This story is set after Protector Dragon, Halloween Dragon, and Wedding Dragon, and contains spoilers. It features Joel and Thomas from Protector Dragon, the first book in the series.
“You had fun, right?”
Joel rolled his eyes at Thomas’ question. It was the tenth time that afternoon he’d asked, and Joel appreciated his boyfriend’s concern, he really did, but not as much as the first time. “You were the one reminding me we had to leave, remember?”
Thomas smiled, shrugging as they walked along. “You can’t blame me for checking.”
“True.” Joel hadn’t been sure about attending the Christmas lunch Thomas and his council had organized. While he’d become more comfortable with his role as Thomas’ mate in the district, and enjoyed helping non-shifter relatives and partners find their way, he was still apprehensive about any big event with a lot of shifters. A Christmas day lunch definitely counted.
He hadn’t attended last year’s lunch, still too nervous despite knowing that the shifters in Lewiston weren’t the arrogant assholes the shifters in his hometown had been. Thomas hadn’t pushed the matter, since he knew exactly how Joel’s family had treated him as the only human in a town full of shifters.
When Thomas had tentatively brought it up a month ago, Joel had agreed to come without thinking. He would not let his ridiculous fears ruin another Christmas lunch, especially since he loved the idea behind it.
Thomas had been organizing the lunches for shifters who felt lonely over the holidays for a few years now. He’d come up with the idea after his first Christmas as Keeper of the Peace, when his own dragon shifter family had been busy with their own duties, and he hadn’t known anyone well enough to celebrate with.
Joel knew all too well that the holidays could get lonely if you didn’t celebrate it with someone. He’d celebrated with friends in previous years, commiserating with the ones who lived too far away to visit family, and distracting the ones who, like him, weren’t in contact with theirs.
He’d helped Thomas prepare, arranging muffins and other baked goods through his job at the café, and keeping track of which shifter-owned restaurants had agreed to help with what kind of food.
It had been a lot of work, but all worth it when he’d seen the different shifters come together and have a good time. Joel’s nerves had melted away once he’d started talking with the first people who’d come in. Everyone seemed pleased to see him there. No one complained a human-run company had supplied food. The mood was light and cheerful, with shifters mingling and catching up with friends before going for seconds. And thirds.
“I’m surprised there were leftovers at all.” They’d helped with the cleanup, although two of Thomas’ council members had sent them away before finishing up, and with more than their fair share of leftover food. “I’m pretty sure we won’t need to cook anymore this year.”
Thomas, carrying the other shopping bag filled with plastic containers, just smiled. “Optimist.”
“Definitely no cooking for the next few days, though.” Which was just as it should be. He was busy enough with all his shifts at the café, and Thomas had plenty to do too. Joel wondered if some shifters enjoyed waiting until the end of the year to bring up issues that needed resolving immediately. Things should slow down after Christmas, giving him and Thomas some time together.
As usual, just the thought of curling himself around Thomas sent heat through his body. The need for two true mates to be together was as strong as it had been the moment they’d met, but Joel had gotten better at ignoring it in public.
When they got home, though….
Any plans Joel had were disrupted by the loud and demanding meows from Coco, the seven-year-old tabby they’d adopted from a local rescue shelter a few months ago. She padded into the hallway, meowed again, then bumped her head against Joel’s ankles before sniffing at the bags.
“That’s not for you, kitty,” Thomas told her, leaning over to give her a brief pat. “That’s for us.”
She rubbed her head against Thomas’ hand, meowing again when he headed into the living room.
Joel smiled when she followed, meowing demandingly now and then. Cats reacted strongly to shifters, and Coco adored Thomas. Some of the other cats and dogs at the shelter they’d visited had cowered or growled at him, much to the surprise of the volunteers. Coco, however, had been purring the moment Thomas offered her his hand to sniff.
They’d done their research beforehand, deciding to get an adult cat rather than a kitten, and Coco was a perfect fit. She had some urinary issues that required a particular diet to prevent them from flaring up, so an apartment without other cats on regular food was just what she needed.
She’d taken a little longer to warm up to Joel, but she’d settled in happily and always let them know when they hadn’t given her enough attention.
Case in point, today.
“We did cruelly abandon her for the entire afternoon.” Joel put his own shopping bag on the kitchen counter.
She meowed up at him before winding her way around Thomas’ ankles again.
“Let’s get you dinner, shall we?” Thomas told her, picking her up and smiling when she purred against his chest. He scratched her behind her ears. “Yes, we missed you too.”
Joel put the plastic containers in the fridge, then made coffee while watching Thomas take care of their cat.
His chest felt tight, remembering how close he’d come to never meeting Thomas last year, and how close he’d been to turning him away. If he hadn’t found the guts to help his boss cater Thomas’ welcoming event, who knew how long it would’ve taken them to meet? Joel had been careful about avoiding shifters ever since coming here. He could’ve easily missed out on meeting Thomas for months, maybe years.
Joel blinked, jerked out of thoughts that had no place here. He had met Thomas, and they had overcome the obstacles in their way. “Nothing. I was just thinking how easily we could’ve not met when we did.”
Thomas gave Coco one final pet as she ate, then got up to join Joel in the kitchen. “But we did meet.”
Joel leaned against Thomas, nestling against his shoulder as Thomas put an arm around him. “We did.”
“And you were brave enough to talk to me.”
“And you were stubborn enough to go after me.”
“I never had a choice.” Thomas’ arm tightened around him. “Once I met you, that was it.”
Joel hugged him closer. “I’m glad it’s you.” He couldn’t think of anyone better.
He leaned back to kiss Thomas, intending it to be a quick one before grabbing two mugs from the kitchen cupboard. But after an entire afternoon around each other without being able to do more than exchange quick smiles or a reassuring touch, the kiss quickly turned heated.
Joel pressed closer as Thomas deepened the kiss, and Thomas’ hands found the hem of his sweater, tugging them out of his jeans.
Thomas grunted in frustration when he encountered Joel’s shirt underneath. “Why are you wearing so many clothes?”
Joel laughed. “Because it’s winter and not all of us are shifters?” He’d noticed it at the community center as well, where he’d been the only one grumbling about the cold and turning up the heat.
“I’ll warm you up.” Thomas smirked suggestively, his blue eyes sparkling. “Body heat’s good for that, right?” He kissed Joel’s cheek before nuzzling his neck.
Joel tilted his head back, humming in agreement. “I think we should check….”
Thomas pushed him against the counter, tugging on his shirt to stroke the skin underneath.
“I missed that.” Joel shivered at his touch.
He felt Thomas smile against his neck. “We had sex this morning.”
“You know what I mean.” He sat up on the counter, pulling Thomas close again. “We had to spend an entire afternoon around each other and keep our hands to ourselves.”
Thomas grinned, hands running up Joel’s thighs. “I don’t think my council members would’ve approved if we’d sneaked off for a make-out session in the kitchen, no.”
Joel kissed him, his legs spread so he could pull Thomas even closer, and ran one hand through his hair. He was hard already, and he could feel that Thomas was in a similar state.
Thomas nuzzled his neck again, kissing a path down until he found the spot that always made Joel moan and buck against him.
Joel closed his eyes when Thomas’ teeth scraped against the sensitive skin, and he whimpered. “Bedroom?”
A plaintive meow made Thomas pull back, and Joel stared down in surprise at Coco, who was butting her head against Thomas’ ankles again.
“What is it, girl?” Thomas’ voice was rough, his hands still lingering on Joel’s skin. “You had your dinner.”
She let out an indignant meow, then left the kitchen with her tail high in the air.
It took Joel a moment to realize what Coco wanted. “Litter box. I’ll do it.”
“The coffee’s ready, if you want some?”
He hopped off the counter. “Sure, even if it’ll probably get cold.” He heard Thomas laugh when he followed Coco over to the spare room where she had her litter box. She sat down next to it, staring at Joel meaningfully while he cleaned it and put new litter in. “Is that to your satisfaction, m’lady?” he asked, when she sniffed the edges of the litter box.
She went in to do her business, which Joel took as his cue to leave.
After washing his hands, he joined Thomas on the couch. He’d turned on the lights in their Christmas tree, casting the room in a soft glow.
Decorating a Christmas tree with a cat around had been an interesting experience, and Coco swiping at the tinsel was why the lower half of the tree was more sparsely decorated. She’d spent the first few days after they’d put it up keeping a safe distance, but when she realized it wasn’t going anywhere, she’d rubbed her head against the branches she could reach and claimed it as hers.
“Where were we?” Thomas asked, when Joel settled against him, coffee mug in hand.
Joel smiled. “You mentioned something about body heat?”
“That’s right.” Thomas wrapped his other arm around Joel. “You were cold.” He paused his idle stroking of Joel’s side. “You weren’t cold this afternoon at the community center, right?”
Joel snorted at Thomas’ concern. “No, because I know how the thermostat there works. Don’t worry. Besides, there was plenty of warm food.”
“Hm, so no rush to have dinner, then?”
He took a sip from his coffee. “I’m pretty sure I won’t need any tonight, no.”
Thomas frowned at that, then shook his head. “I know, humans don’t need as much.”
“You’re telling me you’re getting hungry again?” Joel was used to Thomas’ appetite, but they had eaten plenty that afternoon.
“No, but I wouldn’t mind starting on the leftovers in a few hours.”
“You’re on your own there.” Joel took another sip, then put his mug down on the coffee table. “Just leave some for me for tomorrow.”
“No guarantees,” Thomas told him, eyes glinting as he drank his coffee before putting it down next to Joel’s.
“You’re gonna let your mate starve?” Joel teased, kissing him again.
“Never.” Thomas cupped Joel’s face. “I’ll always take care of you.”
Joel’s breath caught in his throat. He knew how much Thomas loved him, and he knew how much he loved Thomas. But in moments like this, with Thomas looking at him like he was the only thing that mattered in the world, it hit him all over again. “I know.” He pressed closer, straddling Thomas and running his hands down his chest before kissing him again.
Thomas hummed into the kiss, tugging at Joel’s sweater to pull it over his head. It ended up somewhere underneath the Christmas tree. “Getting warmer?” He tugged on Joel’s shirt, raising an eyebrow.
Joel popped open the top buttons, then pulled it over his head himself. “Body heat is all about skin to skin contact, right?”
He helped Thomas with his clothes, then ran his hands up Thomas’ bare chest the first chance he got. He still loved that first moment of skin and muscle under his fingertips, when Thomas’ eyes darkened with desire.
Thomas kissed him, his arms wrapped tight around him. “You remember our first night together?”
“Of course.” How could he forget? He’d almost canceled that date, still too nervous and suspicious of shifters. But every time he imagined calling it off and never seeing Thomas again, it had felt wrong down to his bones.
“If I recall,” Thomas said, kissing his shoulder, “it went a lot like this.” His hands slipped underneath Joel’s jeans and boxers, fingers brushing the top of his ass.
Joel laughed, remembering that all too clearly. “It did.” He ran his hands up Thomas’ biceps, wrapping them around his neck. “With some of this.” He kissed Thomas again, grinding down against the hard bulge until Thomas let out a low groan.
“Hm, no, I don’t remember that. I think you should do it again to make sure.” Thomas tried and failed to look innocent.
Joel ground down, moaning at the friction against his own cock.
“I’ll definitely remember now.” Thomas’ voice trembled as he kissed Joel again.
Joel kissed him back, trying to press even closer. He kept one hand wrapped around Thomas’ neck, using the other to explore his chest and arms and shoulders, and every inch of bare skin he could find.
He pulled back and saw Coco next to them on the couch, one hind leg high in the air to clean herself.
“What are you—” Thomas started, then followed Joel’s gaze. “Ah.”
Coco looked up at them, blinked, then got up so she could squirm in between their arms to get on Thomas’ lap. She meowed when Joel didn’t budge.
Thomas let out a laugh. “You’re in her spot.”
Coco meowed again, butting her head against Joel’s stomach.
“It was my spot first.” Joel picked her up and put her down on the couch next to them, but the moment he let go, she was back in Thomas’ lap.
“Not now.” Thomas tried to nudge her out of the way, but she stubbornly stayed put. He sucked in a breath when she started kneading his thigh close to his hip. “Not now, Coco!”
Joel couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m not the only one who missed this.”
Thomas sighed, looking up at him. “Bedroom? We’ll close the door.”
“You know she’ll just keep meowing outside the door until we let her in.” They knew this from bitter experience. A cat meowing loudly and desperately was a very effective turn-off.
Thomas let his head fall back against the couch, groaning in frustration. “This is not how I wanted this evening to go.”
Joel’s eyes swept down Thomas’ bare, tempting chest. Maybe the meowing wouldn’t be that bad…. “Me neither.”
“Hand me my coffee? I don’t think she’ll let me move any time soon.”
Joel slid off of Thomas’ lap, and Coco gave him a brief glance before settling down and radiating smugness. “If the shifters of your district could see you now. Their Keeper of the Peace bossed around by a cat.”
Thomas gave him a brief glare as he took his mug from Joel. “I wonder if Parker and Cameron, and Mitchell and Shaun have this problem with their cats.”
Joel considered it as he sat down with his own mug. “They probably have it worse. They’ve got kittens.”
Thomas petted Coco’s back as she purred. “I’m glad we went for an adult cat instead.”
“Any other time, I’d agree.” Joel sighed, grabbing his shirt, but Thomas stopped him from putting it on.
He smiled. “Let’s see if we can keep you warm using body heat.”
Joel settled against him, careful not to let any hot coffee spill on Coco. “Let’s.” He scratched their cat behind her ear, smiling when she turned so he could scratch her under her chin. “It was still my spot first,” he told her, but she was too busy purring to listen.