Gabriella couldn’t figure out why she was so closely watching the blonde Elf the other Guardians of the Empire called T’Harris. She certainly didn’t think there was anything special about him. Granted, he was handsome, well-built, and could handle a weapon well, but that was quite common for a male Elf. Despite this, she got the feeling that there was something different about him, even if she couldn’t put a finger on why. Eventually, she let the matter drop, deciding she would eventually figure it out. She always did.
T’Harris stood off to the side, looking like he knew something no one else did. It wasn’t because he did, but rather because he could tell it irritated Gabriella. He had heard her opinion of the Guardians of the Empire, and he had to admit that while it was not complimentary, she had a point. Most of his brethren were proud of what they were, and did feel slightly superior. They believed they were Guardians because they were the best warriors in the Empire, and because of this, they thought they couldn’t be beaten. It was something about which Gabriella repeatedly proved them wrong. T’Harris liked that about Gabriella. She wasn’t afraid to face off against any of them. Because of Gabriella’s skills, his brethren quickly learned to respect her prowess with a weapon, as well as her quick wit. T’Harris was looking forward to meeting Gabriella in person. For while they hadn’t come face to face with each other, he suspected they were Life Mates. It was news Thrax never seemed to tire of telling T’Harris, and he chose to believe it because he wanted to despite the fact that Dragons weren’t reputed to be good judges about these things.
T’Harris remembered the moment he first felt his first connection with Gabriella. He had saved her life during the battle, although she didn’t know that. She had been so busy fending off the enemy that she hadn’t had time to spare him a glance, or to acknowledge his quick action. Nothing mattered except that she had survived. What he wanted to do now was find a valid reason to get to meet her, so he could be sure. If he found out it was true that they were Life Mates, he would declare their connection openly. Meeting Gabriella, however, was not proving to be as easy as he thought it would be.
Months had gone by since the battle, and T’Harris still hadn’t managed to catch Gabriella’s attention. T’Harris blamed Lariel for the difficulty. The Emperor kept Gabriella busy, and close to his side. It was easy to see the Elf was smitten with her. It was as easy to tell Gabriella didn’t think of him in the same way. To Gabriella, Lariel was no more than anyone else in the Elven Empire thought he was, their Emperor. Gabriella took her orders from Lariel but kept him at a distance, which meant she realized what he felt for her and disapproved.
Since the Guardians of the Empire had come to the Elven Empire to mix with other Elves, T’Harris had been watching his brethren meet their Life Mates. T’Harris celebrated with them, teased them, and felt jealous of their luck and happiness. T’Harris didn’t begrudge them the love they found or the women standing by their sides. They deserved to know the feeling of fulfillment only a Life Mate could bring to an Elf. T’Harris had noticed how each pairing had changed the men. It was especially noticeable with Daeron, a man who had been so unhappy in his life before he met his Chania. T’Harris’ friends, he had to admit, were better for the women they had bonded with. Now, T’Harris smiled smugly, it was his turn. This was the day he would get to meet his Gabriella face to face. T’Harris wasn’t sure how he would manage it, but he was determined it was going to happen.
T’Harris was aware of the fact that he wasn’t the only one wanting to meet Gabriella. Thrax did as well, and there were times when his alter ego was getting to be very difficult to keep under control. Thrax knew the kind of trouble losing control of his Dragon could cause, especially as he could sense how close Gabriella’s Dragon was to rising. Her Dragon, Thrax declared, was his, which made Gabriella, T’Harris’. This made things doubly dangerous, but it was inevitable, or so Thrax kept telling him.
“Her Dragon senses me too,” Thrax spoke into T’Harris’ mind. “She hides behind the wall of steel that keeps her restrained and thinks she is safe. I can tell she is weakening though, I feel her need to come out to play wearing on her resolve to obey her other half. I call to her, but so far she has resisted my lure. She won’t be able to continue for much longer. When that happens, we will both have what our hearts desire.”
T’Harris’ preoccupation with his Dragon was interrupted by Verich, as that Elf leaned over to speak with him, “If you are looking at the lady I think you are, you can forget the possibility of getting anywhere with her. The High Lord General Gabriella Eagle Claw doesn’t play games with anyone. She is deadly serious, all of the time.”
“Is that her name?” T’Harris asked innocently, as he fought to hide his shock. Up to this moment, he hadn’t been able to attach a name to Gabriella, not with any certainty. Thrax, in his opinion, could only be counted on so much for information. If Verich was talking about the same woman he was watching, he might seek out the Fates and kiss each and every one of them.
Verich rolled his eyes in disbelief, as he commented, “The luscious moonlight blonde with eyes that turn icy enough to freeze a man’s nuts, if he accidentally brushes against her?”
“You never accidentally brush against any female. So, you are telling me that my Gabriella left you frostbitten?” T’Harris snickered. He had to admit, he liked the idea of Verich being put in place by his woman.
“Your Gabriella, is it? That is a first for you. What makes you think she is yours?” Verich asked.
“Because, like any other red-blooded male Elf, I know my Life Mate when I see her,” T’Harris answered.
“You definitely have your work cut out for you, if you think you will win that one over any time soon,” Verich snorted.
“The best things in life take time to settle into place. My Gabriella is the finest, she will come to me in her own way,” T’Harris declared with confidence.
As T’Harris spoke, the sparing match that had been going on ended, and Lariel walked onto the field. He pulled out his sword, grinned at Gabriella and challenged, “So, who wants to show off his or her talent with a sword today?”
There was no doubt Gabriella was the one he was speaking to, but it was T’Harris who stepped out of the sidelines to answer Lariel’s challenge, “I could use a good workout to loosen up my muscles.”
Lariel turned and frowned as he watched T’Harris walk across the field to face him. This was an Elf he had never seen on the practice field before. It didn’t matter, he was sure he could handle him. There were only a handful of Elves he couldn’t defeat in mock battle.
T’Harris knew what he was doing. He had seen how Lariel looked at Gabriella every time he thought she wasn’t paying attention to him. This man wanted her for no other reason than he couldn’t have her. Well, T’Harris wasn’t above teaching anyone how dangerous it could be to covet another Elf’s Life Mate, even when the connection hadn’t been acknowledged yet.
“Your name?” Lariel asked loudly enough to make himself heard by everyone in attendance.
T’Harris smiled, as he pulled his sword from his scabbard and replied, “T’Harris.”
Within seconds the match was on, and as the first testing thrusts and swings were taken, the crowd grew silent as they paid attention to what was happening.
Gabriella watched with interest as Lariel and T’Harris faced off. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that T’Harris knew how to wield a sword. He had a proper grip on the weapon, and every move he made had a purpose. Lariel, she quickly decided, was going to find himself in trouble fast.
“Who is the Elf sparing with Lariel?” Cambria asked, as she walked up to Gabriella’s side, along with Anders. A grin lifted the edges of her lips, as she strove to look innocent. She knew full well who T’Harris was. She had gone out of her way to orchestrate this meeting.
Gabriella shrugged as she replied, “I don’t know, but he is good.”
“Lariel is about to get his backside tanned if he keeps fighting like that. There isn’t one of us that can hold a candle to T’Harris when it comes to sword play.” Anders spoke.
Even while Anders talked, Lariel’s sword was knocked out of his hand. As the weapon flew into the air, T’Harris reached out to catch it. He then offered it back to Lariel.
Lariel was furious. No one had ever disarmed him before, not like this. It had also happened in front of Gabriella, which meant she would have him back on the field for more practice sessions. He was smart enough to know when to concede the game though. The Elf he was facing was better than he was, and he wasn’t about to allow his temper to make him do something stupid. Attacking him in a fit of anger would be akin to lunacy, and he knew it. Even worse came the knowledge that if he went after this new Elf, it would make him look like a poor sport, something his people frowned heavily upon. He accepted his sword from T’Harris, and giving a false smile as he sheathed it, he spoke, “You will have to show me how you did that some day.”
“It would be my honor,” T’Harris returned with a bow, before he replied, “What happens next?”
Lariel noticed Gabriella move forward and knew she was on her way in. She looked intrigued, which meant she had taken T’Harris’ measure when it came to using his weapon and was curious to find out how good he really was. It was going to be interesting to see who was going to come out on top in this match. He had to admit, this Guardian was one of the best he had ever faced. His smile widened as he commented, “It looks like you have won the right to face the master.”
The entire field of competitors stopped sparring when Gabriella approached T’Harris. It was nothing new to see her walk onto the field like this. Yet, every time she decided to join them, her presence always got this response from the crowd. No one wanted to miss the High Lord General do battle, especially against someone new. Every move she made was like watching music in motion.
“Gabriella Eagle Claw,” T’Harris acknowledged with a bow as she stood before him, and he smiled.
Gabriella gave a slight nod, as she returned the gesture, even as her eyes narrowed as they connected with his and she replied, “T’Harris.”
T’Harris felt the slight surprise emanating from Gabriella, which told him that she just realized she had met her Life Mate. That would be a point in his favor, depending on how quickly she got over the shock. He doubted if it would take her very long, and if this were the case, it would be to her advantage. He had seen her in action, he knew how she fought, and he had to admit, she was one of the best he had ever seen in battle. He acknowledged her expertise and knew this was going to be a difficult match. Gabriella was not an Elf to yield easily to anyone, and he was certain that if he tried to allow for the fact that she was either a female or his Life Mate, things would not go well for him, on or off the field. Gabriella would not respect anyone who didn’t give his or her all in battle, whether it was in practice or real life.
Gabriella gave T’Harris a taunting smile, as she needled him, “I do hope you have backup, because you are going to need it.”
“I love the sound of overconfidence when I am facing an opponent. It makes victory so much sweeter after the fact,” T’Harris returned, tossing Gabriella’s challenge right back at her. He wasn’t only after her love, he wanted to win her respect in hopes it would make his claim go smoother.
Gabriella laughed as she replied, “I never misjudge an enemy.”
“Good, that gives me room to slip through your guard, because I am not your enemy,” T’Harris answered. He then added, “We could make this interesting with a little wager, if you feel you are up to the challenge. What do you think?”
“What do you have in mind, Dragon boy?” Gabriella egged T’Harris on. She was going to pummel him and, at the moment, she could think of several reasons for doing so.
“Something that should excite you and make your knees go weak when it happens. It is something you would be too afraid to do on your own,” T’Harris returned.
Gabriella sniffed, as she denied the allegation, “You will find I don’t scare easily.”
“I am counting on that,” T’Harris taunted.
“Name your poison, especially as it is basically a mute point anyway,” Gabriella returned.
“A kiss. It is something that most women would have no trouble conceding. Although I am willing to wager you don’t know how to give or receive one.” T’Harris pushed even more. What he had just said would have insulted most women. When he saw Gabriella’s eyes narrow at his words, he knew he had scored a hit at her pride, and he could tell he had hit a bulls-eye. She probably not only didn’t know how to kiss a man but didn’t want anyone to know the truth of the matter.
“I am sure you are willing to offer lessons,” Gabriella sniffed, as she tried to lower him to the level of Verich in the back of her mind. She had a feeling she was wrong about that though. Damn, she thought to herself. This was a poor time to find her Life Mate. The last thing she needed was a complication like this in her life right now.
“Depends on the concession. I don’t go around kissing just anyone,” T’Harris continued to push his luck.
“What do I win if you lose?” Gabriella presented the possibility to T’Harris.
“Name it. Again, something simple that won’t cause hardship,” T’Harris suggested.
“You will neither try to kiss me, nor mention doing so again,” Gabriella set the rule.
“Too vague,” T’Harris answered. “It needs a time limit. One quick kiss, versus remaining mum on the subject for a long period of time is hardly a fair contest.”
“Very well, as one should match the other as is fair, it should last for a few hours at least,” Gabriella offered as a concession.
“Done,” T’Harris accepted the wager, then held out his hand to seal the deal. As she placed her hand in his, he pulled her a little closer to speak once more, this time for her ears only, “Prepare for battle, my Gabriella, and know that I don’t fight fairly when it comes to something I want badly enough. Also know that I want you, my Life Mate, even as my Dragon wants yours,” then he stepped away.
Gabriella narrowed her eyes, as she took a closer look at the man standing before her. T’Harris had laid it all out on the line for her, and she was sure she knew why. He didn’t want her to cry foul later. Well, he was right on some things, but by the same token, he might not realize she could also fight dirty, especially when she felt she was faced with no other choice. All that this entailed made this contest fall into that category. No one liked being backed into a corner, and she had every reason to believe that what he had done to her was to knock her off center. She wasn’t about to let him get away with it.
Releasing August 10/2021