bad news for the man in the tree.
Another glance to the tree revealed the young man had seen Malcolm. His big green eyes grew wide, and Malcolm held a finger to his lips. The dark-haired young man pressed his lips together and looked back down. Malcolm rubbed his hands together as he attempted to focus his magic. He’d learned to do this at a very young age, much to his mother’s vexation. If he could hold the shadowcat’s attention with his powers, he’d be able to communicate with it. But he needed a reason to persuade the creature away. The shadowcat was female, and he focused on her a moment. The reason for her hostility became even clearer. She had cubs growing within her, and that gave him an idea. She whipped her head around as he drew closer, and he concentrated his power in her direction as best he could.
She pushed against him, wanting him to go away, but he pressed on.
The male is my mate. He means no harm. He’s my mate. He’s lost. I’ll take him away. He’s my mate. We mean you no harm.
She bared her fangs at him and sniffed the air. He didn’t relish the idea of killing her, but if she came at him he’d have little choice, so he shifted his stance to make reaching his dagger easier. He had to act fast, as her mate was likely nearby. He tried to project calm feelings toward her as he repeated the same ideas.
He’s my mate. Very young. Needs to learn.
She still bared her fangs, but she backed away. When she stopped, she glared up at the young man and then whipped her head at him. Malcolm wasn’t completely sure of her meaning, but she did it again, as if she were pointing to him. Malcolm came forward, and she seemed to like that. She actually sat and watched him, closing her mouth but still seeming alert and ready to show her teeth again.
Malcolm looked up. “Can you jump from there? I swear I’ll catch you.”
The young man stared at the ground warily, but when he looked into Malcolm’s eyes, he seemed to grow more confident. “I’ll t-try,” he said, his voice breathless, catching on the second word. He shook as he repositioned. He was hardly more than a child, and Malcolm glanced over to the shadowcat again. She watched them as if she wondered if the young man would make it.
He jumped, and Malcolm caught him awkwardly. The young man seemed to weigh nothing at all, and Malcolm cradled him close and backed away slowly, looking at the shadowcat.
I’ll take him away. Keep him away.
The shadowcat rose and gave a cry, and the young man stiffened and buried his face against Malcolm’s neck. The shadowcat stalked off into the woods, and Malcolm turned to hurry back to the road. Once they were there, he put the young man down, but his legs fell right out from under him. Malcolm had to help him to sit on the ground.
“Are you all right?” Malcolm asked, caressing his face.
“I am now,” he said, smiling even though he was shaking. “With a handsome laird to save me.”
Malcolm smiled, realizing the lad was making an assumption because of the plaid he wore draped around his body. “I’m no laird. My name’s Malcolm, and I’m just an envoy. I’m only dressed so formally because I’m going to the king.”
“Yes. I’m coming from the earls in the lowlands as sort of an exchange. A couple of the local highwaymen have gone to live there with my laird, and I’ve come here.”
The young man beamed at him. “Theodore and Nicholas. They were my friends.”
“Ah, and who might you be?” He was glad of the distraction, as it seemed to help the boy calm down.
“Christopher. I’m a highwayman, too. Or I will be once Gerard has trained me properly.”
“How old are you?” Malcolm guessed about fifteen, based on how fresh faced and beautiful the lad was. He told himself to stop being a dirty old man and think of the boy’s health, not his pretty face.
“Nineteen a few days ago.”
Malcolm’s eyebrows went up. “Truly? You look so young.”
Christopher’s face fell. “Yes. I know I’m small and thin and look like a girl.”
Malcolm laughed and shook his head. “You’re beautiful indeed, but you don’t look anything like a girl to me.”
That got Christopher’s attention. “How can I ever thank you, sir?”
“Well, don’t call me sir. You make me feel old.” He held out his hand as he straightened.
Christopher took it and got to his feet, but he didn’t let go. “You don’t look so old to me.”
“Not old at all.” Christopher’s hands snaked around Malcolm’s neck. “Might I offer a kiss in gratitude?”
Tempting as it was, Malcolm pulled Christopher’s hands off him. “A ‘thank you’ will do fine.” He’d not long ago gotten out of a complicated relationship, and he didn’t need this eager lad getting ideas and following him around. He had work to do, and seducing the local youths wasn’t part of it. “Tell me, are you injured in any way?”
Christopher didn’t seem hurt by the rebuff. Instead he looked determined, which Malcolm knew could end up being ten times worse. “No. I’m fine. I was just scared. I was lucky to find a low hanging branch so quickly. The shadowcat jumped out of nowhere and scared my horse.”
“Yes, I saw it.” Malcolm indicated his own horse. “Come on. I’ll take you home. Maybe we’ll find your horse on the way.”
Christopher glanced at Beau. “Would you like me in front or behind?” he asked with a slight smile.
Malcolm saw both positions as problematic. “Behind, I think. You’re rather tall.” Actually, he knew he’d be able to see over the lad just fine. He worried the riding combined with the flirtatious lad’s firm little ass rubbing him would lead to more trouble.
Once they were mounted, Christopher wrapped both arms around Malcolm’s waist and rested his chin on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Yes, I think this is much better.”
Malcolm didn’t reply as they set off. He tried to look for signs of Christopher’s horse while also trying to ignore the warm hands on his body, hands that never seemed content to stay still.
“How did you get the shadowcat to back down?” Christopher asked, his breath hot on Malcolm’s neck.
“You’d find out soon enough, but I’ll go ahead and tell you.” He tried to adjust because he could feel Christopher’s cock pressing against the small of his back, but the movement only seemed to make things worse. “I’m a sorcerer, like your new queen.”
Christopher’s grip tightened. “Are you?” He pressed closer as well. “That’s amazing. You get better with each passing moment.”
“If you say so. It’s only natural to me. I have a special way with animals, and I sensed that she was pregnant, so I appealed to her protective instincts. I said you were—” Malcolm stopped, realizing telling the truth would only encourage Christopher.
“You said I was what?”
“Um, my … brother.”
Malcolm’s eyebrows rose, and he turned slightly. “Are you always this impertinent?”
“Impertinent? I’m just calling you on whatever you’re trying to hide.”
Malcolm let his breath out in a huff. “Fine. I told her you’re my mate.”
Christopher pressed his lips to Malcolm’s ear. “I can be. You’re like a wet dream come true.”
“You always this keen as well?”
“Only when a man like you is around. And there aren’t many like you around here. The idea of you pounding into me cleared all my fears up quick enough.”
Malcolm jerked his head back to face forward as he tried to collect himself. The image had his cock reacting now, but he’d vowed to never again be swept away by lust. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” He’d hated hearing people say that when he was Christopher’s age, but it just slipped out.