Read on to the excerpt below to see what happened 20 years ago when Vane and Arion met for the very first time.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, Arion left Vane and rejected their mate bond twenty years ago. He vowed never to return and even made Vane promise not to try to find him. He’s tried to bury the feelings of guilt and regret over the years, but he’s forced to face it all when Vane’s brother shows up to plead with Arion to save Vane’s life.
Vane knows the Dissolution will kill him if he doesn’t drink from his fated mate, but he refuses to break the promise he made to Arion. When Vane’s brother brings Arion back, Vane doesn’t know how to react to his mate’s return, especially when Arion proves so eager to take care of him.
Lucky for Vane, Arion has a plan. He’s tired of wondering what might have been, so he’s going to focus on finding out what could be. The past holds nothing but pain, but Arion already sees how much pleasure the future could bring if he embraces the love he once walked away from.
Arion shifted in the saddle when he spotted the hitch post and trough, ready to get down and walk for a while. He’d left home to explore the world, unable to stay in his mother’s house after her passing. His friends had supported his decision to go, though they’d urged him to return home soon. Arion had never been away from the lycan settlement for more than a few days, so the past week had been fun, even though nothing all that exciting had actually happened to him. He stopped Lily and dismounted, stretching and rubbing his shoulders before leading the gray mare over to a drinking trough and tying her there while he moved around to get the kinks out of his back.
The sound of pounding hoofs caught his attention, and he turned to look down the road. A horse went flying past him, panicked and stirring up lots of dust. Arion heard shouting in the distance, and he briefly calmed his horse before yanking his boots off and reaching into his bag for his dagger. He moved as quietly as he could through the grass on the side of the road, keeping low until he could see what was happening.
A group of dirty, shabbily dressed bandits seemed to have attacked a lone rider. Arion got low to the ground and tried to count his enemies. There seemed to be six men, so he laid his dagger aside. He could only stab one man at a time, and he didn’t want to risk one of them getting it away from him and turning it against him. None of them seemed to be armed, though they might be beating the other man merely for sport and concealing their own weapons. Arion yanked his shirt off and wiggled out of his leather breeches as best he could without drawing attention to himself. He shifted into his wolf form as he crawled through the grass, and then he pounced on the largest man.
Arion tore at the man’s shoulder and drew blood as the man screamed. He didn’t wish to kill them, but he had no intention of letting them get off easy. He pushed off the man and growled at the two who approached him. He cast a glance to the victim, worried they might kill him, and he caught a flash of red in the man’s eyes just before he sank his fangs into one of the assailants. Arion focused on his own foes again. A vampire might not be a match for six men, but he seemed more than capable of handling three if the screams told Arion anything.
Arion dodged away when one man tried to tackle him, and he maneuvered around them well enough, leading them in a merry little dance. When one man got in a kick to the side of Arion’s head, he latched on to his ankle and bit down hard. The man jerked away, but then he stumbled on the injured foot. Arion growled again and leapt at the third man, who jumped back in terror and fell backwards down a hill. His three foes in retreat, Arion turned to the others. One man had run off, but two more still tried to best the vampire. Arion growled and leapt on the one trying to hold the vampire down, and he tore into his back with one swipe of his jaws. The man howled and twisted and jerked to throw Arion off. Arion leapt down of his own accord and advanced on the final man as the other ran. The bandit acted as if he’d stand his ground for a moment, but when the vampire rose to his knees, the man thought better of his chances.
Arion watched them fleeing and wanted to pursue them, but then the vampire collapsed forward, barely catching himself. Arion shifted back to human form and went to the vampire, rolling him to his back and letting him come to rest in Arion’s lap. The bandits had beaten him mercilessly, and he was covered in blood and bruises.
“Is anything broken? What can I do?”
The vampire stared at him and didn’t reply. Arion wiped blood from his own eyes and noticed his head was bleeding. He felt stupid for not realizing exactly what the vampire needed. “Blood. I’m sorry, my lord. Of course you need blood.” Arion held out his arm for the vampire to drink from.
Still the vampire stared at him as if he couldn’t believe Arion was real. “What’s wrong?” Arion asked, touching him all over to check for mortal injuries. He felt the back of the man’s head and was relieved to find no blood or bumps. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. Drink. Then we can get to safety.”
The vampire took hold of his arm and, to Arion’s shock and confusion, kissed his wrist before sinking his fangs into Arion’s flesh. Warmth flooded Arion’s body, but he tried to keep his composure. He knew a vampire’s bite could be heady and intoxicating, but he hadn’t expected it to feel this good. It didn’t hurt at all even as the vampire sank his fangs deep. Arion felt his body responding with arousal, but he tried to ignore the reaction. The intimate act did have an erotic quality, and Arion averted his gaze, as seeing the vampire’s rapture made him feel strange. When the vampire was done, he licked the wound to heal it, then turned Arion’s hand over and kissed his knuckles.
Arion felt somewhat embarrassed. He was naked, and this man was kissing him and now rubbing his hand. The vampire sat up and cupped Arion’s cheek, turning his head with gentle insistence. “I’m Vane. What’s your name?”
“Arion, my lord.” The vampire’s eyes had changed to black, which worried Arion. Vampires had white irises, but the color changed according to mood. Only two colors meant the same thing for every vampire—red and black. Red indicated anger or the need for blood, as Arion had witnessed during the attack, and black indicated lust. Arion wished his clothes weren’t so far away. He knew vampires had quite the reputation for overactive libidos.
Vane smiled. “A fine name for my brave, handsome mate.”
“Mate?” Arion said, the word hanging there between them.
“Yes. I’m sorry if I worried you by not responding to your questions. I was in shock, I guess. I scented your blood as soon as you knelt beside me, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only to be rescued so unexpectedly but for my savior to turn out to be my mate? It’s like something out of a romantic legend.” Vane caressed Arion’s cheek lovingly and leaned in to kiss him.
Arion turned away without thinking about it, and Vane stopped short. “What is it?” Vane asked.
“Um.” Arion realized he’d been rude, but he couldn’t simply let himself be caught up in this man’s will. “I don’t desire men, my lord. I’m sorry.”
Vane backed off a little, but he didn’t release Arion. “Didn’t you feel anything when I bit you? I’m sure I felt your cock stir.”
Arion felt his entire body flame red. He knew the vampire was resting just over his cock, but he’d been so concerned for Vane’s welfare he hadn’t given it much thought at the time. “Yes, I think maybe it did, but I just met you. I don’t like men that way.”
“But we’re mates. The gods want us to be together.” Vane didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was examining every inch of Arion.
“I’m a lycan. Your gods and beliefs are not what direct my destiny.” He thought back to his desire to leave after his mother’s death and how several of the lycan elders had encouraged him to follow his feelings. He could believe he’d been meant to be here this day to save Vane’s life, but he hesitated to accept more than that just yet.
“A vampire is never mistaken about its mate.”
“May I get dressed, my lord? I can’t keep talking in this state.” Lycans didn’t tend to care about such things, having no problem with others walking around either naked or in their shifted forms, but he couldn’t help feeling self-conscious when the vampire so obviously desired him.
Vane finally averted his gaze. “Yes. Forgive me. Despite what I’ve just experienced, I can’t seem to fight how much you please me.”
Arion stood. “I’ll return soon. My horse isn’t far.”
“Arion?” Vane said after he’d taken a few steps.
Looking over his shoulder, Arion said, “Yes?”
“I’ll back off. Please don’t run away.”
Arion realized he’d probably hurt the man’s feelings. Vampires were always enthusiastic when they found their mates. “I’m just surprised,” he said, though that wasn’t exactly the best word. “I’d never run off and leave someone in distress like this.” But he turned away before Vane could say anything else. Part of him wanted to run away, but what if the bandits returned? He had no way of knowing if he’d given Vane enough blood for the vampire to make it to safety. He couldn’t abandon him.
Arion put his clothes back on and smoothed his hair away from his face as he picked his dagger up. He went back to Lily and found that she didn’t seem too worried about him. He patted her on the side of her neck and then put his boots back on. “Come on, Lily. We have a new mission, it seems.”
As he walked her back to Vane, he wondered what would happen next. According to the law, no vampire could force another to accept the mate bond, but it was quite rare that any human ever walked away. Not only did vampires possess wealth and power but they were also supposedly amazing lovers. Arion could believe it, given his reaction to that bite. There had been something very sensual about it, something that still lingered with him.
Vane sat on the ground looking down at his hands. His expression seemed not quite sad but something similar. Wistful, perhaps? Arion’s stomach knotted as he tried to think of what to say. Vane looked up at him then, and the vampire’s gaze held unmistakable longing. Arion cleared his throat as he brought Lily to a stop. Deciding to fall back on formality to keep his distance, Arion said, “Let me help you stand, my lord. I can take you wherever you need to go.”
Vane looked at his hand and then accepted it. When they were face to face, Vane said, “May we start over? Come back to my castle as my guest. I won’t tell anyone that you’re my mate. Perhaps once you get to know me, you won’t be so reluctant.”
“I’ll see you to safety, but I don’t know. It seems pointless. And cruel to lead you on and take advantage of you.”
Vane blinked. “Take advantage?” He squeezed Arion’s hand. “Arion, that’s not even possible. I’d do anything for you. I’d die for you.”
Arion gently withdrew his hand. “But you know nothing about me. That all sounds insane to me.”
“I’m sure it does, but … there’s no way to describe it to anyone who isn’t a vampire. As upset as I am that you’re rejecting me, I feel joy just being near you. If compromise will keep you with me, I’ll agree to anything.”
Arion had no idea what to say to that, so he stepped aside and gestured to Lily. “Let me help you up. You seem to be healing already, but you need rest and more blood. I should get you home so others can attend to you, my lord.”
“Don’t call me that. Say my name, please.” Vane came closer but didn’t touch Arion again. “Stay one night. You should rest as well after the way you fought. I won’t touch you. I’ll accept any condition if you’ll stay one night in my castle and just come to know me a little.”
Arion gripped Lily’s reins, nervous energy surging through him. Vane was practically begging him, and he didn’t know how to handle it. “All right. I’ll come back to the castle. I’m tired and could use a hot meal and a warm bed.” He met Vane’s gaze. “If you’ll do as you said and not tell anyone. I’ve seen the way people react. I can’t handle that.”
Vane nodded. “I promise. I won’t tell a soul. They won’t think twice about anything I do once I tell them how you saved me.”
“Don’t make a big deal about it. Anyone would’ve helped.”
Vane’s eyebrows rose. “How old are you? You seem so young, though your impressive physique tells me you’re no boy.”
“Twenty a few days ago.” Arion didn’t see what his age had to do with what he’d said. Was the vampire saying he was naïve?
“Oh. You’re only a few years younger than I am.” Vane searched his face. “Honestly, I have to disagree with you. Most people are selfish cowards and would’ve run away. You’re very brave, and I’m so grateful. There were too many of them. They thought a vampire would be carrying something valuable, and they weren’t very happy when they found I had nothing they could steal. I probably would’ve died.”
“And that’s why I had to do something. Even after I saw that you were a vampire, I couldn’t give up.” He shuffled his feet in the dirt on the road. “I guess you’re right, though. Lots of people would’ve run to protect themselves.”
“Which only makes me admire you all the more.”
A noise sounded behind them, and Arion turned and took a defensive stance. It was the horse he’d seen earlier.
“Well, Tiger, you didn’t live up to your name at all,” Vane said to the chestnut stallion.
“Tiger?” Arion asked.
“Yes, one of the children named him.” Vane patted Tiger and smiled. “I love children and let them run a bit wild at the castle. But I like it that way. I love to hear children playing. Tiger was probably heading back home to beg for a carrot, not at all concerned about me.” He mounted the horse. “Let’s set off. It’s not that far. I could use a bath and a generous glass of wine.”
“I might join you in that. Sounds wonderful,” Arion said as he mounted.
“I certainly won’t say no.” Vane smiled and arched one brow.
“That’s n-not what I m-meant,” Arion said, fumbling over the words.
Vane laughed. “Sorry. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I couldn’t resist. I promise to be a gentleman from now on.” He sighed, his expression turning wistful again. “Or until you change your mind.”
Arion swallowed and said, “I’ll accept your kindness graciously, but please.” He paused as they set out and pressed his lips together. “I don’t wish to lead you on, Vane. I’ll accept your friendship but can’t offer more now. Or perhaps ever.”
Vane looked ahead of them, his expression going very still. After a seemingly endless moment, he said, “And I don’t wish to force you. Have patience with me. I’d rather have your friendship than nothing.”
“You have that. We fought together. For a lycan, that’s a bond that lasts for life.”
Vane managed a slight smile. “Friends then.”
Arion nodded and looked away. Something in Vane’s eyes seemed to add the words for now, and Arion genuinely had no idea how he felt about that.
He’d wanted excitement and adventure, and he’d gotten his wish beyond any doubt.