Excerpt: The Dragon’s Tamer

“Layneth!” Alaith bellowed, making certain the damned dragon could hear him wherever it was skulking. “How many times have I told you not to leave entrails in front of the tower?” He planted his hands on his hips and glared as a guilty-looking dragon with dark purple scales slunk around from behind the tower, where she had no doubt been taking a post-lunch nap by the wood pile. “If you don’t want to eat them, fine, but don’t leave them in front here where it makes us look uncivilized and disgusting! Clean it up now!”

Growling and looking very put upon, Layneth nevertheless began to clean up the remains of the steer carcass she had earlier eaten.

“Make certain you get all of it,” Alaith said for good measure and turned to head back into his tower, but paused when he heard all too familiar laughter coming down the path from the castle proper. Alaith stifled a sigh. If he were lucky, he would at least be able to enjoy staring surreptitiously at Trey while he attempted to avoid murdering or maiming Prince Rythe. He fussed over his hair and clothes in the few seconds he had before they cleared the forest, then turned around to supervise Layneth’s mediocre cleanup efforts so it would not look as though he were waiting for them.

“Hail, Mightiest of All Dragonslayers!” Prince Rythe called as he and Lord Trey came from the forest. “We have need of your fine services this day.”

Ignoring him, Alaith scowled at Layneth and pointed to the stone path that led to his tower home. “You missed a bit of intestine, you lazy, good for nothing dragon. Don’t you sigh at me, miscreant. Clean that up or all you get the rest of the week is rabbits and vegetables.”

After he was satisfied Layneth would clean up properly this time, Alaith turned around and crossed his arms over his chest. He frowned at the two men who drew to a stop before him.

Prince Rythe was the king’s youngest and brattiest son. Smart, but spoiled and obnoxious, he would have been handsome, save for that obnoxiousness he wore like his tailored jackets. His hair was a mess of curls severely restrained and the color of dying embers, a red-orange that faded to the barest hint of dark gold at the tips. He was dressed in hunter green with dark brown and touches of deep gold that offset his hair all the more.

Pretty, so very pretty. But Alaith wanted nothing more than to put a fist to that perfect nose and mar his smug, infuriating face, see that full, pretty mouth turn down in a true frown.

Beside him was Lord Trey, the Duke of Denning. He was smart without being obnoxious and handsome, all sharp lines and graceful movement. His dark blue jacket set off his eyes of the same color, and his black hair was cut short, falling perfectly around his face to compliment the razor-sharp lines of his cheekbones. Unlike Prince Rythe, he had manners and employed them, possessed class and did not need to be punched in the face.

Alaith loved to look at him, because if he looked at Rythe too long he started to go mad.

At first, he had thought they were friends, though he could not fathom why someone like Trey would endure Rythe—except, of course, that Rythe was royalty, but all the same. The longer he knew them, however, the more he had the sense they were together more by necessity, rather than choice. They acted like friends, but there was a very faint undercurrent of some tension Alaith could not put his finger upon. It was none of his business, however; they only came to see him when there was a dragon that required his attention.

“What do you want?” Alaith asked, then after a long beat added, “Highness.”

“Your services, as I said,” Rythe said with a smirk that Alaith would have loved to knock off his smug, infuriating face. “We’ve had reports of a black dragon running amuck about a day’s ride from here. I’m afraid that no one else has been able to kill it, so we have come to fetch you.”

“I am so very sorry you’ve been reduced to circumstances as trying as asking the royal dragon tamer for help,” Alaith said, annoyed—because he refused to be hurt. He refused to be upset by the fact he was considered a laughing stock for his methods, for his preferences. Alaith might have been eccentric and his methods unorthodox, but they worked, damn it. If they meant he was thought less of, well, bugger all of them.

Rythe laughed. “My dear, my dear, the only problem is that we hired a dragon slayer, and there is no such thing as a dragon tamer.”

“How distressing that I do not exist,” Alaith replied. “Where is this black dragon requiring my nonexistent attention?”

“North, a day’s ride away, as I said,” Rythe replied. “We want to leave immediately so as to arrive in the morning. Go take your daily bath or whatever funny thing you still must do today, so we can depart. We are going to be riding hard; pack and dress accordingly.” He looked Alaith slowly up and down, lingering on his bare chest and the metal and ink decorating it. “Or not, as is your preference, my darling dragon slayer.”

Ignoring the obvious taunt, Alaith scoffed and said, “Ride hard? Can you do that? Highness?”

Rythe’s smirk turned into something sharp and hot, light brown eyes looking almost as gold as the ends of his hair. He drawled, “I prefer to be ridden hard, but that is another discussion for another day, sweet slayer.”

Rolling his eyes, refusing to be pulled into such ridiculous games, Alaith turned around sharply on his heel, shoved Layneth’s large head out of the way, and went to go pack.