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Authors: Amber Kell

Tags: #Fantasy, #m/m romance

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himself to turn the man away. This close the man was even

more appealing. Tor's scent made Naron's head spin with

the combination of male heat and leather.

"Here. I had it prepared like I do mine, but you

might like a little sugar."

Naron tried to still the rapid pounding of his heart as

he accepted the cup. He felt like a schoolboy with his first

crush. Discreetly he wiped his suddenly moist palms on his

pants before accepting the offering.

Suppressing a groan at Tor's nearness, Naron took

the cup, careful not to touch those elegant fingers. He was

certain that contact with the duke would end with a very

public display on the dining room table.

"Take a drink," Tor encouraged. Unable to resist the

duke's soft urging, Naron took a tentative sip of the black

liquid. Flavor exploded across his tongue, bitter and

smooth.

Oh. So wonderful.

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He turned back to see the duke's wide smile.

"Good, isn't it?"

"Yes. What is it called?"

"Coffee." There was that beautiful smile again

before Tor said with a smug tone, "I might be persuaded to

part with some during our negotiations."

"Splendid." However, now was probably not the

time to tell Torrance that the only non-negotiable thing was

his leaving the planet. Ever.

For the first time in his life, Naron felt his dragon

shifting inside him. Excitement shot through his system.

Mate.

The word whispered through his mind. He could

barely hold back the joy. Finding the duke had activated his

dragon genetics and awakened the beast sleeping inside

him since birth.

Naron was the first royal to have no active dragon, a

great shame in a royal family. Although it happened

occasionally, it was a recessive trait that people talked

about in whispers behind closed doors. Naron couldn't shift

and rarely felt the enhanced sense of smell, strength and

speed associated with dragonkin. It had been a great source

of disappointment to Naron's father before the man died.

The presence of the duke and his bond with the space

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dragon had brought out a dragon side Naron hadn't thought

he'd ever feel. It didn't take a genius to figure out the man

was most probably his mate. Unfortunately, Naron had

already announced the Mate Test, and it was too late to

back out now. The contest to prove mate-worthy of a king

would go on as planned. Naron just had to make sure the

beautiful duke won.

* * * *

"Enjoy your coffee," Torrance said, standing to go

back to his seat.

Naron resisted the urge to stop the younger man. He

needed to exhibit no favoritism until at least a few trials

were passed. It wouldn't be proper to show the others that

he had already chosen. Besides, according to the high king,

the duke thought he was only there for a mining contract.

Naron hadn't agreed with the king's approach, but from

what he'd seen of the duke, Tor did need someone to snap

him out of his mourning, and who better than his mate.

Despite the deep yearning to bask in the presence of

Tor, Naron let him go even though every sip of the bitter,

smooth coffee had him yearning a bit more. While

watching Tor, Naron nodded and pretended to pay attention

to the companion beside him. However, his gaze constantly

returned to the young golden-haired man.

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One of the courtiers leaned a little too close to the

duke for Naron's comfort.

A low growl rolled out of his chest.

"Calm, my king." Maelin, his master guard,

whispered behind him.

"Find a new spot for Lord Mell."

"Yes, Your Highness."

* * * *

Tor was in the garden playing the violin when he

was interrupted.

"The king's guard is here, Your Grace," Pietro said.

Even though Tor stopped playing, the lullaby still

resonated in his head. Yes, Alexandra would like this one.

His daughter was quite the lullaby connoisseur.

"Did the king want to see me?"

He could feel the shift in the air as the guard's

stance relaxed. "The announcement for the consort

petitioners is coming. The king wants everyone to be

there."

Consort announcement? He hoped he hid the

disquiet that announcement gave him. He'd felt an

attraction to the king when they'd talked. It was

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disappointing to hear the man was getting married soon.

"All right I'll be there." Tor tucked the violin into its

case and gave it over to Sally, who he knew was seated to

his right. She always sat there through his performances.

"Would you…"

"Take this to your room?" she finished for him, her

voice soft and teasing. "Of course, Your Grace."

"Thank you."

Her skirt softly whispered as she dipped into a deep

curtsey.

"She's a beautiful woman," the king's guard said in

a nice baritone.

"Yes," Tor said with a smile. Sally had a sweet soul,

and to Tor, she was stunning. He'd heard from others that

she was pretty on the outside too. He heard the guard shift

uncomfortably in his stance.

"You're very polite," the guard said in a musing

tone, making Tor wonder if he was more used to rudeness

from royals or perhaps from guests.

Tor tilted his head towards the guard's voice. "I

hope so. My mother would turn in her grave if I was rude to

people." The guard laughed, a deep, rich sound that caused

Tor's stomach to warm. Mmmm. Nice.

"What's your name?"

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The man cleared his throat. "Maelin, Your Grace."

"You're the king's guard?"

"His Master Guard, sir."

How odd.

"Forgive my curiosity, Maelin, but why did the king

send his Master Guard to fetch me? That seems a job better

suited to a page."

"He wanted to make sure you came."

The guard led them back to the throne room. Tor

took the twins and Pietro with him so he wouldn't be

jostled, and besides, Pietro might be a cold bastard but he

could get his way on just about anything. His servant's

persuasive skills were unsurpassed. It was Tor's custom to

always have a group that consisted of a combination of

strength and persuasion. You never knew what would be

required in any given situation.

Baroy flashed him an odd moment of sight, giving

Tor a second to see the room. The dragon's power allowed

him to control vision for them both. While sight between

Tor and Baroy was shared due to their bond, the dragon

retained the ability to allow them to see through Tor's eyes.

Baroy did that upon occasion when he thought Tor felt

uncomfortable in a new location. In general, the dragon

only cared about his own environment and kept his gaze

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firmly on the stars and meteors spinning around him. There

was less danger of Tor being injured with his people around

him than Baroy being killed by a spaceship or passing

meteor. With his flash of vision, Tor could see a crowd was

forming and the king stood at the bottom of the stairs that

led to an enormous chair, obviously the throne. The chair

dominated the room but next to it sat a smaller seat that

must be for the king's new consort.

Tor felt a pang. At one time he'd looked to marry

Larien. Hopefully the king would have better luck.

The crowd fell silent.

"I have called everyone here for the reading of the

potential consort list. My page will read the names, and

when your name is called, I want you to come forward and

stand to my right.

A new voice spoke. "There are five contenders

vying to be consort of the Royal House of Drakeen. Lord

Salen Mell, Lord…"

Tor became sidetracked when Baroy spoke into his

mind.

"Tor."

"What?"

"I have located the mineral. How much do you

need?"

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"Do not take it."

"Why? It's not like they really own the planet."

"His Grace Torrance Zelan."

"What?" Tor snapped back into the present.

"Go up on stage, Your Grace," Pietro whispered in

his ear.

Frustrated with his dragon and more than a little

confused, Tor let Dillon lead him to the other men.

"These five men will compete to be my mate," the

king announced when Tor reached his place beside the

others.

When had he agreed to that? Tor's mind furiously

churned, trying to figure out when he had signed up for

this. Unless…

"Your uncle."

Baroy's voice confirmed his thoughts. His uncle

hadn't sent him just for bargaining. By sacrificing his

nephew, the power hungry man was hoping to secure a

permanent way to access the minerals. Tor felt a flash of

anger, but it quickly passed. He was a practical man, and he

knew the high king would use any edge he had to get

needed resources for his planet. Besides, if the king turned

out to be a complete ass, Tor would leave. No one could

stop him if he really wanted to go. Baroy would eat them

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for dinner. Besides, the king might not be his beloved

Larien, but the man was as sexy as anyone Tor had ever

met.

Thoughts of his dead lover sent his spirits spiraling

downwards.

"Focus,"
Baroy reprimanded.

The king's page was announcing the rules of the

consort contest. "Each contestant will go through a series of

tests to prove he is the perfect consort for the king. The

perfect consort will be able to satisfy the king physically,

match the king mentally, and be able to defeat his

opponents in combat. The first test will be the kiss. If the

king isn't attracted to you, you will be immediately

eliminated."

* * * *

Naron carefully watched Tor's reaction while also

glancing at the others to make sure he didn't look as if he

was singling out any one man. It was difficult to do,

especially when his every cell was crying out for the duke.

What the page didn't mention were the unofficial

tests, the tests that would truly prove the mettle of a man.

Naron hid his frustration when he saw that Tor was

the last contestant. He knew Maelin purposely put them in

that order. He didn't want Naron so lust-blinded from

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kissing Tor, that he was unable to judge the other four men

competing for the throne.

The first was Lord Mell, a red-haired man with a

reputation as a master swordsman and for having a short

temper. Only royal connections kept the man from prison.

Surprisingly, Mell's kiss was pleasant enough that

he couldn't eliminate the man. Even though the other man's

mustache bristled against Naron's skin, it didn't detract

from the fresh mint taste of the man's mouth. He briefly

touched lips with the man, checking to ensure that there

was no natural revulsion.

Naron gave Lord Mell a nod before letting Maelin

lead him to the king's left, where the contenders were to

stand to indicate they were still in the competition.

Next was Lord Robert Gallywyn, a pretty brunet

with brilliant blue eyes. If he had never seen Tor, Gallywyn

would have been his choice. Lord Gallywyn had an

appealing cool beauty, but it dimmed against the flames of

passion Naron felt towards Tor. Gallywyn's kiss was cool,

soft and lovely, just like the man.

Naron let him go with a light hug and a smile. There

was a smattering of applause from his subjects.

From Gallywyn's expression, the kiss had a greater

impact on the brunet than it had on Naron.

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Lord Liex came next for his turn. The man had dirty

blond hair and hard gray eyes. Not difficult to look at until

you saw he had a permanent sneer.

"Is there a problem?" Naron asked the blond.

"I'm not a lover of men," Liex scoffed.

"Then why are you wasting my time?"

For the first time uncertainty flashed in Liex's eyes.

"I will make a good king-consort, and you could have as

many lovers as you wish. I won't refuse you your

pleasures."

The man really thought Naron would accept this. "I

can have as many lovers as I wish now. You're dismissed."

Liex flinched before turning and quickly leaving the

courtyard. A nod to his house guards had them following

the man to make sure he left. Some people were just born

stupid. He couldn't blame them for it, but he didn't have to

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