The Only Option
by Megan Derr
Genre: Gay Fantasy Shifter Romance, Dragons
Publisher: All Romance eBooks
Date of Publication: May 1, 2016
When he is summoned to the royal castle, Rochus anticipates nothing more than a particularly difficult assignment. The bothersome journey is almost made worthwhile when he is propositioned by a young, beautiful dragon, Tilo, who seems untroubled by the fact that Rochus is a necromancer.
When Rochus arrives at the castle he is ordered to marry the very same dragon he spent the night with. Though Rochus would rather sign papers and return home, he is helpless against Tilo's pleas for help, even if it means spending more time around a man he is desperately drawn to but who doesn’t seem to want him.
But he detested hiding in his room like he was something to be ashamed of, and hiding wouldn't stop the rumors or whispers. So he slipped his spectacles back on and approached the counter, pushing back the hood of his cloak. He set two worn, gleaming coins on the counter, ignoring the wide eyes and gaping mouth of the man behind it. "A room, a bath, supper, and breakfast."
"Supper and—" The man snapped his mouth shut. "Of course, magus. Um…" He picked up the coins, eyes flitting about nervously. So close to the royal castle, one would think they'd be more used to the likes of Rochus, but then again, most of his kind preferred to avoid undue attention, and the rest were spoiled brats who'd never settle at a cheap tavern when the royal castle was only a few more hours away.
Stifling a sigh, Rochus answered the question the man couldn't quite get out. "Pig or cow blood will work fine, and chicken or some other fowl if that's the best you can muster. A full pitcher of it, though merely a cup will suffice if more cannot be found. Not horse." They were far too expensive to drain, and the taste wasn't worth it.
"Y-yes, magus. Um." The man licked his lips. "Will you want to see the room first or go straight to the dining hall?"
"The room, and I'll take the bath after I've dined."
The man murmured another affirmative, tucked the coins away, and slid a key across the counter. "Up the stairs, all the way at the very end of that first hall."
"My thanks," Rochus replied and resettled his saddlebags on his shoulder before heading up the dark, creaky steps and down the long hallway. It branched off in three places, but as promised, his was the room at the very back of the first, main hallway.
It smelled of dust and disuse, with a slight tingling-tang of old, faded magic. Powerful magic, likely wards or some other cage meant to keep something in. But the inn had once been a castle in its own right, before it had been torn down and rebuilt, changed to something less expensive and more profitable than an empty fortress. It wasn't surprising remnants of the fortress remained in more than the old stones.
He dropped his saddlebags on the bed and quickly sent his heavy travel cloak after them. Removing his spectacles, he combed fingers through his short, sweat-damp hair. In the dark room, with nothing but slips of moonlight to lend visibility, his hair appeared black. Better lighting would prove it to be blue, so too his nails and teeth. It was the teeth that always made people most uncomfortable—dark blue, some more pointed than they should be, all the more stark against his too-white skin.
Rochus briefly considered changing into fresh clothes, but there was little point until after he'd had a bath—and no telling what would happen in the dining hall. It would hardly be the first time some country bumpkins or foreign nitwits wailed superstitious nonsense and tried to kill him, nevermind he reported directly to the crown.
He smoothed out his robes, frowning at a small tear in the right sleeve. He'd have to stitch it later after his bath.
For the moment, it was time for supper, and hopefully he'd get to enjoy it in peace.
Heading back downstairs, Rochus walked into and through the dining hall, keeping his head up even when the whispers started.
His lips curled briefly when he heard someone ask their companion if Rochus was a vampire. As though he was one of those needle-teethed, full-dead mongrels. He drank blood and his teeth were meant for hunting, but it wasn't the same thing. His teeth were more like those of a wolf—teeth he did not use thus because he was a civilized, capable necromancer of forty-three, not some ravening monster.
Rochus sat down at a table in the corner where he wasn't too close to the fire but would still be warm and would be able to see anyone who tried to approach him.
A couple of minutes after he sat, a pale-faced young man brought him a pitcher and cup with faintly trembling hands. Rochus slid a coin across the table, nodding for him to take it. The boy took it and skittered away, and the whispers increased as Rochus poured himself a cup of blood and sipped it. Pig, which he preferred, save for those rare occasions he was able to get something as decadent as human.
He took several more sips, savored the way it warmed him through. There was nothing he hated more than being cold, but it was the one thing he would always be due to what was called his half-dead state. He wasn't actually dead, half or otherwise, but necromancy demanded a high price, drained away half his spirit, replaced it with those unique spiritual energies he needed to wield his strange magic. The physical effects—the corpse white skin, the death-black bones, the need for food replaced by a need for blood—were what earned necromancers the reputation of being half-dead.