Chapter Fourteen

A Patreon exclusive story by Meraki P. Lyhne

 

 

Matadon woke up with his head on Bowdon’s chest. He smiled at the sensation of his ass having been taken care off. This time, Matadon hadn’t been dosed by accident. He still felt awesome for having made a Guard Lord lose a dose. Now he knew it was the surprise at discovering being the center of someone’s strong affection that had caused Bowdon to dose. He’d lost it from finding his feelings for Matadon reciprocated.

The steady and heavy breathing of deep sleep was a sound Matadon loved waking up to and listening to. A moment of trust and intimacy. The feel of Bowdon’s chest hair. In fact, Matadon relished in splaying his fingers through the softness.

The last two official things Bowdon had told Matadon the day before was that Aaron was in good hands, and that they had a meeting with the Grand Council the next day around noon. His expression had then changed, and a grin had spread.

Aaron had wished for Bowdon to have time off to be with Matadon. It warmed him that his son would think about his love life. He was now left with the meet-my-children dinner that Aaron figured would be when it concerned him. Maybe because Bowdon was his Guard? It kinda made sense that Aaron had to distinguish it like that. Or maybe it was because Aaron was at a similar dinner with Dawdon?

But was Matadon and Bowdon there? If Matadon was going to throw a dinner like that, he’d invite Ramudon and Natalie, too. He wished Aaron could soon meet his other siblings, too.

But first, he had to feed. And he needed a lower dose. He seriously feared coming down with the Cubi cold after one from a Grand Lady and a Guard. He did feel more tired and chilly than usual. Maybe that was merely due to their amorous night? He didn’t want to disturb Bowdon to check his phone to tell the time and see if he’d merely woken up way before it was sensible. Instead, a yawn broke his train of thought, so he pulled the covers up and settled in against the warm body in his bed.

 

 

A hangry Guard Lord was not part of a great morning routine, and Matadon stayed quiet, having already gotten a bit of insight from the trip when Bowdon had brought Matadon to the House of Nol-Beaudon.

“Sorry for being hangry in the mornings.” Bowdon pulled Matadon in from behind, buried his face in the nook of Matadon’s neck, and inhaled deeply. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah. Did you?”

“Like the dead. I’ll go feed and meet you in the kitchen for coffee. With a more peoply mood.” Bowdon turned Matadon enough to plant a deep kiss on his lips, then dashed from the room, leaving Matadon gripping the sink. Damn, that Guard Lord could kiss.

The loss of his body heat made Matadon shiver, so he left to put some clothes on before finishing up. By the time he made it to the kitchen, he felt a bit nauseous and still cold. His skin felt weird. Dammit. Then he was coming down with the Cubi cold.

Only Alex and Oliver were present in the kitchen.

“Good morning.” Matadon steered directly for the fridge for bottled water, hoping that would dim the nausea.

“Good morning, My Lord.” Alex flashed a smile. “Coffee?”

“No, thank you, I’ll wait a bit.”

“You okay?”

“Hmm…hungry.” No, he wasn’t—that was the problem with Cubi colds, but he had to feed, or it would get worse.

“You gotta be if you’re saying no to coffee.”

Matadon grinned. Trust a butler to noticed little things like that.

Aaron bounced into the kitchen, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, but he looked like he’d just stepped out of the shower. “Good morning!”

“Good morning. How was your evening?”

“It. Was. Fantastic!” Aaron headed for the coffee machine, glancing at Matadon, then poured for both of them, picking the big mug that Matadon had somehow made claim to since no one else ever took it. It was a nice gesture, and Matadon wouldn’t say no.

“That’s good to hear. Thank you.” He accepted the coffee.

“How was your night?” Aaron looked a bit smug as he leaned against the breakfast table with his mug and drank from it, then grunted at apparently forgetting that coffee fresh from the carafe was hot.

Matadon chuckled. “It was a great evening, too.” He made it around to sit on a highchair with the water and coffee.

“You still look knackered.”

“I feel it.”

“Might have to talk to him about being so vigorous. You need energy left to dance.”

Matadon laughed at Aaron’s obvious attempt at morning humor. “I seriously need to go feed. And find a dose that isn’t from a Guard or Grand Lady.”

“You have the cold?”

Matadon looked up at Bowdon’s voice, and the Guard Lord came in looking very…civilian in jogging pants and a wife beater. “I think so.” Civilian or not, he looked intense.

Bowdon came over and encircled Matadon in his arms from behind. “Never tell me you’re okay if you’re not. I can’t work competently with that.”

“I wasn’t sure. I just feel weird.”

“I’ll get you a dose. Hopefully a green is enough.”

“We better play it safe. We have a meeting today, rehearsal, and a recital tomorrow. Three choreographies to work out for the mission, and one for pole dancing at a cup fest.”

“You don’t have to dance for that one,” Aaron sad. “We can work on choreographies without you being overly active.”

“No, we can’t, because you wouldn’t be able to sit out a dance either, would you?”

Aaron nodded sharply. “Point taken.”

“I’ll find a Dame Guard.” Bowdon kissed Matadon’s cheek and left.

“Thank you!” Matadon slumped and stared at the coffee. He hadn’t drunk from it yet, so he tried, but it wasn’t a good kind of bitter today. It was rancid. “The cold means I need to feed a bit more often for a while. Snacking at least.”

“And if you don’t?”

“Headaches, nausea, chills, the regular flu symptoms.”

“Ugh, I know those.” Aaron stroked Matadon’s arm. “And when we go on the mission? I don’t see Grand Lady Geodin running to your rescue then.”

“Guards take care of our own.”

Matadon looked up, and Guard Lady Artidin simmered into visibility. “Thank you, Guard Lady.”

Artidin came over. “I will make antidotes for you and Bowdon so that lovemaking won’t be spoiled again.”

Matadon’s cheeks heated. “Thank you, Guard Lady.”

“There’s an antidote to the dose?” Aaron asked Matadon.

“Yes, it’s a tiny bit of dose with high pleasure ejaculates mixed in.”

“Or just ejaculates, but the dose preserves the energy when mixed this way,” Artidin said. “It keeps for up to fourteen hours before it starts to deteriorate.”

“That’s a relief,” Aaron said.

Bowdon returned with a Guard Dame wearing a cute summer dress—yellow with roses printed all over. “Gotta ask. You did expect dating a Guard to come with challenges, right?”

Matadon smiled at him, pretty sure they definitely had something strong to build on, considering Bowdon looked so worried about the answer. Their time together last night had allowed for the insight. Bowdon had tried to shield Matadon from those challenges by suppressing his own rising feelings and staying away from Matadon. But he couldn’t. “Oh, I do. It’s also been a hundred years since I last had the cold, and I luckily forgot how bad it can get.”

“Well, please go make sure it doesn’t catch.”

“Okay. You can have this then.” Matadon pointed to the coffee, stood, and kissed Bowdon on the lips. It made the intense Guard Lord smile sweetly and squeeze Matadon’s ass.

“Aaron, what do you want for breakfast?” Alex asked.

Matadon saw that as his cue to go get his own breakfast, so he reluctantly pulled away from Bowdon and followed the sexy brunette. They were halfway to his room when he remembered he hadn’t changed the sheets. “Dammit.”

She turned and stepped closer. “What are you in the mood for? With a cold creeping up on you, I don’t expect enthusiasm.”

“That depends. Do you want a dose?”

“Oh, absolutely.” She chuckled. “I meant whether you want to be in a bed or not.”

“Ah…” Matadon pulled her closer by her ass and leaned in to kiss her neck. “Your name for starters.”

She snickered. “Guard Dame Lildin, and I’ve heard a rumor of your magical fingers and massages.”

“When I get my bench, I will definitely show you that. But what do you usually crave when dosed?”

“I’ll just show you.” She took his hand and led him to a part of the huge apartment he hadn’t been in yet. They entered an empty room that smelled of dose, which upped the nausea a bit. But it was a feeding room, that much was obvious. It had all the fitting surfaces and loads of big pillows. “I’ll dose you first. If the water you drank wants to come up, I found this.” She pointed to a bucket by the door.

Matadon smiled. “You guys deal with colds a lot, I remember.”

She merely nodded, then leaned in and pressed their lips together. A sweet dose spread in his mouth a moment later, chasing the nausea away, yet it caused the funny feeling on his skin to rise to hunger prickles, and his cock grew harder.

That definitely did the trick, and he groaned in relief while feeling out the contour of her perky ass. He then released a dose for her to feed on.

Dame Lildin moaned and pressed herself in, harder, lifting a leg to wrap it around Matadon’s hip. He loved that and ran his hand down her other thigh, pulling a bit to have her climb onto him and wrap both legs around him.

She didn’t need much encouragement, and Matadon carried her to a padded table and lowered her torso to lie down. She writhed so sensually, keeping him locked against her as she slowly rotated her hips. The light fabric of the summer dress caressed her shapes, and Matadon enjoyed the view while getting his own clothes out of the way.

The constant battle in balance between focusing on feeding opportunities and tight pants that accentuated his best features returned as he couldn’t easily get out of them. Not that being drawn in by long and smooth legs made it any easier, and the dosed Dame seemed too hungry to let him go long enough anyway.

When his cock slid against her folds, she moaned and arched on the table.

Matadon loved summer dressed for how they teased his imagination. He slowly stimulated them both, trying to aim the tip of his cock to rub against her clit while multitasking. One hand to undo the tiny rose buttons on her dress to peek at more of her breasts, the other to caress body and find erogenous zones.

The side of her ribcage, following the line of her breast certainly caused pleasurable anticipation to rise.

Finally, he got enough buttons out of the way to slip his hand inside and cup a breast, and a shuddering moan escaped him as she gasped and pressed into his hand. He grabbed his cock and steered it to tease her more, relishing in the sensation of her wetness and heat.

He loved that moment just before pushing inside. The anticipation.

“Oh, tease!” She pulled him in by her legs and jerked on the table as he sank into her.

Matadon grunted and rolled his eyes at the sudden burst of pleasure. But he took the hint. Stop teasing and start fucking. He leaned over her and set a pace, feeling out her needs to cover and raise their pleasure and energy together. He just wished he had better time for it and that hunger didn’t irritate his skin so much. Exploring a new body was best when not halfway trapped in pants or getting a quick feeding in on a table.

Also, Guards feeding were usually very focused on the end result. Sustenance. And he knew perfectly well that he was sustenance and a duty fuck. Didn’t mean it was pleasurable and that he couldn’t relish in the feel of her, the sounds he could coax from her when caressing her shapes, and the taste of her skin as he teased a nipple.

Twisting to get to the other breast, he apparently hit a good angle because Dame Lildin jerked and cried out, pulling her legs back to give him better access, while energy raced toward his back.

“Oh, yeah!” He frantically sought for it again, groaning loudly when her body quaked under him.

He swam away in the bliss of their rising pleasure, loving the feel of being pulled tight, hungrily. Energy moved faster and his own pending climax grew closer. He needed it and chased it, pushing into Dame Lildin harder.

The sounds of her peaking spurred him on, and he groaned loudly as she found her orgasm, making the potential energy on his body rush to the spine, crash to the bottom, and send him over the edge, too, to fill her with semen that would feed and strengthen her.

Her heavy breathing brought him back to the sensation of fingertips caressing his back. “I sense you’re not the quickly-loving Incubus.”

“I prefer to explore and tease for hours, yeah.”

She chuckled. “That’s a rare and wonderful treat. I’ll be available for this, though, and I’ll stay close. So that you can focus on dancing and prioritize time for that.”

“Thank you, Guard Dame.”

“I do like the aftermath like this, though.”

Matadon smiled, staying where he was to be cuddled a bit. Yeah, that was a good halfway between their feeding patterns.

 

 

Matadon took a quick shower and returned to the kitchen, where Aaron had finished eating and was scribbling in a notebook. Bowdon sat with his coffee and scrolled on a tablet, so Matadon grabbed a new mug and joined them. The thermos on the table was empty, though, making him groan.

“Feeling better?” Bowdon asked.

“Yes.”

“Ready for coffee?” Aaron asked. “I’ll make you some.” He got up and left them.

“Thank you.”

Bowdon took his hand. “The slightest, and you let me know.”

Matadon nodded, smiling and studying Bowdon’s face. He had a perpetual scowl on his face, which Matadon kinda liked. “What’s this meeting today? Do we have time for dancing?”

“It’s at noon, and Aaron already moved dance class. Rehearsal for the recital, I mean.”

“We need Bao for music. Not sure how her quotas will affect our training.”

“This takes precedence, even for a human. I’ll pull her from duties if needed. What’s her feeding pattern?”

“Mine.”

“Then she feeds you.”

“Yeah, that would suck.”

Bowdon’s brows climbed. “Oh, yeah, no feeding on teammates. I don’t get it.”

“Just her. If I feed on her it’s because she wants to chase pure with me.”

“Okay, then I probably can’t pull her completely, but I can dominate her schedule.”

Dominate. The way he said that did something to Matadon. It wasn’t in a sexual way, though.

“If I could team up with a Succubus, I’m sure I could help her chase pure.”

“Find one of those, then.” Bowdon sat back, grinning, leaning his arm on the backrest of Matadon’s chair and nuzzled the hairs in the back of Matadon’s head. It made him smile.

Aaron returned to the table. “I made some medley suggestions for Bao.” He scooted the notebook to Matadon, who read over the styles to be combined. And props. The sudden belly dancing spoof had been handled, it seemed. Aaron sat with his head leaned in his hands, elbows on the table, looking from Matadon to Bowdon.

Matadon grinned. “What?”

“Nothing. I’m just happy.”

“And a little confused?” Bowdon asked.

“Yeah. Still learning titles and all that.”

Bowdon nodded. “When joining private time, I’m just Lord Bowdon. If I’m in the black uniform or my official, add Guard.”

“Thank you, My Lord.”

“You can always ask me about Guard related stuff, though.”

“Guards don’t come with an off switch,” Matadon said. “They are Guards first.”

Bowdon looked at Matadon. “I’m glad you know that already.”

“It’s so easy with Daniel,” Aaron said. “His eyes changes color.”

“Then he’s easy to refer to with title and expected behavior around, too, I guess?” Bowdon asked.

“Yeah. I’m best at figuring that out in public.”

Matadon couldn’t wait to meet him, and not merely because it was his King. He wanted to meet the boy who’d been the friend of his son for so many years.

“I have a briefing first, so I’ll go change before the meeting with the Grand Council.” Bowdon smiled and pulled Matadon in. “Better smooch you now.”

Matadon snickered and kissed Bowdon back.

“Jesus, you two are sickly sweet, you know that?” Aaron said. They looked at him, and Aaron held up is hands, grinning. “That wasn’t a complaint, merely an observation.”

Bowdon grinned, kissed Matadon again, then left the kitchen.

Matadon scooted over to sit across from Aaron, glancing at his grinning son.

“I’m happy for you,” Aaron said.

“Thank you. Where’s Dawdon?”

“With Sir Heimli. He called and woke us up, and Dawdon got into gear real fast. He’s nervous as hell around the guy.”

“Because he’s his mentor?”

“That’s definitely part of it. It’s like meeting your idol, and you know what they say…don’t ever.”

“They do?”

Aaron chuckled. “Mostly, expectations can get in the way. I only know Sir Heimli from here. Ela seemed all over him because of his Viking beard, and he is frigging hot, but…he seems kinda hard, too.”

Sir Heimli, Ela. Matadon smiled because Aaron was using a title and a pet name. He wondered whether his son was picking up nuances or still struggling with them.

“I think all masters in their fields are demanding,” Matadon said. “It’s a necessary trait to have gotten to where they are.”

“Am I? With the students, I mean?”

“You certainly know what you want, and slackers aren’t tolerated.”

Aaron gnawed his lip. “True.” The coffee ran through, but Aaron jumped out of the chair and brought the thermos before Matadon had a chance to stand. “No, no, you have a cold. I’ll do it.”

Matadon chuckled. “It’s not like when kids have a cold, you know. I just fed on a dose, so I’ll be good for a while.”

“You looked it this morning.”

“Ugh.” Matadon covered his face. “Really? And now?” He was not presenting himself to the Grand Council, looking anything less than pristine.

Aaron sat and poured, then looked at Matadon. “Seriously?”

Detail to think about when around a human born and raised cub. “Cubi vanity.”

“Oh…you look loads better.”

Loads better from looking sick in the morning didn’t put him close enough to pristine. “I’ll just find that makeup!” Matadon grabbed his coffee and hurried to his room.

“Matty!” Aaron followed him. “You seriously don’t need that now. Your eyes aren’t puffy anymore.

“I will not look anything but fuckably hot around Geodin and her peers!”

“I oddly enough have trouble commenting here.”

Matadon snorted, flicking on lights as they made it into his room and to the bathroom. He put the coffee down on the edge of the sink and rummaged through Alex’s makeup bag, thankful he hadn’t given it back yet.

“So, heels, too?”

“Yes. Those were popular, and we might as well full on flaunt our grace for a meeting like this.”

“If we’re doing twin acts, I’ll wear makeup, too. Especially if it’ll help hide that you have the cold.”

“I think it would, but Geo knows me well enough to know I’ll wear this just to tease her.”

“For feeding on her later?”

“No! No more doses of that strength. I can’t feed on her energy level without it, only lower.”

“Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting that, but that’s because Daniel feeds on everybody.”

“Royals don’t really get the cold. And if they do, they just need a boatload of dose, and they’ll spring back to life. It’s so short lived with them.”

“How would they get the cold?”

“When they give themselves over, everybody doses them. One day, you’ll probably understand. It’s like a gift. To be praised by a Royal for a sweet tasting dose is the highest praise ever.”

“Hmm…interesting.” Aaron grabbed the makeup bag and looked into it. “Are you wearing that?” He tugged at Matadon’s shirt.

Matadon stopped applying the foundation and looked down himself. “Yes?”

“I’ll just go steal a shirt from Daniel and bring shoes.” Aaron put the bag down and dashed from the room. Matadon grinned and continued, happy he and Aaron were growing more comfortable around each other. He certainly felt comfortable with his son now.

He was almost done with eyeliner when Aaron returned, the sound of heels hitting the ground announcing his approach. Matadon looked over his shoulder in the mirror as Aaron turned up in the door. He’d already put the makeup on, and his shirt was in the same style as Matadon’s. Their hair really set them apart. Matadon’s was blond, while Aaron’s had his mom’s auburn color. Matadon’s seemed thicker, though, and shorter. “Should we dye our hair as part of our stage appearance?”

“We could do that.”

“We need to use something approved for us, or especially my hormones could cause problems. And endanger yours.”

Aaron sighed. “Yeah.”

Matadon turned. “What?”

“It’s just something I didn’t take into account, but I know about it. We’d need our own makeup and makeup artist for this, and Rosa’s in the City of Beauty.”

“Don’t you think someone like Sir Heimli has one?”

“Yeah.” Aaron grinned. “Rosadin.”

“Oh…” Matadon turned to apply the last mascara. “Well, it’s his department, so we should probably just talk to him about it.”

“It has been taken care of,” Bowdon said. Matadon smiled at him in the mirror. “And you definitely look fuckable now.”

“Guys!”

They chuckled at Aaron’s exclamation.

“So do you,” Bowdon told Aaron.

Matadon glanced at his son, grinning at the obvious clash. He looked like he didn’t know whether to hide his smirk or not. “Own it, son.”

“Still getting used to catcalling as a norm.”

“Well, there are nuances,” Bowdon said. “You don’t catcall anyone in the hallways, but commenting on looks, sure. Or enjoying the view.” Bowdon cocked his head, emphasizing that he was checking out Matadon’s ass. And legs, he suspected.

Matadon wished he’d already been wearing the heels, but he still took a pose that accentuated those features while finishing up and glancing at Bowdon in the mirror. Until he almost poked himself in the eye from being distracted.

“We need to leave soon.”

“Yes, Bowdon.” Matadon packed away.

“Can I just…” Aaron stood and turned Matadon to face him. He was currently four inches taler because of heels and thus in the perfect height to attack Matadon’s hair. Matadon stayed still, letting Aaron pamper and beautify him. This was the bonding he’d looked forward to. He even suspected his eyes to glisten. Did Aaron know what that meant?

Judging by the look on Bowdon’s face, he saw the pride and joy in Matadon from his place, leaned against the doorframe.

“Better. Don’t have any hair products here.” Aaron stepped back, snatched a pair of boots from the floor, and handed them over.

Matadon pulled them on, and they left, finding all five of Aaron’s regular detail taking them from the apartment to the Grand Council.

They arrived as some of the first, considering Dawdon and Sir Heimli weren’t there yet.

Geodin came over with a sexy smirk on her face, and her gaze traveled Matadon. Oh, yeah, she liked what she saw. “My, my…don’t you look ready to eat.” She sighed exasperatedly.

“I’m battling a cold, though.”

The sexy gleam in her gaze disappeared, and worry took over her expression. She looked at Bowdon, certainly knowing why Matadon was in trouble.

“I have secured him a Dame to help ween him.”

“Good.” She nodded, then smiled at Matadon, and the sexiness was back. “I do hope that won’t postpone our testing the massage bench.”

Matadon chuckled. “It won’t, I promise.”

Geodin looked at Aaron. “Hello, Aaron. You look very beautiful today. How’s the recital coming?”

“Thank you, Grand Lady. It’s going very well. We’re all ready for tomorrow.”

“Jade and I are very much looking forward to it. To hear the rumors of how you manage to build trust and support for humans here is wonderful.”

Aaron smiled. “Thank you, Grand Lady.”

“Please, help yourselves.” She held out her hand for them to precede her to the table, where she pointed out coffee, cool beverages, along with some light finger food and cookies. “We’re having a standing meeting today, considering the people to be briefed are too many to be seated around the table.

“How many Cubi are going?” Matadon asked.

“Nine, not counting Guards.”

Matadon counted those he knew of in his head. Before he got that far, though, the door opened, and Dawdon, Sir Heimli, Geradon, Master Harrodon, Freydon, his dad, Grydon, and…Sire Esdon entered.

Why the fuck would he be there? He was coming?

“Grand Lady Geodin…a word?”

Geodin looked like she knew the score as she pointed toward the door. “Guard Lord Bowdon, if you’d join us.”

“Yes, Grand Lady.” Bowdon followed outside.

“The fuck?” Matadon whispered as soon as the door had closed. Judging by Geodin’s expression, he was pushing the limits of their friendship, considering this was official business. “I’m sorry, but…I need you as a friend to explain this to me because…” Matadon pointed at the door. “What the fuck?” he whispered again.

That helped, and Geodin smiled patiently. “I know you don’t like him.”

“Correction, he doesn’t like me, and if he jeopardizes my son from pettiness toward me, I will fucking end him,” Matadon sneered.

“He won’t,” Bowdon said. “Because if he does, you’ll have to get in the long line of Guards. Also, I already complained on your behalf for deciding to bring him.” Matadon looked at him, surprised. “Yes, we were shown the list of people picked, and I raised this potential problem and concern then.”

Matadon smiled, happy Bowdon had been there both times they’d run into Esdon, meaning he’d seen how both times had played out. He also knew Guards were exceptional at keeping secrets and had to, so he didn’t mind not having been warned. That was merely part of what he had to get used to when dating a Guard Lord.

“What’s he good at?” Geodin asked.

“Pessimism and negativity,” Matadon said.

Geodin smiled. “Exactly.”

“Whut?”

“I think Sir Heimli and Aaron will explain in a moment.”

“Aaron knows Esdon’s been chosen and for what?”

“No. But the questions we’ll ask him and Sir Heimli to answer for the team will probably shine some light on this. Sir Heimli knows more about the industry and environment you’re about to enter than anyone. He wasn’t chosen for this assignment from being a world-famous photographer because the TV producers have their own. He’s chosen because he knows everything there is to be known, and he asked for Sire Esdon.”

“Okay.” Matadon held up his hands. “I’ll hear it out.”

Geodin stroked Matadon’s cheek, then turned around and led the way back to the table.

Matadon went to stand next to Aaron and took his hand. He needed some stability and relied on his son to offer it, even though they weren’t exactly at the physical affection level yet. Aaron had found comfort in Ramudon’s very physically affectionate nature, so he hoped it wouldn’t be perceived as pushy now—especially since they’d just seemed so comfortable around each other when getting ready. Aaron tightened the grip, though, putting Matadon’s mind further at ease.

A few other unknown faces were present, yet a young woman seemed familiar. Matadon couldn’t place her, though.

“Sir Heimli, would you begin briefing the team by introducing those you’ve picked for your part?”

“Yes, Grand Lady.” Sir Heimli held out his hand. “My assistant, Mingler Chas, Sire Esdon, Mingler Toradin, and Mingler Larodin, better known in the human world as the LGBT activist model, Elicia Flynn.”

That rang a bell. Matadon remembered the story about a model who’d caused a scene when a trans youth had been denied entrance to a fashion show for not wearing the clothes of the gender assigned them at birth. Elicia had caused enough trouble to get kicked out, and she’d managed to interrupt the show for another four hours from the sidewalk, amassing almost two hundred people via calling her social media network into action. TV had arrived.

She cost the fashion show their night, while the guy denying the trans youth had been fired and hung out on the smelly sideline, never to expect another job with any say in the business again.

Elicia had then marched that trans youth, hand in hand, and the masses she’d collected through Manhattan, in the middle of the streets, causing a two-hour traffic jam. That last part was what gave her backlash, while the rest made her an LGBT hero.

Sir Heimli went to stand in front of the big screen. “Everybody who’s watched but two episodes of a talent show knows it’s highly competitive. What most don’t know is that it’s rigged from before some people step through the front door. Some are even planted. This is a copy of the contract you’ll be asked to sign upon entering.” Heimli nodded for Chas to hand out copies, while a text appeared on the screen behind the new-age Viking photographer. “I highlighted a few paragraphs and put them on the screen.”

Giving the producers the right to trick, exploit, embarrass, humiliate, publicly ridicule…the list was endless, and Matadon looked at Aaron. He didn’t seem like it surprised him, yet Matadon wondered why he, as a parent, would allow that. Why would any parent? He looked at Freydon, and the cub looked more disheartened than he had since his involvement had been announced by the King. His father scowled at the screen, looking like he thoroughly agreed with Matadon.

“This show is to make money,” Sir Heimli continued. “That’s it. It’s not about the talent. It’s about making a production company and their stars, the judges, famous. The biproduct can be what excels those who survive the season into stardom for a few months if lucky, and then they’re forgotten again when the PR mill for the next show starts up.

“Don’t believe me? Tell me who won two years ago.”

Matadon had watched some of those shows, but…yeah, he drew a blank

“And those few months of fame is only if they manage to survive this.” Heimli pointed a thumb toward the screen. “It’s my job to get you through it by schooling you and supporting you through it. I’ve picked a team to help me do that.” Heimli held out his hand. “Mingler Toradin, psychologist, and Sire Esdon, my personal Pitbull.”

Matadon gaped. The look in Esdon’s gaze gave away as much, yet the smug as fuck glance at Matadon pissed him off to no end.

Aaron raised his hand and squeezed Matadon’s. For support? Or was Matadon squeezing his hand too hard from trying to contain his anger?

“Yes, Aaron?” Sir Heimli asked.

“Pitbull?” Aaron grinned. “Can you explain the function of one in this context? Sir Heimli.”

“Yes.” Sir Heimli chuckled. “I can also rephrase. Sending people into this world is like sending mice into a snake pit. How do you keep the mice safe? You send in a snake that doesn’t eat mice but other snakes.

“Sire Esdon is the guy that Grand Lord Ildon sent me and my team to study under and be approved by before we were allowed to form the hunting team that has propelled me to be a respected name in any branch of the fashion and celebrity industry, internationally.

“When we approached him, he all but tore us and our idea to pieces. He crushed us! What came of that were the necessary calluses on heart and soul to walk into that industry and not only survive the naysaying, the refusals, the better luck next time, and all the other crap that stood between us and the eye of the needle. It let us thrive in it. He prepared us enough to rise to the level we have. He reshaped my idea by tearing it down and telling me I shot too fucking low. Dream bigger, go harder. Fail your way to success. Failure is data. Use it. Build on failure until you’re perfect. Build a team, grow together, cover all bases, and leave your emotions outside that world.

“Sire Esdon is the School of Hard Knocks for the ones who need tough loving. We did. To survive what we’ll be going into, he’ll be coming with us, not only to help toughen you up but to be the attack dog needed as your focus has to be on the Halflings, not the world you’ll only temporarily be in and don’t really need to be schooled for.

“Sire Esdon, our spin doctor, Malinda, and Elicia will work together on turning everything from this list”—Sir Heimli pointed at the screen—“coming your way to befall whoever tries to smear you for the entertainment purposes so that it’ll hit the production company. Whatever they try on you guys will blow up in their faces and embarrass only them. That’s his job.”

Matadon had no idea what to say. He had never seen Esdon’s personality as being beneficial to anyone, and he was definitely wrong if that had been what had helped propel someone like Sir Heimli. Now he just wished he could trust in Esdon as a team member to have their backs and not let pettiness come in the way to let the snakes get to Matadon, or worse, Aaron.

But that would endanger the mission. Would Esdon even care? He seemed selfish enough in his want for power that he’d let it as long as it didn’t hit him, and he was apparently good at covering his own ass if those skills were what landed him a spot on their team.

It left Matadon confused and anxious on Aaron’s behalf. Not so much that he didn’t notice that Freydon seemed to be growing more and more pale, so he slowly and discreetly shouldered Aaron to sidestep until he, too, noticed why. Aaron reached for Freydon’s hand, and the cub took it.

Geodin noticed, and she smiled sadly.

Matadon didn’t doubt that she’d handle that and maybe tell the King of her observations. If Freydon was still going, Matadon would have to step up his game because that young man would need support way more than Aaron would, yet Matadon wasn’t sure he could multitask when having to adapt, too.

Bowdon. Matadon had Bowdon. Remembering that helped ease his nerves, and he looked at the gruff Guard, who looked as intense as ever when on duty. Feeling nervous was probably normal before being sent on a mission. Aaron’s body language didn’t give it away—he stood as tall and proud as ever. If he walked, Matadon could spot it in the swagger.

“Aaron, outside Sir Heimli’s experience in this field, you’re the stage expert,” Geodin said.

A sound caught in Aaron’s throat. “I’m not sure a stripper’s stage can even be equated, Grand Lady, but the mental pressure, preparation, and being on a stage could be the same, I guess.”

“You seem to do quite well under that kind of pressure.”

Aaron grinned. “I was born to be on stage.”

A proud smile spread on Geodin’s face. “There we go, cub.”

The seductive tone in Aaron’s voice made Matadon a very proud dad. His son would never want for a human’s lust.

A glance at Esdon’s face, though, provoked Matadon’s fatherly protective instinct, and he looked away, sure his eyes were growing brighter.

“Is your father?” Esdon asked.

Matadon glared at him.

“Yup. Because that’s where I inherited it from,” Aaron stated.

Esdon mumbled something, looking like a smug fucking know-it-all, and Matadon could almost guess from the lip movements that it had to do with the bitter jealousy of Matadon having been invited into Nol-Elakdon’s bed so many times.

Sir Heimli’s handsome face grew a scowl, but nothing more was said.

Dawdon stood next to Sir Heimli, looking awkward.

“How is your part coming along, Aaron?” Grand Lady Geodin asked.

“The recital tomorrow should help Freydon, and that practice has helped Lord Matadon and me grow more confident in dancing together.”

Lord Matadon?

“We’ve found the style we’ll bring to stage, found help, but our help needs assistance.” Aaron looked at the Guards by the walls, and a Lady stepped forward.

“I’m Guard Lady Crodin. I will find what you need.”

“Someone who can mix music tracks.”

“Costumes,” Matadon whispered.

“Yes, and we need someone to help with a few costumes. Three sets to be exact to have backup plans in case the crowd and judges aren’t in the mood for our primary dance choice.”

Matadon noticed Esdon’s brows rising just a fraction. It kinda made him feel good that Aaron had just positively surprised the bastard.

“I will bring what you need.” She dipped her head and stepped back.

“How far are you with the dances?”

“Not far enough. We’ll be spending all our time in the studio from now on.” Aaron glanced Dawdon’s way.

“We’ll stop by to help prepare you and teach you a few things that I, too, am sure the stripper scene didn’t teach you,” Sir Heimli said.

“And we will, too, in order to help you solidify the personas you’ll have to become once we’re inside,” Master Harrodon said.

“We’re pleased to hear that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, so we won’t hold you. We’ll stop by once in a while so that we may stay updated, too, but once a week, every seventh day from now, same time, same place, we’ll be briefed. Make that the time to brief each other, too, if you haven’t had pressing reason to do so during the week.”

“Yes, Grand Lady Geodin,” everybody responded.

She excused them before Matadon got to ask a question about feedings. He wondered whether hunting would be possible for him if locked in a hotel or training facilities. He had to ask just to get it off his mind, so he went to her and did.

Geodin smiled. “I’m sending Jade with you for that. Also, as your makeup artist.”

He was being trusted with a companion? That was a huge honor. “I’ll take good care of her.”

“Oh, I know.” Geodin smiled as she leaned in and brushed her lips against his ear, sending a shiver through him. “She promised to take good care of you, too.”

That awoke hunger and nausea. Time to find another dose. He certainly needed one before dancing.

“Did that provoke hunger?”

“Yes.”

“Bowdon will provide. Always tell him.”

“I will, thank you.” He kissed her on the lips before remembering that they were in the Grand Council chambers. “Oops, sorry.”

She chuckled. “Go on. Feed and dance.”

“Yes, Grand Lady.”