It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Dylan’s life in the spellster tower has everything he should want: magical knowledge, safety from the King’s Hounds and frequent clandestine affairs with women. All at the cost of his freedom. So when the chance to leave the tower—even as a leashed weapon for the King’s Army—arises, he seizes it.
When his first scouting mission goes awry, Dylan is left alone in a hostile world with the tower a distant beacon of safety. Only the flirtatious Tracker, an elven man whose very presence awakens Dylan’s long-repressed desire, can help him return to his old life before the crown discovers his unleashed status.
But the risk of being branded a deserter may be the least of his concerns as whispers of an armed presence in the North threatens his home. Dylan must rely on Tracker to protect him even as everything he thought he knew begins to unravel around them.
Despite trying not to, Dylan’s gaze swept over the man, his breath rasping through his throat. Like other elven men, the hair on Tracker’s chest and limbs was sparse, but he hadn’t expected the myriad of tattoos marking the hound. They accentuated his bronze skin and rather invited the eye to travel downwards. The man was surprisingly well muscled. Not the trained robustness of Authril nor the leanness of Marin, but a definition that spoke both of suppleness and strength.
Dylan swallowed, his mouth left rather dry by the sight.
The elf strode into the pond, seemingly oblivious to the scrutiny as he sprayed water with every step. “I see you have found the deepest part of the pond.” Tracker sank into the water not that far from where Dylan knelt. His brows lowered as he settled. “It is… warmer here? I know there are hot pools in the southern lands, but—”
“It’s my doing,” Dylan blurted. Closing his eyes, he continued, “I used my magic to heat the water.”
There was the gentle slosh of water and hound’s presence suddenly seemed closer. “And that is also the reason for you sudden ill look, yes?” Tracker chuckled. “My dear man, I am not planning on reprimanding you for not wanting to bathe in cold water. I… simply had no idea that such a thing was possible.” The man’s warm hand closed around Dylan’s forearm. “How far can you make it reach?”
“Not very,” he mumbled, risking a peek.
Tracker knelt almost close enough for the hair on Dylan’s arms to brush the hound’s skin. Those honey-coloured eyes were bright with curiosity and something else Dylan rather preferred not to linger too much on. “If that is so, then would you mind terribly if I stayed close to you?”
He opened his mouth, his tongue freezing in place. Averting his eyes to the opposite side of the pond helped everything but his steadily warming face. “I…”
The man sat back, relinquishing his hold. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Dylan worried at the inside of his bottom lip. The place where the hound had touched him still tingled and his stomach bubbled, but the latter could easily be last night’s meal not sitting well with him. “Have you ever dealt with a spellster before?”
Tracker glanced up from where he’d been scrubbing a small piece of cloth over a bar of soap. “A number of times, yes.” One russet brow lifted. “Why do you ask? Do I not put out an air of… experience?” The final word left Tracker’s lips in a breathy tone that tingled across Dylan’s shoulders. There was a certain quirk in the twisting of the hound’s mouth that told him the reaction had been noticed.
Dylan shuffled across the pond floor a little ways, trying to put some distance between them without being too obvious. He moistened his suddenly dry lips. “It’s not that. I—”
Tracker laughed. “Ah, your head is no doubt swimming with tales of the evil hounds, yes?” The fine lines around the elf’s eyes deepened. “They use our presence like a mother uses the bogeyman.” There was a matter-of-fact tone to his voice. One that suggested he’d heard directly from the source at some point.
Dylan swept his gaze over the man. “And where would you hear such tales? Not from the tower, surely.” He was certain word would’ve gotten about if Tracker had ever stepped foot inside the tower walls. Even without being a hound, the man would’ve drawn the attention of quite a number of tower inhabitants and he was pretty certain he would’ve remembered that face if they’d meet before.
“No.” The hound scrubbed at his neck. “I have been inside many times, but the guardians are… reluctant to let us linger for long.” He continued on to his arms, heedless to the suds running down his chest in thin pearlescent lines.
Dylan followed their trail to the water’s surface, his breath tight. He watched, not quite focused, as the man bathed and the air begun to smell of citrus and a pungent spice that seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He breathed deep until it filled his nose. Cinnamon. The taste of it was in the back of his throat, setting his mouth to watering. Bad enough that the man wasn’t exactly unpleasant to look at, did he have to smell so accursedly edible as well?
The man’s soft chuckle had Dylan refocusing his attention, surprised to find he’d been staring at the man the whole time. “Do we perhaps see something we like?”
Snapping his gaze back up to the man’s face, he shook his head. “Not at all.” It wasn’t the first time he’d seen a naked elf, man or woman, and the man had absolutely nothing that could interest him. And yet, there was something about the hound that made it difficult to look away.