The Isle of Eternal Happiness
After several months of wedded life, Ben is feeling the pressure. Not only has he a job and marriage to worry about, he has to sustain Lyle's waning magical powers and see through the destiny of the Dragon Rider and save Lyle's merfolk family in their hour of need.
Lyle's concerned that Ben is changing for the worse, acting secretively and strangely. With Ben rapidly developing powers of his own, Lyle suspects Ben is being corrupted by the sinister legacy of Prince Clewell, whose magic sword Ben has inherited. If not, their marriage is failing.
Ben tries to pacify Lyle by whisking him off on a belated honeymoon. But Ben's true purpose is to seek a hidden fairy sanctuary, "The Isle of Eternal Happiness," and to fulfil the Dragon Rider prophecy. He's even invited Lyle's dragon-shifting sister, Cully, to help him in Lyle's stead. Lyle finally snaps. Ben's mission might be a noble one, but magic is turning him into a monster. And Lyle is still a force to be reckoned, even with his health and powers deteriorating.
“On that positive note, let’s bring the interview to a close.” Janine Clarke, head of the Wessex Coastal Protection Board, stood and offered Ben her hand across her desk. “Thanks for coming, Benjamin. It’s rare to encounter a young man with such enthusiasm for our work. It’s been an utter pleasure to meet you.”
Ben returned the handshake warmly. He turned over his answer to her final question, concerning clifftop erosion, and decided he’d nailed it. He’d nailed the lot of them, so it seemed, if Janine’s satisfied air was any indication. But—and there was always a “but”—her last words niggled rather than cheered him. She claimed it’d been an utter pleasure to meet him. So she didn’t intend to meet him again?
He ought to let the matter go at that. He should depart the offices in good grace and let Janine decide if the job as her deputy was his or not.
“Ms Clarke, I am the best candidate for this role,” said Ben, retaining her hand and tightening his clasp. “If you pick me, you won’t be disappointed. When I commit to a task, I always deliver.” At least, these days he tended to. “I always triumph in the end, whatever the odds.”
Crap, why did he say that? Janine’s expression turned stony, and she twisted her fingers free. If Ben had been his old self, her reaction would have melted him into a puddle of shame. Instead, he pulled himself together fast, focussing on his love for Lyle, his beautiful merman husband: a love that anchored him in difficult situations. Everything Ben did was for Lyle. Plus he recalled the sense of power he experienced whenever he clasped Prince Clewell’s magical sword—a newfound courage that’d carried him through this interview with only a flurry of his usual nerves.
“You’re the best I can do, eh?” said Janine, folding her arms and planting herself coolly on the far side of the desk. “I’ll bear that in mind.”
“Sorry, I hope I didn’t come across too strong there.” Ben grinned, lopsided and hopeful, remembering humility could also be a winning card. “Thanks for your time today. I look forward to hearing from you, as and when you’ve made your decision.”
His head still spun as he hoofed it out of the building, torn over whether he’d given the smartest interview of his life or behaved like an arrogant git. He crossed over a road and into the strip of gardens that flowed down to the Bournemouth seafront. A hazy sun hung low in the spring sky, and a brisk breeze tossed the heads of the fading daffodils. Ben strove to remain positive, hugging his new leather work satchel against his hip.
That he’d become more forthright wasn’t so strange. In the year since he’d met Lyle, Ben’s life had turned topsy-turvy from that of a mild-mannered environmental officer to the husband of a magical shapeshifting merman. Some of the new skills he’d left off his official curriculum vitae included curse breaking and soaring down the English Channel on the backs of mythical beasties. In addition, when he’d discovered Clewell’s sword, he’d inherited the mantle of the legendary Dragon Rider, which meant he was destined to save Lyle’s family in their hour of need, and…
A man strode toward him with a patch of purple and white pansies growing out of his head. Mean-looking and stocky, he shot Ben a “wotcha lookin’ at?” glare, while some kids playing mini-golf giggled and pointed at him.
Lyle’s work? It had to be.
Ben’s smothered a laugh behind his sleeve and hurried toward the beach. He wondered how long it would be before the stricken man realized why people were laughing, or if Lyle’s magic would fade before he discovered what’d happened. One matter was for sure: a useful side effect of becoming the Dragon Rider—and proud owner of a magical sword—was that Ben had acquired magic of his own, most crucially the ability to draw it from the sword and pass it on to Lyle through their kisses and lovemaking. Lyle’s abilities, formerly damaged, had flourished as never before. Indeed, if the toddlers Ben spied chasing dragon-shaped bubbles around the beach were any indication, Lyle had enough magic to toss it around carelessly this afternoon.
When Ben finally spotted Lyle, any exasperation instantly fled. In fully human form, Lyle sat on a beachside bench, his arms draped gracefully along the back as he basked in the pale sunshine. His chin was tipped high and his long auburn-and-claret-streaked hair shimmered. As Ben approached, Lyle’s eyes snapped open, and sparkling amethyst irises met Ben’s hungry gaze. Heavens, Ben was a lucky, lucky man to share his life and bed with a creature that gorgeous.
“How did the interview go?” asked Lyle, apprehension flickering in his tone.
Ben shrugged. “Pretty good, I think.”
“I knew you’d be fab, darling.” Lyle jumped up and wrapped his arms around Ben, drawing him close. Ben raised himself onto tiptoes and they shared a lazy kiss. The tell-tale tingle of magic flowed between them as Lyle drank thirstily of the power Ben had claimed from Clewell’s sword earlier that day. The quicksilver coil of Ben’s arousal and the sweetness of Lyle’s mouth—a delicious mixture of coffee, candyfloss, and a briny zest that was uniquely, ravishingly Lyle—was more than reward enough.
“Yeah, it didn’t go badly at all.” Ben stayed so close he breathed only of Lyle’s panted breaths. He struggled to focus on anything save Lyle’s slender body, pressed against him. Yet one pertinent question begged: “Love, what the dickens have you been up to? The guy with the pansies on his head?”
Lyle fluttered his lashes with an air of feigned innocence. “He dumped a bag of rubbish into a flowerbed. I cleared it up, but seeing as none of your police officer sorts were around, I inflicted a punishment of my own.” He grinned. “Most entertaining it was, too. He looked very almost cute.”
“I get you.” Ben snickered. “But, really, you mustn’t—”
“If it bothered you, why didn’t you change him back to normal yourself?” said Lyle, only mildly teasing. He’d been teaching Ben how to channel and use magic lately, although Ben remained very much a novice. “Theoretically, you’re way more powerful than me, since all the magic I have now comes from you and your sword.”