Davan Solaris closed his eyes for a moment as he heard a voice he never thought he'd hear again. He drew in a deep breath and tried to steady his nerves before opening his eyes and turning around. It would never do for anyone to see an elder freaking out, even if he was freaking out.
"Hello, Manuel," Davan said as he folded his hands together in front of him, hoping that Manuel didn't see how much they were shaking. "It's been a long time."
And Manuel was just as gorgeous now as he was four years ago. It wasn't fair, really it wasn't. Davan wanted him to be old and ugly. He wasn't. He still looked tall and muscular and sexy as sin. If anything, Manuel had just grown sexier in the passing years.
"Four years," Manuel replied. "Not since the last Great Gathering."
"How have you been?"
It was agonizing for Davan to stand there and converse pleasantly with the one person that had almost destroyed him. It had been four years since they had seen each other. And Davan felt every second of it like a knife in his heart.
Manuel crossed his muscular arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. "Is that all you have to say to me after all of this time?"
"I'm not sure we have much to say to each other."
Davan certainly didn't have anything to say to Manuel. He felt everything had been said when he woke up in bed alone. He hadn't seen Manuel since. There had been no explanation, no note, not even a phone call. Manuel was just gone, along with all of his possessions. He had packed up and left in the middle of the night without a word.
That pretty much said it all for Davan.
"I'm needed in the grand ballroom," Davan said. "It was… interesting seeing you again, Manuel."
He quickly turned away and hurried down the long hallway before Manuel could say another word or stop him. Davan had envisioned seeing Manuel again. Somehow, despite the pain he suffered nearly every day, he never thought it would be this hard.
He wanted to scream at Manuel, to demand answers. He wanted to know why Manuel had left him in the middle of the night. He wanted to know why the man threw away all that they could have had together. And yet, he didn't. He was afraid of the answers.
Davan paused at the entrance to the grand ballroom and drew in several calming breaths. He didn't know how he was going to lock away his emotions when they were so close to the surface. He just knew he had to.
He was an elder now. He had come a long way from the gangly young man Manuel knew four years ago. He had poured all of his anguish into becoming the elder of fae clans. It gave him purpose and usually kept him too busy to think about Manuel.
And now the man was here.
Davan shook himself out of his deep thoughts when he saw the other elders gathering on the dais. He was required to be up there with them. Tonight would either make or break the paranormal community.
The Great War between the Paranormals had decimated them all. Hundreds had been killed, entire clans wiped out. In the twenty five years since, things had settled between the different paranormals to a large extent but there was still a lot of fighting going on—something the elders planned to end tonight.
The humans had become aware of the paranormals during the Great War. While they were pretty content to let the paranormals live in relative peace, they would not put up with discord, fighting, or the million other stupid things the younger people insisted on doing in the name of their kind.
The elders feared interference from the humans. They had a right to be. Enough of the paranormals had been killed during the Great War that they would not be able to defend themselves if the humans attacked.
"No!" Davan screamed as Manuel reached for him. He held up a hand as if that would ward the large jaguar shifter off. It wouldn't. The big man took Davan down to the floor and hovered over him. "No, Manuel, you don't want to do this."
It was already too late. Davan cried out as he felt Manuel's teeth sink into his neck. Tears of sorrow fell from his eyes when he felt the mating bond snap into place. He slumped against Manuel, knowing that nothing he did would stop what was happening.
There was a small part of Davan that gloried in the bond he now had with Manuel, something he had dreamed of having for years. But it was a small part, a part he kept buried deep inside.
The other part, the bigger part, knew that this was all some terrible mistake. He would never be able to escape the memories now. He'd live with them every day for the rest of his life. Worse yet, he'd be living them with Manuel.
Being an elder, Davan knew what Manuel did not and when the man discovered the rest of the council's mandate, he would hate Davan—something Davan already lived with on a daily basis but buried each day so he could function.
Davan prayed that this wasn't happening, that it was all some horrible nightmare. He knew it wasn't when one of the council guards stepped toward them and Manuel growled while clutching Davan to his chest.
Davan had researched jaguar shifters. He knew they were a possessive species. Mating was taken very seriously by jaguars. They only ever had one mate. They guarded those mates with a fierceness that was unparalleled in the paranormal world.
It had been a strong bone of contention between Davan and Manuel ten years ago. Fae were a little freer about things. They mated but it was often in groups of three or more. Very rarely did fae mate with just one person.
It wasn't that Davan planned to be unfaithful or to even bring someone else into their relationship. He had cared about Manuel too much. It was the possessiveness that was so hard. Manuel didn't like Davan out of his site for any reason.
It had caused many disagreements between them, and Davan knew it was one of the reasons Manuel left. The anger he could now feel through their bond told Davan that the road ahead wasn't going to be any easier. Manuel blamed him.
Davan started to struggle when he felt Manuel's clawed hands start tearing at his clothes. He knew under normal circumstances that Manuel never would have even thought of fucking him in a room full of people but there wasn't anything normal about tonight. Manuel was mindless with mating heat. He wouldn't be stopped.
But he could be moved. Davan grabbed at Manuel's hands as he tried to scoot out from under the man. Manuel growled. Davan inhaled sharply. He knew he wasn't in danger, not anymore. He was Manuel's mate and would be protected at all costs. But everyone around them was in danger of losing their lives.
"Not here, Manuel," Davan said carefully. He knew of only one way to get through to Manuel in his current feral state. "Please, not in front of everyone else. I don't want anyone to see me."
Manuel's jaw clenched when he pulled his teeth free of Davan's neck. He glanced quickly around as if he expected someone to try and take Davan away from him. Davan grunted when Manuel's arms tightened possessively around him. Manuel growled and stood up, cradling Davan in his arms.
The softly painted blue walls of the ballroom flew past Davan as Manuel carried him out of the room. They quickly turned to stone as Manuel hurried down the hallway. Davan barely had time to register the fact that they were heading into a room before the door slammed closed and he was tossed onto the bed.
Manuel was on him before he could roll over, tearing the remaining clothes from his body. Davan swallowed hard at the untamed glow in Manuel's dark brown eyes. The man was feeling every effect of the mating heat.
Davan just prayed there was enough sanity left in the man to not hurt him during their coupling. Anyone could be rough when it came to mating. A Jaguar in the midst of a mating heat could be dangerous.
If Davan made the wrong move, Manuel might take it as his refusal to accept the mating, and then all hell would break loose. Davan knew he would have to be very careful so he didn't set Manuel off.
Manuel's face was flushed when he looked down at Davan. His eyes held an insane glint in them. Strangely, Davan didn't detect a hint of the hatred he was sure Manuel felt. Instead, Manuel's look was filled with desire.
"Manny," Davan whispered as he reached up to stroke the side of Manuel's face.
Despite everything, he still cared for the man. Davan's heart almost cracked when Manuel grabbed his hand and kissed the palm. It was a gentle gesture, one that was at odds with the fierce warrior that Davan knew Manuel to be.
"Don't do—ahhh!" Davan cried out as Manuel struck hard and fast, sinking his canines into the soft skin of Davan's neck.
Davan knew what Manuel was doing. He was reasserting his claim on Davan. He'd do it every time he felt his claim was threatened. That’s what jaguars did. Davan imagined he'd be bit a lot in the future. Manuel had possessiveness down to an art form.
Misery and elation warred inside of Davan when he felt Manuel's hands move down his body. He had ached to see Manuel again for four very lonely years. He dreamed of the man at night, crying out in the mornings when he woke without him. To be touched by the man again was a dream Davan never thought he would realize.
But the pleasure he knew was to come was a small comfort for the pain he knew he'd suffer the moment Manuel regained his senses. Davan wasn't sure he would survive it when Manuel left again or told him to his face that he wasn't good enough to be a jaguar's mate.
Because of that, when he felt Manuel's slick cock slide into his ass, Davan's cry didn't come just from the exquisite pleasure that movement produced but also from his soul crying out in denial.
The intense shocks shooting through Davan at finally being claimed by Manuel overshadowed everything for several moments. Manuel's large hands stroked his heated skin as the man pounded into him. His larger body pressed down on Davan but it was a welcome weight, letting Davan know it wasn't all a dream. Manuel really was here. Davan was truly being claimed.
Davan cried out as his body ignited in a maelstrom of pleasure so intense that he felt his world tilt. He couldn't hold back the pixie dust that would renew his bond with Manuel when his wings extended. Brilliant colors filled the air around them, dusting both of them until their skin glowed.
Davan's wings fluttered wildly between his back and the mattress as awe in the moment grew. Manuel tossed his head back and roared out his release. He felt the cock in his ass pulse then fill him, further cementing Manuel's claim.
As Manuel lowered his head and looked back down at him, Davan let his eyes fall close and exhaustion take him away. He didn't have it in him at that moment to see the anger in Manuel's eyes when the man figured out what happened.
The fighting had to end, hence, tonight's little gathering. The Gathering was called every February 29th, on leap year. This year, invitations had gone out to every unmated person of mating age in the paranormal world.
Even if attendance was mandatory, not all had shown. Still, the next few minutes would be interesting. Davan truly believed that a mating shouldn't be forced and that the council's decision would create more problems than it would fix. He was outvoted.
Davan stepped into the large room. He nodded to several people as he made his way up onto the dais to stand with the other elders. Even if he had been outvoted, he would still stand behind the decision of the council. He tensed when Elder Burke walked to the front of the dais. The shit was about to hit the fan.