Title: The Dragon Bond
Author: Elizabeth Coldwell
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 05/24/2021
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, estranged couple, holidays, tattoos, tear-jerker, reunited, contemporary m/m romance
When Trey tells Rainn he’s giving him a very special Christmas gift, he never dreams it will be a tattoo. The matching dragons on their bodies is the sign of a bond never to be broken – at least that’s the plan, until a sudden moment of violence changes everything and Rainn and Trey’s relationship is torn apart.
Returning to his hometown after seven years, Rainn finds that everything is different now, not least where Trey is concerned. Having moved in with his cousin, Marcie, and her husband, Dave, he tries to pick up the threads of his old life as best he can and make the most of the second chance he’s been given.
The holiday season is a time for remembrance and forgiveness for past mistakes, and while volunteering at a Christmas dinner for the homeless, Rainn has an unexpected opportunity to rekindle the bond between himself and Trey.
The Dragon Bond
Elizabeth Coldwell © 2021
All Rights Reserved
December 23, 2009
He would remember this evening for the rest of his life. The strings of colored lights twinkling in the window, the industrial rock playing on the battered old boom box and, most of all, the scratch of the needle as it traced over his shoulder blade.
It hurt, but not in the way he’d been expecting. This was a good pain, not like the time he’d fallen while climbing a tree at the age of six and broken his wrist. That had been agony, and even though the fracture had long since healed, he still recalled how he’d yelled for his mom as he nursed his injured arm. Now, as the tattoo artist continued to work and the machine buzzed, endorphins kicked in and Rainn felt high, the way he did when he ran for miles through the woods surrounding the town.
Still, he couldn’t believe he’d agreed to this. When he and Trey met up, Rainn had expected their usual Friday night out. A couple of beers at O’Malley’s and then a good, hard, bedspring-rattling fuck in Trey’s apartment or Rainn’s bedroom in the home he shared with his mother. Even, if they couldn’t wait until they made it to either of those places, the back seat of Trey’s car. So, when Trey turned to him, blue eyes shining, and said, “I’ve got something special in mind for us. It’s my Christmas present to you,” he hadn’t known what to expect.
As they drove, Trey went on, “You know this is our six-month anniversary, right?”
Rainn nodded. He couldn’t believe the time had passed so quickly since the night he’d looked up from the pool table in the back room of O’Malley’s and seen the tall, dark-haired stranger standing in the doorway, clutching a bottle of Sam Adams. When their eyes met, Rainn had felt an instant connection. He knew it sounded crazy to talk about love at first sight—that didn’t exist outside those soppy Hallmark movies his mom watched—but even then, he’d known this guy was the one.
He hadn’t bothered to finish his game of pool. He’d stuck his cue back in the rack on the wall, walked over to the stranger, and said, “I’ve not seen you in here before.” Not much of a pickup line, but it had worked. Five minutes later, he and Trey had been sitting at one of the bar’s rickety tables, talking and laughing like they’d known each other all their short lives. They’d had their first kiss on the way out to Trey’s cherry-red Nova. They hadn’t stopped kissing, or laughing, since.
“So, you’re taking me for dinner at that fancy French place on Cooper Street?” Rainn asked, pondering the nature of Trey’s surprise. “Or maybe you’ve booked us into that swanky B and B over in Winchester, the one where they bring you breakfast in bed in the morning?”
Trey snorted. “On my wages? You know I’d love to, Rainn, but even with the overtime I’m putting in right now—” Trey had a job in the canning plant on the road out to Winchester, stacking boxes in the delivery warehouse. Hard work had given him a physique Rainn never tired of admiring, with firm biceps and a flat, well-toned belly, but it didn’t pay anywhere near well enough for expensive treats.
“It’s okay, I’m only teasing,” Rainn assured him. “As long as I have you, I’d be happy with a ham and swiss on rye at Dottie’s diner and a night camping out under the stars.”
“Well, it’s the wrong time of year for sleeping under canvas,” Trey pointed out. “There’s snow on the ground, or hadn’t you noticed?”
“When you’re around, I can’t pay attention to anything else but you. So, come on, what’s the surprise?”
“Another minute and we’ll be there. Oh great, looks like there’s a parking spot right outside…” Trey flashed his turn signal and brought the car to a halt.
The part of Prospect they were in had seen better times. Many of the stores on this stretch of Main Street had signs on the windows advertising clearance sales or, in the case of what had been a video rental place, had gone out of business altogether. At first, Rainn couldn’t understand why Trey would bring him here. Was he trying to score drugs for the two of them, or get them both robbed? Then Rainn registered the name on the storefront where they’d parked—Hellheart Ink—and the vivid designs etched on the plate glass window.
“This…is a tattoo parlor.”
“Well, ten out of ten for the deduction work, Sherlock.” Trey grinned and pushed a stray lock of black hair out of his eyes. “Come on. Our appointment’s for seven o’clock sharp, and Hunter doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
“You booked us…” Rainn sat, trying to process what Trey had said. Hadn’t he once told Trey he hated the fad for tattoos? All those Chinese characters that didn’t mean what their wearer thought they did, and those cheap-looking tramp stamps so many girls had inked just above the crack of their ass… There’s making a bad decision, and then there’s making one that’s bad and permanent. No thank you. “I don’t want to go ahead with this.”
“I know what you said, Rainn, but Hunter’s an artist. And I’ve asked him for a design that means something to us. Something to show how strong the bond between us really is.” Trey placed his hand on Rainn’s and gave his fingers a gentle squeeze. “A good tattoo doesn’t fade, and neither will my love for you.”
Coming from anyone else, the line would have made Rainn throw up in his mouth a little, but he knew Trey to be sincere. “So, this design…”
“We’ll talk about it inside. Hey, you trust me, don’t you?” Trey got out of the car before Rainn could make any other objections. Sighing, and still unsure he was doing the right thing, Rainn unbuckled his seat belt before following Trey inside the store.
Hellheart Ink was brightly lit, with a couch running along one wall where clients could wait for their appointments, and posters showing all manner of tattoo designs, from well-known cartoon characters to elaborate Celtic knots. Rainn tried his best to ignore the faint antiseptic smell of the room and the anxiety churning in his gut.
You trust me, don’t you? Of course, he did. What he and Trey had was special, and he knew his lover wouldn’t do anything to hurt him or make any decision on his behalf that might have unpleasant consequences.
“Hey, how can I help you?” The short, shaven-headed man who greeted them was a walking billboard for his own services. He wore a black tank top that revealed both his arms were tattooed all the way to his shoulders, and his left earlobe was stretched by a silver tunnel piercing. “I’m Hunter.”
“Trey. And this is Rainn.” Trey gestured to Rainn, who uttered a quiet hello. “We have an appointment for seven o’clock.”
“Sure, come through.” As Hunter led them deeper into the shop, Rainn wondered if there was time to change their minds. Does Trey really want to go through with this? Do I?
The back room of the shop contained an industrial black tattooing chair, designed to allow the person being inked to sit in comfort while giving Hunter access to all parts of their body, and padded bench seating along one wall. Trey and Rainn sat, while Hunter picked up a ring binder and set it on the bench beside Trey.
“Before we go any further,” Hunter said, “I need to make sure neither of you is under the influence of drink or drugs right now. If you are, then I’m sorry but, legally, I can’t tattoo you.”
“No, we’re both good,” Trey assured him.
“Great, well, why don’t you take a look through the designs and find something you like?”
“Oh, I already know what we want,” Trey said, surprising Rainn even further. “This one here.” He had flipped through the pages of the binder, and now he pointed to a stylized image of a Chinese dragon in solid black, with long, sinuous curves and a burst of flame issuing from its snout.
“Good choice,” Hunter commented.
Why a dragon? Rainn wanted to ask, but Trey was already outlining the reasons for his choice. “Yeah, I like it because it’s simple but it’s classy, you know? And I read somewhere the dragon is supposed to be the Chinese symbol of good luck and prosperity—and we could all do with a bit of that, right?” He winked at Rainn. “But most important, Rainn and I were both born in 1988, which is the year of the dragon.”
“Is that right?” Rainn had never paid the least attention to horoscopes or fortune-telling or any of that mumbo jumbo. Basing your life around something that might happen simply because you’d been born on a certain day of the year didn’t make any sense to him.
Trey nodded. “And I wanted something special to both of us. To show we have a bond that can’t be broken.”
“Okay, so now we’ve decided on the design, which one of you is going first?” Hunter asked.
“I will.” Rainn hadn’t realized he’d spoken until the words were out. He hadn’t intended on volunteering, but deep down he must have wanted to get this over with.
“Right, if you want to get in the chair and make yourself comfortable.” Hunter started looking through his stencils to find the one he needed; then he turned back to Rainn. “Wait, where did you say you wanted the tattoo again?”
“I didn’t.” Before Trey could make the decision for him, Rainn said, “On my shoulder blade.” That way, if he had any regrets, the tattoo wouldn’t be somewhere he could see it unless he looked in the mirror. More importantly, it wouldn’t alert other people to how foolish he’d been to let Trey talk him into this.
“Sure. And the same for you?” Hunter looked over at Trey.
“Yeah.” Trey smiled at Rainn as he spoke. “Exactly the same.”
Rainn had stripped off his shirt and sat in the chair so that his back faced outward.
“Right, the first thing I’m going to do is clean the area…”
He caught a faint smell of rubbing alcohol before Hunter wiped the skin he was about to tattoo. Then the stencil was applied to his shoulder. Rainn took deep, slow breaths, doing his best to center himself. This would only hurt more if he was tense.
Hunter set rock music playing, the beat heavy and insistent. It did nothing to drown out the high-pitched buzz of the tattoo machine somewhere near Rainn’s ear.
“I’m not going to tell you this isn’t going to hurt,” Hunter said, “but if it gets too much for you at any point, I want you to be sure and let me know.”
The needle bit into his skin, and Rainn swallowed a curse. For a moment, heat flared in his nerve endings, but then it died away, only for the sensation to be repeated a split second later. At first, he didn’t know how he would endure this. Then the pain ebbed and sweetened, and he realized everything was going to be fine. Trey wouldn’t make him face something he couldn’t handle. Like he’d said when they’d walked in, this was all about trust.
Tears pricked Rainn’s eyes, and he swiped them away, hoping Trey hadn’t noticed.
“You okay there, buddy?” Hunter asked, concern clear in his tone. His voice sounded like it came from a long way away. Rainn supposed it wasn’t unusual for people to cry on the tattoo table, but it wasn’t pain making him emotional. It was love for Trey, pure and simple.
“I’m fine,” he muttered and closed his eyes.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Coldwell is a multi-published author and the former editor of the UK edition of Forum magazine, where she was responsible for publishing a number of now very well-known authors for the first time, as well as honing her own writing.
She lives in East London, is a season ticket holder at Rotherham United, and a keen cook. Her recipe for peanut butter brownies is available if you ask nicely… Learn more on Elizabeth’s Website.