QSFer Antonia Aquilante has a new MM fantasy romance out (Bi, Gray Ace): To Love the Dragon King.
Once upon a time, before the hunts, dragons were plentiful in the world. Now they exist only in legend…except in the land of Ivria.
Without the Dragon Talent, Sascha has long been told his only value is his ability to make the best match possible, whether as concubine or husband. He has always done what his family expects of him, cultivating grace and beauty, and when his parents make a match for him, Sascha goes without protest. He never anticipates being contractually bound to a cruel man embroiled in a plot to overthrow the king of Ivria. Or being confronted by the king himself, a man with whom Sascha is disturbed to find himself fascinated.
With help from the few people he can trust absolutely, King Lysander is working carefully to uncover the members of a conspiracy to overthrow him and expose the existence of dragons to the world. Apprehending one traitor only complicates the situation further, not the least of which because of the man’s beautiful, intriguing concubine. Who may be involved in the plot and whom Lysander is immediately attracted to.
As danger looms, Sascha and Lysander grow closer, but can Lysander trust Sascha with his life and heart? And can Sascha be strong enough to love the dragon king?
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The high gray stone walls of Castle Grau were bleak against the slate-colored clouds blanketing the sky. Sascha shivered and huddled deeper into his fur-trimmed cloak, despite knowing the reaction hadn’t been entirely—or even mostly—caused by the raw chill in the air. His first sight of the place he would live for the next several years made him wish to be anywhere else.
But he couldn’t stop staring out the carriage window as they approached the building. He schooled his features carefully into the serene mask he’d practiced for long hours until he could hold onto it even if everything inside him quaked, as it did now. Deliberately forced his breathing to even out. Best to prepare himself when he was alone, Lord Jannik’s man of business having chosen to ride up with the driver the whole journey from Sascha’s family home where the man had retrieved him and turned over the contractual payment to his parents. It had made for a long and lonely trip—all day yesterday and overnight in the carriage—but Sascha wouldn’t have chosen the company of the other man anyway.
He wouldn’t have chosen any of the circumstances for this journey, and the manner in which it was being made—not to mention the sight of its endpoint—was not helping Sascha hold on to any hope that this portion of his life would be good. And hope was something he’d determinedly clung to since his parents had told him of the contract they’d signed, making him Lord Jannik’s concubine.
The carriage rattled over the cobblestones of the road leading to the castle’s imposing front doors and slowed to a stop behind a second carriage. There was a flurry of activity around it, as servants loaded and secured baggage. Was Lord Jannik leaving with Sascha arriving today?
The door beside him was pulled open abruptly. The stern-faced man of business—what was his name?—stood there, looking particular dour.
“We’re here.” He didn’t offer assistance or wait for Sascha to climb out before walking away. Concubines were supposed to have status and respect on par with that of spouses—both traditionally and contractually. Sascha hadn’t been treated that way so far.
He took a long, slow breath, searching for calm despite the sick roiling in his stomach. Then, gathering his cloak and his dignity around him, he stepped down from the carriage. Another couple of servants were coming for his trunk, and he thanked them, receiving nods in return. Moving away from the carriage, he surveyed his surroundings. The castle looked no less forbidding up close, but perhaps the place would be more pleasant in spring. Late winter meant bare trees and no flowers or color anywhere. Even the snow—something Sascha usually saw the beauty in—didn’t help.
A young woman about Sascha’s age hurried through the castle doors. Her hair shone gold in the weak sunlight before she flipped the hood of her green cloak up to cover it. She was halfway to the carriages before she stopped abruptly, her gaze landing on Sascha. Her rosebud lips turned down in a brief frown. When she moved again, it was in his direction.
He straightened his spine against the fine tremors moving through him and waited, watching her approach.
She flicked her gaze over him briefly once she stopped in front of him. “So you’re my father’s new concubine?”
“If your father is Lord Jannik, then yes. I’m Sascha of Clan Sapfir.”
If anything, she looked more troubled. “I can’t say you’ll like it here and mean it. I’m grateful my marriage is getting me away, and I have no idea what it will be like. I can only wish you good luck.”
Sascha blinked at her, shock robbing him of words.
“Lady Triana.” The stern voice had them both looking toward the man of business. “It’s time for you to go.”
Triana nodded regally, but she turned back to Sascha instead of moving toward her waiting carriage. When she spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper. “My father’s man of business is horrible, but the housekeeper and the maids and kitchen staff are all kind and helpful. Take care of yourself.”
He took the hand she held out to him, let her squeeze his nerveless fingers. “Thank you. You take care of yourself as well.”
With a brisk nod to him, she moved away, sailing past the glowering man of business—Sascha had been told his name, hadn’t he?—to the carriage where a footman assisted her inside. The driver got the horses moving immediately, and Triana was on her way to an uncertain future…but one she’d rather confront than the past she’d left here. What was Sascha walking into?
“You need to go inside.” The man’s clipped tone drew Sascha’s attention once more. “You don’t want to keep Lord Jannik waiting.”
Sascha raised his chin a fraction in an effort to appear calm and dignified. “Of course.”
Heart beating wildly, he concentrated on his breathing, on taking measured, graceful steps across the stones and through the open door. His heels clacked loudly on the marble floor, the sound echoing in the large entry hall. He almost flinched at the noise, but servants still hurried around in the wake of his arrival and the departure of the daughter of the house and the stern-faced man had followed him inside—Sascha refused to show such weakness in front of them.
His resolve didn’t stop him from jumping when a voice bellowed from deeper in the castle. It didn’t stop his hands from trembling when he realized the owner of the bellowing voice was coming closer. And that, from the reaction of the staff, the bellower had to be Lord Jannik. No one had taken Sascha’s cloak, so he clenched his gloved hands together beneath it and strove to regain his tattered self-possession as he was left alone in the center of the hall, the servants scattering, the man of business halting several feet away from him.
Antonia Aquilante is an author of LGBTQ fantasy romance and a copy editor/proofreader. She has been imagining characters and plots for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent – they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats that she shares with friends and family, and of course reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to ebooks and audiobooks, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, she is living there again after years in Washington, DC, and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.