Flying was overrated. Especially at midnight in the bitter cold winter of the Ice Age up here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But I couldn’t delay the message from my dragon lord, Arthur, to his brother dragon Knight any longer. I’d already delayed Arthur’s reply long enough, mainly because, besides being a dove creature in service to Arthur, I ran my own business.
Arthur was spending a lot of time near the Pittsburg habitat, therefore inside Knight’s territory. About three weeks ago, Knight had asked him to retreat to Ohio, Arthur’s territory. I relayed the message, and Arthur sent me back with his own message for Knight. I hoped Knight didn’t kill the messenger.
I flapped my wings and locked in on my target, Knight’s cottage home that sat in the middle of a once-beautiful forest right outside Pittsburg. Now, frozen brown trees surrounded his brown home, making it look like part of nature. From my vantage point of one thousand feet, I could see that Knight didn’t really live alone, because there were other homes scattered on a huge property, but if anyone approached from the ground, they’d think he lived alone in the middle of nowhere.
The wind sped up my descent, and I spread my wings wide, a flying technique I’d picked up by following a real eagle one day. Knight’s window stayed open, and I’d fit right through it, then land on his table. Easy-peasy. Knight approached the window. Uh-oh. But I was almost there. I angled my body, then slipped through the crack—Yes!—bumped into his shoulder, tumbled in the air, and hit the wall. Unceremoniously, I slid down and thumped on the floor. “Peep,” I groaned, still in my dove form.
Knight scooped me up and walked us to the couch. He put me on the wooden table, right next to a huge dream catcher. Gently, he parted my feathers and then, not so gently, plucked one out. “Peep!” I said, and stabbed his thumb with my beak. This time, I drew blood, wishing he’d understand I didn’t want to donate any more of my feathers for his dream catcher. Every time I delivered a message, he plucked a feather of mine. I was gonna look like a bald turkey soon.
“Thank you, Clementine,” he said. “You must practice landing.”
“Peep,” I agreed.
“You can change now.”
Oh dear Lord, thank you so much for your permission. I didn’t know how my twin sister had dealt with all the bossy dragon stuff. She’d been much less tolerant of bossy guys than I, and I was reaching the end of my patience with this particular dragon.
Knight got busy adding my feather to his dream catcher while I assumed my human form and crossed one leg over the other. Sitting naked on the table and right across from a very attractive male made me feel awkward, no matter that he’d seen me naked a few times before. I was still new to the dove gig, having inherited the creature after the car accident that had killed my twin sister.
My twin sister, the original “owner” of the dove creature, and I had slid off the icy road. The car spiraled out of control, and she’d died on the spot while I got injured. An almost-transparent woman had awoken me when she pressed her hand to my chest and told me I was my sister’s dove keeper. Since I knew my sister had been gifted a dove a decade ago when we were fourteen, I understood that the Mother Nature my sister had spoken off had transferred my sister’s dove to me. That was how I knew my twin had died.
That and the hollowness in my chest despite the pressure I felt from the recently acquired gift.
The pressure remained to this day.
The emptiness of losing my sister remained too.
I parted my long hair, fixed it to fall over my breasts, and watched Knight’s large hands work my fragile feather into his collection hanging in bunches from the circular top of the dream catcher.
When Knight worked on his dream catcher, it captured all his attention, which was a great thing for several reasons. One, it made me more comfortable about my nudity, not that Knight perused my body anyhow. And two, it allowed me to stare at him. This evening, Knight’s short black hair was wet, and a recent haircut exposed the hard lines of his jaw, chin, and nose. He wore black pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt that exposed his muscled arms, covered in tribal tattoos. Knight was the only Native American I’d ever met. He’d told me I was the only albino he’d ever met, so we had something in common. Actually, it was the only thing we had in common.
Knight put the dream catcher aside and leaned back on the couch, his hands fisted on his thighs. “Do you have a message for me?”
I scrunched up my nose. “Yes.”
“Arthur said no.”
Knight remained stoic, a permanent state for this dragon, while probably thinking of ways to best strangle me and make it painful. I looked around as the raging fire in the fireplace on my left heated the rustic cottage. Everything here was warm and cozy in contrast to the man who lived here. He lived in an open space with a small kitchen behind me, a living room with a brown couch where he sat, and a bedroom in an alcove up the stairs. The bathroom must be the closed door under the alcove.
“Is that all he said?” Knight asked.
I nodded. Of course it was not all Arthur had said, but I thought a simple no should do as a reply.
“Clementine,” Knight said, a commanding tone to his voice.
I straightened my shoulders. “Yes, sir.”
“Lord Knight. Right.”
“Did you tell Arthur exactly what I said?”
“Tell me what you said to him.”
“I said, Hi, my lord. Knight has a message for you. He asks you to retreat back into your territory.”
“Now tell me exactly what he said.”
I played with the end of my hair.
Knight tsked. “I’m waiting.”
I lifted my gaze. “He sent me here to tell you he’s not leaving, and that you need to let him do the thing you two disagreed on. I don’t know what that thing is, by the way.”
Knight narrowed his eyes. “Anything else?”
“Yes. Arthur called you a mother hen and said to go fuck yourself. With one of your cocks. The bigger one.” I couldn’t possibly have imagined what that meant had I not seen two cocks on Knight with my own eyes.
“That doesn’t sound like just a no.”
“I took that as a no, he will not retreat back into his territory. He wants to do the thing you disagreed on, and the extra fucks weren’t necessary. Should I be worried?”
Knight’s jaw muscles ticked. “About what?”
“The two of you fighting.”
“We’re not fighting. We’re disagreeing. You should worry about your landing so you don’t break your wings. I’ll worry about Arthur.”
I pointed at the dream catcher. “Why do you make these?”
“I want to summon Mother Nature.”
“Oh! She can be summoned? I want to summon her too. I have so many questions about my new gig.”
“A gig?” He frowned.
“Mm-hm. Remember I told you I inherited the dove creature from my sister? Initially, I wasn’t gifted the dove, and I believe it was a spur-of-the-moment decision on Mother’s part. I’d like her to gift the dove to someone else.”
Knight’s eyes grew wide. “Why?”
“Because I’m having some…landing issues. And also because my business has taken off, and this flying back and forth at Arthur’s whim cuts into my livelihood.”
“Hm,” Knight said. “What do you do?”
“I’m a florist.”
Knight blinked. “A florist in the middle of the Ice Age who lives on the ground level of the habitat.”
“Mm-hm. Well, that’s not all I am, but you summed it up nicely.”
“Where do you get the flowers from?”
I leaned in. “It’s a secret.”
To my surprise, Knight leaned in too. His dark brown eyes and his perfect lips tipped up at the corners, the closest thing he had to a smile. “I specialize in uncovering secrets.”
He might have said something else, but I got caught up in all that was him. He was so male and strong, with wide shoulders, big tattooed arms and torso, and the scent of his dragon was intoxicating, so I simply stared, my lips parted. He stared back, though I was pretty sure not for the same reason. As I was an albino, people often stared at me. Kids would approach me and ask if I were an angel. It used to be great when I was seven, but when it happened almost every day of my life, it got annoying and sometimes even depressing.
I couldn’t blend in and go unnoticed.
I couldn’t get a date to save my life. At least not from guys I was attracted to. My twin couldn’t either, but she hadn’t cared. A dove creature was supposed to be a virgin, loyal only to the dragon she served for the rest of her life. Kind of like a nun devoted to her God. I was totally unfit for this gig.
“Not what I wanted to hear from Arthur,” Knight said.
“A simple no would have sufficed, hm?”
His lips tipped up some more. Oh, almost a smile. But not. Knight leaned back, narrowed his eyes. “My bird reports cyborg numbers are increasing in the habitat.”
“I live on the ground level, so I don’t see many cyborgs. But yeah, I hear people saying workloads have doubled. Someone’s gotta cater to the growing cyborg population, right?”
“And nobody knows you’re Arthur’s bird?”
“My older sister knows. Nobody else.” The dove messenger job—if you can call it that—didn’t pay, because my twin had lived with Arthur in Ohio, and he provided for her. I had rent to pay, however, so I kept my florist job in the habitat and took on this new-to-me dove gig in honor of my deceased twin.
Knight licked his lips. “Did you ask Arthur what we disagreed about?”
“I don’t think that’s my business. He’s my boss, so I don’t meddle. I get messages, and I give messages. That’s my job.” Oh, but I wanted to know what these two were cooking up. It had something to do with the cyborgs. I was pretty sure of it.
Knight shook his head. “Arthur is more than your boss. He’s your protector, your superior, your predator, and he is the crucial, if not the most important, elemental who can bring our country back to normal and out of the Ice Age. I want him safe and sound inside his territory, not here where the cyborg population is doubling. I will handle the cyborgs on my turf.”
“I get that part. Really, I do. But like I said, I would like to…renegotiate my dove gig with Mother Nature, and I wish I could summon her too. Do you need more feathers? Because I’d be happy to be bald if I could summon Mother and return the gift.”
Knight got up and rolled his shoulders. “We leave in the morning.”
Huh? “We who and where?”
“You and me. My wolf pack will follow on the ground.” He hooked his thumb behind him. “You will take my bed.”
My gaze followed his extended finger to the alcove that was his bedroom, and I stood. “I’m gonna head back out tonight. It’s only a half an hour flight, so…”
Knight blinked and stood there, looking stunned.
“What?” I asked.
“It was not a suggestion,” he said.
“Oh.” I wrung my hands as he towered over me. “Thank you anyway, but I really have to get going. Christmas Eve is in less than two weeks, and this is my best-selling season, so I work quite a bit. I can’t afford not to be there tomorrow morning. I set up my stall at five a.m. This would mean I would have to get up at three, which is in three hours. I just can’t.”
Knight took a lock of my hair and brought it to his nose. He sniffed, looking a bit puzzled.
I sniffed my hair too. “Homemade hair oil from orchids. I’m testing it out. What do you think?”
“I don’t like it.”
“Damn. You really shoot straight.”
“Thank you. So, let me shoot straight now. You’re Arthur’s bird, his messenger. If I let you fly back now, you will fly straight to him and tell him I’m coming.”
“He’ll expect a message.”
“I am the message. I’m going after him because it seems he wants me to beat some sense into him. So you, sweet bird, will stay where you are for the night. We leave in the morning. Together.”
“Oh my God, you don’t want him to know you’re coming.”
“Should I be worried?” It didn’t sound good. From what my twin had told me, these two dragons had grown up together on the streets, and they were very close. My sister wouldn't have lied, but the messages they’d been exchanging didn’t sound friendly.
“I’ll take care of Arthur,” Knight said and nudged me toward the alcove.
I dug in my heels. “I have to, like, really have to, work tomorrow.”
“Don’t make me put you in the cage.”
I giggled. “Bird, cage, I get it. That’s funny.”
“I’m not joking. Not even a little bit. You’re mine.” He cleared his throat. “For the night.”
I pursed my lips. “Sure thing, Lord Knight.”
“I’m glad we agree,” he said, then threw back his arms and pulled his T-shirt over his head.
I stared at his torso, the lines of his muscles, the tribal tattoos covering the left side of his body. I made sure I kept my jaw locked, or I’d gape like a fool. He put his T-shirt over my head, and all that male dragon scent hit my loins. I inhaled and got so turned on, my nipples perked up. Thank God, my hair covered my breasts so he couldn’t see.
“Hands up,” he said.
I threw my hands up so he could fit the sleeves through. He patted my shoulders. “There we go. All set. Good night, little bird.” His head dipped.
I tipped my face up.
I swore he was going to kiss me. He even stared at my mouth. I rose on my toes but couldn’t close the distance. Knight was…about six five to my five three.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of,” he whispered.
“Like try to sneak out.”
“It didn’t even cross my mind.”
Knight slept the way dragons slept. Deeply. I snuck out the window and flew back home.