The Queen of the Dragons has declared that her daughter, Princess Rhiannon, will mate with Bercelak the Great. Although born a commoner, he has worked hard to rise up through the ranks of the queen's army to become an elite battle dragon. He's been in love with the arrogant and spoiled Rhiannon from afar since he first met her seventy years ago when he accidentally stepped on her tail and she tried to stab him in the eye with the offended appendage. Bercelak isn't sure why the queen has afforded him the great honor of mating her daughter, but he isn't about to pass up the chance to have the female of his dreams. However, Rhiannon wants nothing to do with him, and in an effort to escape the unwanted mating, she tries to flee to her den. Her mother places a spell on her, though, that leaves her in human form and unable to shift back, causing her to fall out of the sky right in front of Bercelak's lair. Perfectly content to have her in any form, Bercelak sets about trying to win Rhiannon over with a sensual assault that leaves her breathless. Just as he's starting to make headway toward her accepting him as her mate, her mother calls him back to court. It seems that she's wanted her daughter dead for some time and thought she could count on Bercelak to do the deed for her, but of course, the smitten dragon would never harm his one true love. Instead, he's willing to do anything to help Rhiannon, but getting close enough to the queen to defeat her will prove a challenge.
This is a bonus novella that's found in the back of some editions of Dragon Actually.
Chains & Flames chronologically precedes Dragon Actually in G. A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series, but I've chosen to read them in the order in which they were written, which is also the author's recommended reading order. It tells the story of Fearghus's parents, Rhiannon and Bercelak who were seen in Dragon Actually. Rhiannon is a princess, while Bercelak is a commoner who has fought hard in battle to be raised to elite battle dragon status in the queen's army. Bercelak has loved Rhiannon from afar ever since he met her seventy years ago, but feared that the difference in their stations would always keep them apart. He's surprised when the queen gives her daughter to him as a mate, but Rhiannon is having none of it. As she's trying to flee, her mother casts a spell on her that leaves her in human form, unable to shift back into a dragon. Bercelak, of course, couldn't be happier and vows to win her over through a sensual assault that leaves her breathless. However, the queen feels threatened by Rhiannon and has wanted her dead for some time. Just as Rhiannon is starting to warm up to Bercelak and is willing to mate with him, it becomes clear that her mother engineered the betrothal in hopes that Bercelak would break her daughter's spirit, and then, as one of her loyal battle dragons, be willing to kill her. Bercelak isn't about to let anything happen to the female he loves, but getting close enough to the queen to defeat her will prove challenging.
Bercelak grew up in a large and unconventional dragon family. His father prefers to stay in his human form most of the time and lives among humans. He also had the strange habit of sneaking up on his children, scaring them or tossing them across the room, so that they'd learn to be more tuned in to their surroundings and never be caught unaware. Although it did hone his fighting skills, Bercelak hated it and finds his father irritating because of his rude, crude behavior. The first time Bercelak visited the queen's court, he accidentally stepped on Rhiannon's tail. The arrogant princess tried to stab him in the eye with the tip of that tail, but according to his father's training, he reacted by throwing her across the room. Rhiannon has hated him for it ever since, but Bercelak instantly fell in love. Therefore when the queen offers her daughter to him, he doesn't hesitate to accept. Rhiannon proves to be a feisty female who refuses to mate him, but he's a dominant with a penchant for a little BDSM and uses all his sensual skills to persuade her otherwise. In Dragon Actually, Bercelak came off as rather gruff and even a little grumpy, but I really fell for him in his own story. He starts out with a reputation for never really smiling and being a fierce fighter. But in spite of--or maybe even because of--her venomous tongue, Rhiannon never fails to make him smile and even laugh on occasion. Dominant alphas can be hit and miss with me, but Bercelak hit that sweet spot where he's dominant without being a jerk. He's actually rather sweet, endlessly patient with Rhiannon and her barbs, and understands her in a way no one else does.
Rhiannon is the quintessential spoiled princess who has honed her dragonly arrogance to perfection. But her relationship with her mother is a deeply troubled one, with Rhiannon keenly aware that her mother is out to get her. When the queen declares that Rhiannon is to mate Bercelak, Rhiannon tries to flee to her den, but before she reaches it, her mother casts a spell that turns her human in midair, causing her to plunge to the earth right in front of Bercelak's lair. Bercelak cares for her injuries and provides for her in her weak human form, later introducing her to his large, weird family. Rhiannon comes to like them, though, because she recognizes that in spite of them being a little crazy, they love each other, which is something she's never experienced before. When it comes to Bercelak, however, she keeps trying to push him away, even though she's really just angry with herself for succumbing to his passionate overtures. It doesn't take long before he wins her over, but she never really loses her barbed tongue and that's just fine with him. It would be easy for me to dislike Rhiannon because she can be pretty arrogant and even a little mean sometimes, but somehow I liked her anyway. She may outwardly fight Bercelak, but inwardly she slowly comes to care for him and realize that he's not such a bad guy after all. She also has softer moments and I did sympathize with her carrying around the knowledge that her own mother is trying to kill her.
Overall, Chains & Flames was equally as fun to read as Dragon Actually. I enjoyed this little peek into how Fearghus's parents got together, as well as how Rhiannon came to be queen and to love being chained by her mate. Bercelak was a much more appealing hero than I'd expected and I ended up loving him. Rhiannon may have some sharp edges but can turn into mush for her mate. They were a well-matched couple and their love scenes are smokin' hot. I also enjoyed seeing them band together along with Bercelak's family to defeat the queen. A few of those family members get their own stories in the series, including Bercelak's parents, Ailean and Shalin (Can't Get Enough), his brother Addolgar (A Tale of Two Dragons), and his sister, Glheanna (Dragon on Top). I liked all these characters and look forward to reading their stories, too. The only things that kept this novella from getting the full five stars from me are that a few things happen a little too quickly, although that's often par for the course in shorter stories, and there were still editing problems surrounding proper verb conjugation. Otherwise, this was a very enjoyable read and one that, along with Dragon Actually, has earned G. A. Aiken a spot on my favorite authors list.
Note: This book contains explicit language and sexual content, including a d/s relationship, bondage, and a little spanking, which could be objectionable to sensitive readers.
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