“Faolan! Put me down this instant!” Keeley said angrily. His face was heated with begrudging arousal and embarrassment as the other man carried him up the stairs toward his room.
“Keep your voice down. You’ll wake the whole house.”
“Please…Faolan!” Keeley protested, his voice quieter, pleading.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Faolan walked past Rian and Larkin, who had come out onto the landing to see what the commotion was all about. Faolan whisked past them without a word and Keeley looked away, mortified at what a sight they must look- him being carried along like a petulant child over Faolan’s shoulder. Rian and Larkin blinked at them in surprise and exchanged knowing, amused glances as they watched Faolan take Keeley to his room and shut the door behind them with a resounding slam.
“About time, isn’t it?” Rian said with a smile, glancing up at Larkin. The blonde cocked an eyebrow at him and the two men went off to pursue their own agenda of pleasure.
Once alone in Faolan’s room, Keeley found himself deposited none too gently on his bed.
“You can’t bully me into being with you!” Keeley shouted defiantly.
Faolan stared down at him with a look that made the young man shut his mouth. “That’s not what this is about and you know it,” Faolan said. “You’re letting fear rule your life.” As he spoke, Faolan began tugging at the cravat about his neck and unbuttoning his waistcoat.
Keeley’s eyes flashed to the door, wondering if Faolan had locked it and if he could make it to his room on the other side of the hall before the man caught him.
“Don’t even think about it,” the earl said, noticing his line of sight. “I’m faster than you are.”
Realizing there was no escape, Keeley’s heart began to pound wildly. He was certain that Faolan would take him and that it would pain him terribly. So why did his heart flutter at the sight of Faolan undressing himself at the edge of the bed? Why did he feel a yearning to touch him and yield to this man’s demands?
Faolan saw the emotions shift over Keeley’s face, from fear to anticipation and back again. Shrugging off his jacket, the earl tried to calm himself. He needed to be firm with the dark-haired boy, but he couldn’t be too forceful. Once Faolan had pulled his shirt over his head, he settled himself on the bed and slipped off Keeley’s shoes.
He allowed it, but shrank back when Faolan crawled up the bed to hover above him. Keeley felt enveloped by the other man’s presence. Faolan’s perfectly sculpted arms trapped him on either side, and Faolan’s unique scent invaded his nostrils. Staring at that firm, muscular chest, Keeley wondered what it would feel like beneath his fingers. Then he remembered he was supposed to be resisting and moved back another inch or two. It did him little good—he’d backed himself against the headboard and had no more room to move.
Faolan’s impossibly deep green eyes stared down at him before he dipped his head and nuzzled the curve of Keeley’s neck.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” Faolan whispered against his ear.
“Faolan…” Keeley said, in a voice choked with conflict.
“Hush now, love.”
He slowly worked Keeley’s clothing loose and his lips blessed every new inch of skin that revealed itself. Beneath his mouth, Keeley’s chest rose and fell rapidly, unable to catch his breath. When Faolan’s hot tongue darted across his nipple, he yelped in surprise. Keeley had been unaware that this particular part of his anatomy was so sensitive.
Pleased with his reaction, Faolan clamped his lips about the small nub and sucked, occasionally flicking him with his tongue.
Keeley shuddered and yanked at Faolan’s fiery locks. “Wait!” he gasped. With every touch, his defenses crumbled a little bit more. Faolan ran a hand up and down the length of Keeley’s, soothing him. His mouth made a wet trail back up Keeley’s chest and clamped down over his neck.
Though Faolan could feel Keeley’s body responding to him, his will was still stubbornly clinging to his restraint. Faolan noted that Keeley’s breathing remained erratic. His body shivered and his fingers clung to Faolan’s arms in desperation.
“Trust me, Keeley,” Faolan told him, touching his fingers gently to Keeley’s face. Wavering blue eyes pierced Faolan with their fear and uncertainty. A sudden, sweet ache filled Faolan’s heart and he closed his mouth over Keeley’s, searing his lips with a kiss.
Keeley whimpered and responded instinctively, opening his mouth and inviting deeper exploration. Feeling the tension slowly draining from the young man’s body, Faolan worked Keeley with his lips until his arms wrapped themselves about his neck and pulled him closer.
All at once, Keeley remembered how much he had loved being near this man. It seemed like forever since he’d been in Faolan’s arms, since he’d felt that exquisite mouth eating away at his own. A deep warmth began to spread through Keeley’s body and he sighed contentedly.
For several minutes, Faolan continued to kiss him, gently and insistently, but the walls between them had not been completely dissolved just yet.
His passions flaring, Faolan moved his hands down Keeley’s body and hooked his thumbs into the waist of Keeley’s pants, tugging gently. Immediately, Keeley stilled. Faolan tugged again and Keeley broke his mouth away.
“Wait, Faolan! I’m not ready!” Keeley said, his voice laced with panic.
“No, I will not. It’s time. I’ll take care of you, I promise.” With strong hands, Faolan stripped him bare even as Keeley squirmed and fought against him. When Faolan then divested himself of his own breeches, Keeley’s anxiety soared. He tried to scramble from the bed, but Faolan had him pinned in seconds.
Faolan held Keeley down with his body and waited for him to stop struggling.
“Why do you want to hurt me?” Keeley pleaded, breathing hard.
“I won’t hurt you, Keeley. I promise, I’ll be gentle with you,” Faolan told him, kissing along the line of his chin, “and by the end you’ll be begging me for more.”
Keeley’s arms broke free and pushed against him, but he was trembling and had no strength. “Liar,” he whispered.
Faolan realized his words were useless. If Keeley would not listen to him, he would simply have to show him the truth of his words. Slowly, Faolan slid a hand between their bodies until he reached the small patch of coarse, black hair near the apex of Keeley’s thighs. Faolan heard his breath hitch. Keeley was swollen and hard despite his protests.
Keeley’s words were cut off as Faolan closed his lips over Keeley’s mouth once more and began to stroke his stiff erection. Faolan’s skillful touch coaxed Keeley’s body into a state of anguished need. When Faolan nipped at the sensitive column of his throat, Keeley cried out in a raspy voice that betrayed his desire. He found himself unable to fight the overwhelming wave of passion that crashed about him. Keeley was just too inexperienced to process the adrenaline and euphoria that rushed through him and was forced to simply hang on and ride the tide.
Faolan pumped him to the brink of orgasm, then abruptly slowed his pace. Keeley groaned in frustration. He felt Faolan shift his weight and briefly wondered what he was reaching for under the bed. Keeley used the moment to try and regain his composure, holding a hand over his eyes and taking in a long breath. Why did this feel so different than before? Shouldn’t he be scared? But he wasn’t. When Faolan settled over him once more, he felt a warm, firm pressure pushed up against his portal.
The sensation flooded Keeley’s mind with images of the Bishop and the memory of the tearing, ripping pain that had invaded him when the horrible man had impaled him. “Ahh! Stop!” Keeley cried. He shoved and pushed with all his strength. Faolan wound his fingers about Keeley’s wrists, trying to sooth and still him.
“Hush, Keeley. I’ve got you,” Faolan urged. His patience was strained by Keeley’s wildly fluctuating emotions, not that he could blame him. Faolan managed to keep his voice smooth and calming, but Keeley still could not erase the feelings of helplessness and humiliation that welled inside him. He continued to squirm even though it was quite apparent that his efforts were useless. Faolan held him fast, though he advanced no further.
As the two men remained poised for coitus, yet incomplete, Keeley calmed enough to sense another part of himself that was struggling to be heard. Deep within him, past his fear and doubt, there was a subtle thrill building in his bones as he felt the figure above him press between his thighs. Part of him secretly yearned to discover what lay in store for him if he gave into Faolan’s demanding persuasions.
Slowly, Keeley opened his eyes and dared a glance at Faolan above him. His breath caught in his throat. Faolan’s forehead was beaded with sweat and his face was strained with the effort of holding back when his whole body screamed for him to plunge inside Keeley’s tight channel.
In that moment, he realized he was the one with the power. Faolan could be pushy as hell, but he was no tyrant; he would not take Keeley’s choice from him. The last of Keeley’s resistance melted. Faolan wanted him and, if Keeley was honest with himself, he knew he wanted Faolan, too. Yet he had let his fear control him. He’d allowed Rudwig’s cruelty to scar not only his body, but his emotions- his heart. Faolan had been good to him, but Keeley had punished him for the Bishop’s sins. Tears pricked the corners of Keeley’s eyes. He slipped a hand from Faolan’s grasp and reached up to touch his face.
Faolan felt the touch of Keeley’s fingers on his cheek with surprise. His emerald depths locked with Keeley’s crystal blue eyes, and he saw that Keeley’s face was no longer clouded with apprehension and anxiety. He felt Keeley’s thighs open and his body yield to him as Keeley whispered, “I trust you.”
A smile slipped over Faolan’s lips and he licked at Keeley’s tears. It gave him untold pleasure to hear those few words. Then, with all the patience Faolan could muster, he slowly inched into Keeley’s body. Keeley noticed a slick sensation that eased the man’s passage and realized Faolan had been oiling himself when he had pulled away from him earlier.
Faolan gritted his teeth and somehow managed not to rush his progress, letting Keeley’s body gradually adjust to his considerable girth. He let out a sigh of relief when he was finally, blissfully buried to the hilt.
Beneath him, Keeley did his best to remain relaxed and was amazed when the pain he feared did not come. Although Faolan’s arousal felt odd inside him and stretched him uncomfortably, it was nothing at all like what he had experienced before. Though he couldn’t go so far as to say he enjoyed it, the invasion didn’t hurt him.
“Hold on tight,” Faolan whispered.
Faolan had begun to move and, in that instant, everything changed. Keeley’s eyes went wide as a new, unbelievable ecstasy suddenly burst inside him. Faolan’s cock brushed something deep within his body that sent a spark of electric pleasure running up his spine. He’d never felt anything like it.
“Oh, God,” Keeley moaned. What was that?
Withdrawing slightly, Faolan then plunged into him again- and again Keeley found himself awash in a delirium of pleasure. He never would have imagined the same act that had hurt him so terribly could elicit such brilliant ecstasy.
Faolan drank in each sigh from Keeley’s sweet, panting lips, peppering his face with kisses. His arms moved down to hold him tightly as he slipped in and out of Keeley’s body. Faolan moved with slow, powerful thrusts and wondered at how perfect Keeley felt beneath him. All of his previous conquests seemed shallow and incomplete compared to the feeling of joining his body with Keeley’s own. His composure started to slip as he lost himself in the feeling of making love to the young man clinging to him so urgently.
Thrusting now with more force, Faolan was rewarded with a series of ever-increasing moans from his new lover. When Keeley willingly wrapped his legs about his waist and started to sway to his rhythm, the last shreds of Faolan’s self-control fell away. Faolan gave himself over completely to the desire that had been straining to break free since the moment he’d seen the young man walk into his ballroom on All Hallow’s Eve.
With a groan, Faolan proceeded to take Keeley with a furious, unrelenting passion. Both men were overcome by the intensity of their coupling, realizing only then the extent to which they both had been holding back their feelings. Faolan had never been so consumed by his desire. He wanted to slow down and take his time loving the young man in his arms, but his need was too raw and too strong now that it had been unleashed- and Keeley seemed equally enthralled.
As Faolan’s climax stole over him, he felt as if it had come too quickly and at the same time, as if he had been waiting breathlessly his entire life for this release. He crushed Keeley to him and poured forth into his hot channel, calling Keeley’s name as he came. The sensation of filling Keeley with the essence of his lust somehow made Faolan feel that he had marked him as his own and he enjoyed the feeling of possession.
When Faolan’s mind cleared from the haze of passion that had surrounded him, he realized to his regret that he had come before bringing his partner to release. He shifted and, to his surprise, felt a warm stickiness over his belly. Glancing down, Faolan saw that Keeley had managed to come without his assistance. The friction of their bodies and Keeley’s overwhelming rapture had been enough to send him over the edge.
Looking into Keeley’s face, Faolan saw that he had shut his eyes. His lips were parted and he was breathing hard. Faolan felt his chest swell with warmth and worry as he gazed into Keeley’s face. He brushed aside sweaty tendrils of raven-black hair that stuck stubbornly to Keeley’s pale cheeks.
“Keeley,” Faolan said softly, placing a light kiss over his lips, “are you all right?”
“Mmm…” he murmured. “Can we do it again?”
After their intimate encounter, Keeley and Faolan came to an understanding. Despite the disquieting feeling of watchfulness that continued around the estate, the days of winter were spent in relative peace. Faolan and Keeley’s relationship bloomed in the frigid world, even as everything over the land withered and slept until spring. Later, both men would look back on those days as being some of the most peaceful they had ever spent together and would long for the simplicity of those times. For now, they were still ignorant about the true nature of the presence that watched them.
During those winter months, Keeley explored the pleasures of sex and willingly encouraged the earl’s advances. Faolan was thrilled that the young man was relaxing into their relationship and enjoyed exploiting his openness. Keeley was so wonderfully responsive. Every touch and caress opened a new realm of previously unknown ecstasy.
Keeley never knew he could feel this way—had never even imagined that such rapture could be elicited from within his body. Moreover, he thrilled at feeling Faolan’s masterful, reassuring hands caressing him and the man’s solid body pressing him down into the mattress. Months ago he would have thought he’d feel terrified, but Keeley’s trust in Faolan had grown deep. His helplessness simply pushed his ecstasy higher. He knew Faolan would see to his pleasure, and that he could abandon his body to him completely. He even enjoyed when the man was slightly rough with him, and finally began to understand the relationship between Rian and Larkin.
As they lounged in bed together, Keeley kissed Faolan, the man’s lips tasting sweet against his own. Keeley remembered what it had been like when he first came to live with the other man, when he had been so lost and Faolan’s kisses so soothing and intoxicating. Things had gotten so complicated after that, and so many things had happened. Keeley was grateful that he’d been able to come out of his struggles whole and he owed most of his well-being to Faolan.
His lust ignited by Keeley’s kiss, Faolan tumbled the boy down into the sheets. What little clothing they had worn to bed, Faolan quickly disposed of. His hands swept over Keeley’s naked body, and the young man moaned. Knowing that Keeley had already been warmed up by their earlier session of lovemaking, Faolan felt no need to hold back.
Impatient for his conquest, the earl flipped Keeley onto his stomach and held him down with strong hands. Keeley was utterly incapacitated. He lay flat on the mattress as Faolan straddled his body, the man’s knees pushing Keeley’s thighs together. Faolan pressed his hard cock between the inviting cheeks of his lover’s ass. His shaft was already slick from oil and he slipped against the tight bud of Keeley’s entrance teasingly. Keeley gasped, trembling with need.
“Please, Faolan!” he begged.
“Please, what, love?”
Keeley whimpered, but Faolan held back, wanting to hear the words.
“Please …” Keeley groaned softly, face flushing, “I want you inside me!”
Finally giving in, Faolan pushed forward, burying himself inside the young man’s tight body. When he started to move, Keeley tore at the sheets with desperate hands. It was the only movement his body was allowed as Faolan trapped his legs and began to slip in and out of his body.
A lightening-hot, searing pleasure crashed over Keeley every time Faolan plunged inside him, but it was not enough. The position didn’t allow deep enough penetration to satisfy him, and he reached back to push against the man until Faolan leaned back and gave him room to adjust himself. Faolan felt the breath catch in his throat as Keeley lifted himself to his knees, presenting his ass high in the air and arching his back invitingly. Within seconds Faolan had his hands in a vise-like grip around his hips and was ramming into him with all his strength, causing Keeley to nearly scream in pleasure. Even then, Keeley was rocking his pelvis and slamming back to meet the Faolan’s thrusts, unable to ever feel him deep enough.
When Faolan reached around to grip Keeley’s rigid erection, it took only a few pumps before Keeley’s orgasm hit him—hard and violently.
Faolan allowed himself release then, thrusting into Keeley’s body until his own exquisite climax enveloped him. Once he had pulled out of the young man’s body, Faolan collapsed onto the bed in a heap of glowing, sleepy satisfaction. Faolan looked down at him with a smile. Keeley’s tousled raven locks had fallen across his face, as they so often seemed to do, and he reached out to gently brush them aside. Keeley’s sleeping face was a study in peace and contentment. Curling up around the warm, lithe body, Faolan knew he’d fallen hopelessly for the young man. Absentmindedly, he grazed his fingertips over Keeley’s milky-pale skin until eventually, Faolan fell asleep at his side.
Keeley woke in the early hours of the morning. He pulled the sheets about his body as he sat up, looking out the window at the newly risen sun. The sight was lovely, but his mind was restless.
Winter’s hold on the land melted away, bringing the promise of spring, but Keeley had begun to feel a slight nagging in the back of his mind. He wanted the carefree days he was spending with Faolan to last forever, but he could feel a shift in the air with the coming of spring. The world seemed to be moving again, as if everything had been held still in the cold of winter—except for him and Faolan.
Now the world was waking again and with it, some of Keeley’s worries came back to him. He wondered when the Society would receive its next assignment. He wondered why he was still uneasy about the broken locket tucked away in his desk, but more than anything, he wondered about Faolan’s secrets. In the bliss of discovering the joys of intimacy and sex, he’d forgotten how little the earl spoke about himself, and now unanswered questions surrounding the handsome man resurfaced.
A knock suddenly sounded at the door. Keeley wondered if Rian had heard them and anticipated an early breakfast, as he had done occasionally before.
“Faolan, are you awake?” a voice asked through the door.
It was Larkin, which could only mean that it was a pressing matter. He disliked rising early.
“Let him in, Keeley,” Faolan replied, suddenly wide awake.
Keeley nodded and, wrapping a sheet tighter about his naked body, stepped across the room to open the door.
“A letter came this morning,” Larkin said, stepping into the room without preliminaries. “I think you’d better take a look. I sent Rian off to start preparations for breakfast. It will be ready soon. Will you come down?”
“Of course,” Faolan said. “We’ll be down in a few moments.”
Larkin nodded and turned to leave, almost bumping into Keeley, who he hadn’t noticed in his rush. Keeley nearly lost his hold on the sheet and blushed furiously as the other man looked him over and gave him a wink before slipping out the door.
Faolan watched the exchange and chuckled, but his humor was short-lived. His dreams had been confusing, and Larkin’s unusual anxiousness did not bode well.
Breakfast was strained. Faolan would not turn to the letter until they had all had a proper meal and were fully awake and aware. Larkin sat impatiently until—finally—the plates had been cleared away and Faolan said, “Hand me the letter.”
Larkin did so, then sat back and waited for his friend’s reaction. Faolan’s eyes read the envelope and narrowed.
Rian, who had been asked to join them at the table, noted the subtle signs of unease in his master’s eyes.
“What does it say?” Keeley asked, unable to restrain himself in the heavy silence.
“It is addressed to ‘The Society of the Scarlet Butterfly.’”
Keeley noted Rian’s surprise at the pronouncement and saw the grave look in the other men’s eyes. “Is that bad?” he asked, perplexed by their solemn attitudes.
Faolan did not reply, but slowly, and with great care, broke the seal on the envelope and drew out the letter within. His eyes scanned it quickly, before he read aloud. “To all members of The Society, His Lordship, Sir McKenna requests your presence this evening at Donegal Manor, on an important matter requiring your assistance. Sincerely, your humble servant, Kane McKenna.”
Faolan stopped. “That’s all.”
“Well, that’s rather vague, isn’t it?” Larkin said, sounding irritated.
“Yes,” Faolan replied thoughtfully. “It is.”
“May I see the letter?” Larkin asked. Faolan passed it to him across the table, and when the paper touched the blond’s hand, he shivered.
The writing was strange and the paper had an odd luminescence, but that was not what disturbed him. The letter itself had an evil aura about it and it reminded Larkin of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“Can I see it too?” Keeley asked, curious as to the other men’s reaction to what seemed to be a simple, innocuous piece of paper.
Larkin quickly glanced at Faolan, who nodded, before handing the invitation to him.
Rian took everything in, but said nothing. He might not have had the extrasensory skills of Larkin and his master, but he knew them well enough to know they were unsettled.
Glancing over the words and finding nothing unusual, Keeley shrugged. “So we have a new mission, I suppose?”
“Possibly,” Faolan replied, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands before him.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s more in the letter than is being said.”
“Isn’t it just someone seeking the Society’s help?” Keeley asked, wondering at the solemn faces around him.
“That is doubtful.”
“I don’t understand. Why?”
Faolan explained, “For a start, no one outside the circle knows our name. We choose our cases. They do not choose us.”
“But what if someone did find out, and they do need help?” Keeley persisted.
Faolan suppressed a smile. Despite his misgivings about the invitation, he was happy to see that Keeley’s (albeit naïve) trust in people had been restored. The boy had been so cynical after the incident with Rudwig.
“I wish it were so simple, Keeley,” Faolan told his young lover. “However, to openly address the letter to our Society sends us a specific message: I know who you are. I know your secrets. Which means this man can share those secrets with whomever he pleases, if we decide not to comply with his ‘request.’”
Keeley frowned. He felt the earl was being too suspicious.
“Also,” Larkin interjected, “it’s addressed to ‘all members of the Society.’ A curious way to phrase it, wouldn’t you say?”
“That sounds a little paranoid to me,” Keeley said.
“One can never be too careful in this business,” Faolan told him.
With a sigh of frustration, Keeley sat back and made no other reply.
“Donegal Manor,” Larkin said after a moment. “Didn’t it burn down several years ago? I hadn’t heard that anyone had purchased the property.”
“Nor I,” Faolan replied.
“This doesn’t bode well.”
“What will you do, master?” Rian asked, speaking for the first time.
Faolan seemed to consider this and sat silent for several moments. “Larkin, you will stay here with Keeley. Rian, you and I will visit this Sir McKenna.”
“Very well,” Larkin replied. However, as Faolan and Rian prepared to depart later that day, the blond came to his friend and spoke with him alone.
“There is something wrong with this whole situation,” he said. “You can feel it too, can’t you?”
“Yes,” Faolan said simply.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
Faolan shook his head. “No. It’s better not to have us all gathered in one place, and someone needs to stay and protect Keeley, should anything happen while we’re away.”
Immediately, Larkin thought of the awful day of the young man’s abduction. “Yes, of course.”
“Good, I’m counting on you.”
“There was something in particular about the invitation that disturbed me, though,” Larkin said after a moment, “and I have finally realized what it was. Faolan, the letter—its aura reeks of the presence that’s been hovering over us for so long.”
“Does it?” Faolan asked, looking concerned.
“Surely you sense it?”
“The closer we get to that power, my friend, the more my foresight fails me. I suspect that this Sir McKenna may be the one who is hindering me. If he is, he may know something about my … arrangement with Her Majesty.”
“Why do you say that?” Larkin asked.
“Because the only way for someone to be capable of blocking my intuition is if they somehow knew the source of my power.”
“That would mean a link with the Faerie realm,” Larkin deduced. “Then, you guess this person may not be human?”
Larkin paused, then shook his head. “I don’t like this, Faolan. The more you tell me, the more my instincts warn me that things are slowly raveling out of our control.”
“We’ve known that for quite some time, haven’t we?”
The earl gave his friend a bitter smile and squeezed his shoulder before exiting the room. Larkin watched him go, his mind in turmoil.
* * *
Reining in his horse, Faolan pointed to the stone, castle-like structure sitting high on the moor ahead and turned to Rian. “There it is. Not very inviting, wouldn’t you say?”
Rian chuckled, “No, Sir.”
To call the view uninviting was an understatement. The land surrounding the manor had grown wild and untamed during the years it lay abandoned, and the current resident seemed little concerned about clearing the overgrowth. The manor itself showed no more promise. As the two men drew closer, Rian could see where the stone on the upper stories had worn and cracked. The building still looked scorched and black from the fire that had swept through years before, and only a faint, eerie glow emanated from the ground floor windows.
A valet greeted them as they pulled their horses up to the front gates. The man looked as worn as the castle behind him.
“My master is expecting you,” the wizened figure told them. “You may see yourself to the door.” The man turned his back and led the horses away. His manner was abrupt and both men found it strange that there seemed to be no sign of other servants to greet them.
As they made their way up the broad stone steps to the tall front door, the men exchanged looks. The expression in Faolan’s eyes warned his young valet to be on alert.
Seeing no bell, Faolan rapped the wooden door with his knuckles and heard the sound echo on the other side.
After a long moment, the huge door opened, grinding on its hinges with an unpleasant squeal of protest.
“Welcome, gentlemen,” said a voice within, though the light inside was so dim they could not discern the face of the man greeting them. “Do come in.”
Though Rian felt uneasy, his master stepped inside with such surety and confidence that it bolstered his own courage. He followed.
Rian was rarely rattled. He’d seen many strange things in his time with the earl, but when he stepped inside the stone building, he had the unsettling sensation that he was walking into a tomb.
The door shut behind him with a loud clang and they were left in darkness, despite the daylight outside. A candelabra suddenly flared to life and a man appeared before them. His handsome face grinned at them and, through some trick of the light, the man’s keen eyes seemed to flicker with an inner glow that rivaled the candle’s flames.
“I am the man who summoned you, Kane McKenna,” the man said, bowing gracefully. The candelabra remained completely still in his hand as he did so. “I’m very pleased to see you have accepted my invitation, Earl O’Callaghan.”
“I am honored,” Faolan replied, bowing in turn.
“Please forgive the inhospitable atmosphere of my home. I’ve only recently acquired the manor and haven’t enough help. It will take some time to restore it to its former glory.” Glancing behind the earl, Kane caught Rian’s eye. “I was expecting four of you.”
So he even knows our number, Faolan thought with some unease.
“No matter. Let us retire to the main hall. I have a fire started there. It may be spring, but the air is still chilly.”
Indeed, the air within the stone building seemed uncommonly cold. Rian shivered.
As they were led down a short passageway, Faolan studied the man from behind. He had a slender, willowy frame that belied the power Faolan could feel emanating from him.
The hallway ended and they entered a large hall with a high, arched ceiling. A fire burned brightly on the wide hearth. Several high-backed velvet chairs were set close to the fire, and the floor was covered in ornate rugs.
Setting the candelabra on the low table in the middle of the room, Kane motioned the other men to sit. Faolan watched the man as he situated himself in one of the chairs, the firelight framing him from behind.
Light came in from the high windows that lined the room on either side, but the glass was murky, and the sun filtering through them was weak. Still, it offered better lighting than the entranceway, and Faolan took the opportunity to study the man before him.
Though Kane also had red hair, it was a different shade than Faolan’s. The other man’s locks shone with a golden-red glimmer that almost seemed alive with its brilliance. As the earl examined him, he realized the shade was somehow familiar.
Suddenly, he recalled the fiery lock of hair that had been enclosed within Keeley’s locket. There was no doubt. It was exactly the same. Faolan calmed the rush of questions that abruptly flooded his mind, and focused on the present.
“Would you care for some wine?” Kane asked, his voice sugar-coated in civility, but Faolan could hear the arrogance beneath it.
Rian shook his head and Faolan similarly refused. With a shrug, Kane helped himself to a glass and sipped at it leisurely, deliberately making his guests wait.
“Did you have a good journey?” he asked.
“Why don’t we dispense with the pleasantries and get to the real reason you asked us here?”
Kane chuckled. “No polite pretenses, then. I like that. I prefer a direct approach, myself.
“I brought you here only to give you a choice. You see, I have been searching for someone for quite some time, and I believe him to now be in your keeping.”
“Is that so?” Faolan asked casually, though he was feeling far from calm.
“Yes. Now,” the man said, setting down his wine and leaning his chin on his neatly folded hands, “the choice before you is this: you can hand Keeley over to me willingly, or, you can make things rather difficult for yourself—and I will take him anyway.”
“Why even offer the choice then?” Faolan retorted. “Why not just try to take the boy by force in the first place?”
Kane appeared amused by these questions. He grinned at Faolan like a man humoring a child.
“I’m a patient man, Faolan,” Kane replied, picking up his wineglass again and holding it up. The liquid blazed a deep blood red in the firelight. “Everything has its time. Wine, for instance, requires the right set of circumstances and the right amount of time for it to ripen into a truly great vintage. I too have bided my time, until the right conditions presented themselves.”
Faolan disliked this inscrutable answer, and it disturbed him.
“I’d consider your decision very carefully, if I were you,” said Kane. The man leveled his dark eyes at Faolan challengingly and the earl saw an uncanny golden glow flicker in the cold depths. “If you cross me, I can’t be held accountable for what may happen to you.” With a flick of his wrist, Kane summoned a flame from the fire, and it curled obediently into his hand.
Faolan sucked in his breath, nearly inaudibly, but he knew the other man had caught his reaction, for he smiled.
So that was the answer to this man’s mystery, Faolan thought. He was an elemental, and a fire elemental at that. No wonder power seemed to radiate from him. But why would this man want to show me what he was? The earl wondered silently.
“I’m not asking you to make your choice now,” Kane said, his onyx eyes still fixed on Faolan as he smothered the flame in his palm. “You can give me your answer when I arrive at your estate. I will come for him…on the eve of Beltane.”
There was a lengthy pause, the silence stretching into the room. Although Kane’s command of fire was startling, Rian was more surprised by the alarm he had seen in the earl’s eyes at this last pronouncement.
“Come, Rian. We’re leaving,” Faolan said, standing abruptly. The young man stood quickly, then waited as his master paused.
“One question,” Faolan said, looking down on the fiery-haired man sitting so at ease before him. “Why do you want Keeley? What claim do you have on the boy?”
Rian had been sure Faolan would ask who (or what) the man really was, but the answer was the same, in any case.
Framed in the firelight, his golden-red hair shining, Kane McKenna grinned. The flames dancing about the man gave him a decidedly sinister glow.
“It’s simple,” he replied. “I’m his father.”
The quiet shades of night had fallen over the land by the time Faolan and Rian returned. The earl hadn’t spoken since they had left Kane, and Rian knew his master’s silence was a sign that he was troubled. They entered the estate quietly. Larkin made his way down the hall to meet them, immediately sensing the tension surrounding the two men.
As Faolan handed Rian his coat, he told him, “Check on Keeley and try to keep him occupied while I discuss matters with Larkin.”
Rian nodded and turned to leave, but Faolan called to him again. “Rian,” he said, lowering his voice, “not a word to Keeley.”
“Yes, Master. Of course,” Rian answered before leaving him.
Larkin wondered at the exchange. “What happened?” he asked as they walked together to Faolan’s private study.
Once the door had shut behind them, Larkin looked his friend in the eye. “Now give me a real answer.” He watched Faolan head for the decanter and knew something was wrong. The man rarely drank to soothe his nerves.
“I hardly know where to begin,” Faolan said. Larkin tried to be patient as Faolan shot back the whiskey before sitting down across from him.
“McKenna is after Keeley,” Faolan announced.
Faolan’s deep green eyes were grave as he spoke. “Apparently, the man is Keeley’s real father and, what’s more, he’s an elemental—a fire elemental.”
For a moment, Larkin merely stared at his friend in silent surprise. “Are you certain?” he finally asked.
“Unfortunately, yes. It was clearly his hair that was hidden in the locket Keeley’s mother gave to him and once you consider the possibility, everything else falls into place. As for the man’s abilities, there can be little doubt.”
Larkin looked troubled and unhappy. “This does not bode well for us. It’s no wonder our fortunes have been so ill lately, if he has been watching us and dogging our steps.”
“Indeed,” Faolan replied grimly. “It also explains Keeley’s ability to see soul-spirits.”
“It explains much more than that,” Larkin replied. “Kane probably set the fire at Donegal himself, just so he could set himself up at a location near to us.”
“Yes, but more importantly…” Faolan paused. When he spoke again, his voice was low and uneasy. “Do you recall how Keeley’s family was killed?”
Larkin thought for a moment, then his eyes widened. “Dear Lord…by fire!”
Faolan nodded. “My guess is that Keeley’s mother had an ill-fated affair with Kane and hid her pregnancy from him. The locket would have bound his powers and blinded him to the boy’s existence. Somehow, though, Kane must have regained his magics and learned the truth. When he did, he took revenge on the mortal woman who wronged him and her family, but somehow he failed to find Keeley—until now.”
“But what will he do with Keeley? What use could a mortal boy be to him, even if Keeley had a certain amount of power?”
“Most likely Keeley has more power than he realizes. Kane may be hoping to exploit it. With his strength, he could manipulate the boy easily enough. It would be a fun toy to have I suppose. But more than that, I think Kane simply feels that it is his right to have him and whatever he does with Keeley is his own business.”
“If Keeley does have latent powers, we could train him. He might be able to defend himself against this man.”
Faolan shook his head. “For Keeley to truly realize his power and cultivate it, he would need to be told everything, Larkin: everything. Do you really want to tell the boy that his mother betrayed his father with another, and that the same man murdered the rest of his beloved family?” Faolan sighed heavily. “I won’t hurt him with that information.”
“He’ll find out, Faolan. It would be better if he heard it from you.”
Shifting uncomfortably, Faolan replied, “Perhaps when this is all over. Right now, it would take Keeley too much time to process such information—and we don’t have that time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kane is determined to have Keeley, by force if necessary, and he’s coming for him…on the eve of Beltane.”
Larkin’s eyes went wide. The man was aware that this evening held special significance for the earl and that Faolan had never, never missed his appointment with the Queen on this night.
“So, he’s hoping to just take him when he knows you won’t be around?”
“Or…well, you know I can’t explain my situation with Her Majesty, but, let me just say that, whether I stay or leave, Kane will win in one respect or another. But one thing is certain: if I leave Keeley alone on that night, Kane will have him. And once he does, he could easily take him into a realm where we won’t be able to enter.”
“He won’t exactly be alone, Faolan. He’ll have Rian and I—and we still have time to secure the estate with any number of wards and protective spells. I’m sure—”
Faolan was shaking his head. “You’ve never fought an elemental, Lark. They are…different. Their power lives in the very foundations of the earth.”
“Then take Keeley with you.”
“It’s forbidden,” Faolan said sharply. The man steadied himself with a deep breath and softened his voice as he continued. “I can’t bring ‘guests’ with me when I visit her Highness.”
Larkin saw his friend’s distress and wished there was more he could do. “Could you not at least go to her before Beltane and plead for her to intercede? You are in her favor. She helped you with Far Dorocha after all.”
His expression sad, Faolan once again shook his head. “That was different,” he explained. “Far Dorocha is the Queen’s servant. When he attacked Keeley, he did so without her consent. Kane, however, is his own entity. Moreover, he has blood ties to Keeley. The Queen might even side with him.”
“I find that unlikely, but I will trust your judgment.”
The two friends sat in silence, gazing at the fire until Larkin broke the stillness. “I hate the feeling that our hands are tied.”
Sipping his drink, Faolan nodded in agreement. “Somehow, though, we will have to make the best of it. Whatever we face, I will never hand Keeley over to anyone.”
Larkin watched the firelight reflected in his friend’s brilliant green eyes and was surprised by the conviction in the man’s voice. He knew Faolan cared for Keeley, but he was beginning to see just how deep Faolan’s feelings for the boy truly were. It was clear to him that Faolan had made his decision to forgo his meeting with the Queen, and that there was nothing he could say to dissuade him. Still, a feeling of foreboding crept over him and Larkin could not shake it.
* * *
Keeley waited restlessly in his room. Rian had brought him tea after arriving back at the estate, but Keeley could get no information from him about the meeting with McKenna, and the servant wouldn’t let him leave to ask Faolan himself.
“He’s discussing matters with Larkin right now,” Rian had told him.
“Aren’t we all in the Society? Why is Faolan being so secretive?”
“I’m sure the earl has his reasons,” Rian replied, pouring the other boy a cup of tea. “Here, drink this. It will calm your nerves.”
“No, thank you,” Keeley said in a sharp voice, his temper growing. It frustrated him to no end that Rian appeared to be so content with being left out of the discussion taking place in Faolan’s study. But then again, Rian had been with the earl at Donegal Manor. He probably already knew all there was to know about the situation with McKenna. It was only Keeley it seemed, who was being purposefully excluded. Though his anger cloaked it, Keeley was actually worried. The sudden secretiveness gave him the feeling that something was most definitely wrong.
Rian stayed with him for a while, but when it was clear that Keeley would not talk with him unless the young man gave him information about the visit to McKenna’s, Rian removed himself and finally left Keeley alone.
Not long after, Faolan finally appeared at his door. Though the man tried to look unconcerned, Keeley could see the lines of worry along his brow.
“Tell me what happened,” Keeley said the moment Faolan stepped inside.
“Don’t I even get a kiss before my interrogation?” Faolan asked with a laugh.
Crossing his arms, Keeley stared at him defiantly. “I want to know what’s going on. If you had to speak with Larkin alone, then it means there’s something you want to hide from me.”
Faolan sighed inwardly. He did not want to have to deal with Keeley’s temper tonight; there were too many things on his mind. It didn’t help matters that what the boy said was true.
His teasing smiling fading, the earl stepped close to Keeley and cupped his pale cheek with one hand. “There are certain things I can’t tell to anyone, Keeley.”
“Not even to me? Not even when…” Keeley’s face went an adorable shade of pink. “When we share so many other things?”
“Even lovers keep certain secrets,” Faolan replied, much to Keeley’s displeasure.
“But you can talk with Larkin, isn’t that right?” the young man retorted hotly, pushing away Faolan’s hand.
“Larkin is an aura-reader. He has unique abilities and I needed his opinion.” It was close to the truth.
Keeley looked skeptical.
“The situation with Kane is complicated,” Faolan continued. “He’s extremely powerful. We have to be very careful how we proceed,” he explained cautiously.
Faolan put a finger to Keeley’s lips. “Hush,” he said in a sultry voice that made Keeley’s bones quiver. “We can talk more in the morning. Right now there are other, more pressing matters to attend to.” He illustrated his point by pulling Keeley against him so he could feel the evidence of his need.
“But…nnuhh!” Keeley whimpered, his resolve and anger crumpling as the other man rubbed his hips against his groin. Keeley clung to him, his body crying out for more even as his brain protested that Faolan was merely trying to distract him—and it was working.
Tilting Keeley’s chin, Faolan lowered his mouth to claim his soft, rosy lips. Keeley moaned. No matter how many times he kissed Faolan, he was always amazed at the ripple of excitement that rushed down his spine. With Faolan’s tongue exploring him, Keeley gave up all attempt at protest and simply gave into what his body burned for. Slipping his arms around Faolan’s neck, he pulled the man closer, encouraging the movement of his hips.
Soon, Faolan was sliding his tongue down Keeley’s throat and nipping at the racing pulse beneath his skin. Keeley felt a fire consuming him and he longed to be out of his clothes so Faolan could touch his naked skin. Pulling back, he began tugging at the buttons on his shirt, but Faolan stayed his hand.
“Not so hasty,” Faolan said with a grin. He sat down on the edge of the bed and positioned Keeley between his legs before him. Keeley gazed into his eyes with a hungry, glassy look full of wanting. “Let me undress you, slowly,” Faolan said softly.
Keeley watched as his lover peeled off each layer of clothing with deft hands and excruciatingly slow movements. Faolan let his fingertips drag across Keeley’s skin, teasing his nerves until Keeley was painfully aroused by even the slightest touch. There was something different in Faolan’s manners that night: a new, tender passion that made Keeley light-headed with desire.
“I want you,” Keeley said plaintively. Faolan had stripped him completely bare but simply sat gazing at him, making no move. His plea was sweet and completely without design or pretense, and it drove right through to Faolan’s heart and pierced it. Suddenly, Keeley was being pulled into Faolan’s lap, Faolan’s hands caressing him everywhere at once, then the touchof a hot, pulsing erection beneath him as Faolan freed himself. A heady moan escaped Keeley at the thought that he had the power to arouse his lover to such a degree. Wriggling against Faolan’s cock, Keeley whimpered with need.
“You’re intoxicating, my love,” Faolan said in a voice as secret and sensuous as the midnight black outside. He nuzzled Keeley’s neck as he spoke and the young man shivered, clinging to Faolan desperately.
“Take me,” Keeley whispered, flushing red at his own boldness. Though he was no longer an innocent in the matters of sex, Keeley was still frequently torn between the brazen lover he wanted to be and the shy, newly deflowered virgin he still was.
“Indeed, I will,” Faolan replied, oiling his shaft and positioning himself for penetration. Then, with one thrust, he drove deep within Keeley body, causing the boy to cry out in the sweet pleasure and pain of being so swiftly violated.
“Relax, love,” Faolan instructed brushing his fingers through Keeley’s hair and holding him against his chest. Though Keeley was often eager for Faolan to impale him, he was frequently overwhelmed by the experience and unknowingly tensed his muscles. Faolan found Keeley’s excitable nature endearing, but it was difficult to hold himself back once the young man’s tight passage was clamped around him so exquisitely.
Keeley took a deep, shuddering breath and his body relented. With a groan of satisfaction, Faolan began his conquest, thrusting his hips upward even as Keeley rocked his hips to meet him.
“Lord, yess!” Faolan hissed, his head falling back as he held Keeley’s slim waist captive. When he looked back at him, he saw Keeley watching him intently, a mixture of awe and heated desire in his sky blue eyes. Faolan impaled him again and Keeley’s eyes shut, his face contorted in consuming rapture.
“Look at me,” Faolan commanded as he took hold of Keeley’s erection and began to stroke him.
His face flushed, Keeley obeyed, but he could not hold his gaze for long, for each time Faolan rammed into his body, he was overcome with pleasure. Faolan’s lips closed over his own and he moaned into the man’s mouth as their tongues danced together.
“Now look at me,” Faolan said again, “and this time, don’t turn away. I want to see every wave of pleasure reflected in your eyes.”
Keeley mewled his passion and embarrassment as Faolan’s intense green eyes held him. He felt completely lost, suspended in a delirious world of ecstasy that held him captive until he was pushed beyond the boundaries and came in a shattering, blissful climax. His pearly-white essence spilled over Faolan’s hand and dripped down his belly.
As his orgasm flooded him, Keeley’s expression was so gorgeous and so filled with unbridled passion that Faolan found himself tumbling over the edge before he meant to—his ascent catching him off guard with its sudden, irresistible intensity.
When Keeley had collected himself, he was surprised to realize that Faolan had already spent himself inside him. The man’s sticky fluid slipped down Keeley’s thighs as he withdrew. Keeley looked at Faolan with a shy, knowing smile. “You’re finished already?” he teased.
A wicked, playful grin spread across Faolan’s lips. “Don’t worry,” he said, placing a heated kiss over Keeley’s lips, “I’m resilient.”
They commenced another round of lovemaking until they both were spent and content. Keeley fell asleep soon after, but Faolan found it difficult to rest. He cleaned his young lover’s body with a warm cloth and settled in next to him. Questions and uncertainties plagued him with unusual intensity, but his will remained resolute. Keeley was his—would always be his—but come Beltane’s Eve things were about to change…one way or another.
“Has he come out yet?” Larkin asked, as Rian walked up to him in the hallway. Rian shook his head.
“Not since Faolan spoke with him this morning.” Rian paused and looked back down the hall in the direction of Keeley’s room. “It must be hard for him to deal with—finding out about Kane.”
“Yes,” Larkin agreed, “But I’m glad Faolan told him, just the same.”
After the loving intimacy that Faolan had shared with Keeley the evening before, he felt he could no longer keep the truth from the young man. As he lay with Keeley in his arms, Faolan decided he would let him know the truth—or at least as much of it as he could safely reveal—once morning came. Once his choice was made, Faolan was finally able to drift off into a peaceful sleep.
After the two men had eaten breakfast in the morning, Faolan led Keeley back to his room and sat down across from him on the bed.
“There is something you have to know about Kane…”
Keeley had remained wide-eyed and silent as his lover revealed Kane’s identity. Faolan did not tell him about his father being an elemental, or the suspicions about Kane’s involvement in the death of Keeley’s family. One burden at a time, Faolan thought. It will be enough of a shock to know this man is his father and that he may have to fight against him. That was Faolan’s chief worry: that Keeley would underestimate the danger Kane posed and hesitate to refuse the man when Kane arrive to take him. It was understandable that Keeley might want to know more about the man who was his real father, but Faolan impressed upon him the danger of trusting the other man.
“He’s dangerous. If your mother saw fit to hide your existence from him—to the point of binding his power—we must assume it is unwise for you to be near him. She wanted to keep you safe, and so do I.”
Keeley had nodded at this, and Faolan had finally left to give him time to come to terms with this new, unsettling information. Keeley remained in his room, contemplating the meaning of this discovery. Faolan left on an errand and it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that Keeley emerged, thoughtful and pensive, from his chambers. Faolan returned a few hours later.
During the evening meal the two men did not speak, but Keeley’s silence wasn’t hostile. He simply didn’t know how to convey his inner turmoil, and so stayed mute until he could make sense of everything he’d been told.
Keeley was torn between so many confusing questions. What had happened to cause his mother to go to such lengths to conceal his existence from his true father? He never knew his mother had harbored such secrets, and it pained him. He both blamed her for hiding the truth from him, and felt a heart-wrenching sympathy for her at having to keep so much inside her heart for so many years. With a sigh, Keeley excused himself from the table.
As the sun set on the unhappy household, Larkin and Rian felt oppressed by the brooding atmosphere and decided to distract themselves. After finishing his evening duties, Rian slipped outside to a dark corner of the courtyard at the back of the house, where Larkin would soon meet him. To pass the time, Rian leaned against the garden wall and stroked himself through his trousers. By the time Larkin arrived, Rian had already exposed himself and was pumping his engorged shaft happily. His blonde lover grinned, a salacious plan forming in his mind.
“Well, well,” Larkin said loudly, taking on the air of a stern authoritarian. “I come to check on my servant and find him not only blatantly ignoring his duties, but putting on an obscene performance as well!”
Rian immediately picked up on Larkin’s game and suppressed a grin. “I—I’m sorry, M—Master!” he stuttered innocently, trying to cover himself in feigned shock and modesty.
“Sorry indeed!” Larkin bellowed, fully in character. The tall man trapped Rian’s body against the wall. “Your first concern should always be to see to your master’s needs above your own! Instead I find you here, flaunting yourself!” he chastised in mock anger. “I will show you what happens to disobedient servants in my household!” With a swift hand, Larkin tore open Rian’s shirt, making him gasp in secret delight.
“Please! Don’t be angry with me, Master!” Rian pleaded in a wispy, subservient tone as he cringed against the wall. “You frighten me! You are so strong and powerful, Master…” he said, giving his a lover seductive pout.
Larkin smiled to himself at Rian’s superb role-play. “You should be afraid, little one,” he said in a low, husky tone. Reaching out, he ran a hand along Rian’s exposed torso.
“What are you going to do to me?” Rian asked, eyes wide in playful innocence.
“I shall have to punish you for your disobedience,” Larkin replied, yanking Rian’s shirt down his arms. “Perhaps I should whip you?” he teased. But at the word ‘whip,’ Rian’s eyes darkened with an old, haunted look. “Or spank you,” Larkin quickly added, sensing he’d pushed the game too far.
“Oh, my,” Rian whispered, his eyelashes fluttering as his playful mood returned.
“You must learn to submit fully to me. Turn around.”
Quick to obey, Rian positioned himself vulnerably before his ‘master,’ ass in the air. Larkin pulled down Rian’s trousers and planted several hard, stinging slaps to that perfectly round ass. The sight made him lightheaded with desire.
“Turn back around,” Larkin ordered sternly. “On your knees.”
“Yes, Master. Like this?” Rian asked meekly, even as his eyes gleamed with mischief.
“Indeed. Now, I am going to use you and you will obey. Understand?”
“Yes, Master,” Rian said so sweetly that Larkin swelled to even greater proportions. Hastily, he unfastened his breeches and released his pulsing organ into the night air.
“Would you like me to open my mouth, Master?” Rian offered, running his tongue over his lips. Rian was eager to move things forward; his own arousal was hard and demanding between his thighs.
“Not yet, love,” Larkin whispered, momentarily losing character in the midst of his overpowering lust. “I want to feel my cock pressed against your face.”
Rian’s eyes were glassy with need as Larkin took hold of his hot shaft and rubbed it over his cheeks and lips. When Rian nuzzled affectionately against his cock, Larkin let a heady moan escape his throat.
Rian knew just what his lover preferred and, without waiting for instructions, began to lick the man’s erection with an eager tongue, like an overzealous puppy.
It was too much for Larkin, who knew he wouldn’t last another minute if Rian continued—and tonight he wanted to feel his tight embrace around his cock before he let loose his seed.
“Stand up and put your hands on the wall. Bend over,” Larkin commanded, his voice ragged with need.
The cool night air drifted across Rian’s genitals and he groaned aloud at the delicious feeling of exposure that ran through him as he assumed the position. Rian waited for Larkin’s shaft to invade him, and gasped in shocked ecstasy when his lover’s tongue suddenly caressed his tight little bud instead.
“Ah, my shameless boy. You like this don’t you?”
“Yes, Master!” Rian cried.
Larkin kissed and licked the pink ring of muscle until Rian was squirming. “Please, I need more, Master!”
A sharp smack to his rear reminded him who was in charge. Rian smiled. He was eager for more ‘punishment.’ “Please!” he begged again, earning another solid slap.
“I almost think you enjoy your punishment, little one,” Larkin whispered over his shoulder.
Glancing back at his lover man, Rian gave him a sly, naughty smile. “You may be right, Master.”
As if experimenting with his ‘servant’s’ admission, Larkin smacked him again, this time letting his fingers linger over the heated, abused flesh. Rian moaned.
“Such a deviant.”
“Oh, yes, Master! I am. A terrible deviant,” Rian replied, slipping a hint of feigned guilt into his voice.
“Then I will have to be quite severe with you, won’t I?” Larkin said seductively. With that, he stood over Rian prostrate form and slid the head of his cock inside his warm sanctum. Rian gasped with such intensity that, if Larkin hadn’t known better, he would have thought him in pain.
Finally sheathed within Rian’s hot channel, Larkin could no longer hold back. He immediately began a brutal plundering of Rian’s tight depths, pounding again and again into the young man’s body even as he wrapped a hand about Rian’s erection and worked his weeping shaft.
It didn’t take long. Inflamed by Rian’s playful submissions and the tantalizing thrill of taking him outdoors, Larkin soon succumbed to the stirring in his groin and burst forth. His over-enthusiastic sex-cry echoed past the courtyard and rolled out over the nearby fields.
Both men were panting as Larkin turned Rian to face him once again, taking him in his arms. Only then did Larkin give in to his longing to kiss the young man. Larkin’s attitude was now tender and sweet, betraying the true depth of his feelings.
“Ah, my Rian,” he whispered, holding him close. “What would I do without you?”
“Be terribly bored?” the witty young man teased.
“Quite true,” Larkin replied, grinning. He glanced down between their bodies. With is love pressed intimately against him, he realized Rian hadn’t reached his release.
“My, you’re still swollen, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Master,” Rian said with a wink.
“Shall I take pity on you and let you come in my mouth, since I punished you so harshly?”
Rian couldn’t help but giggle at his lover’s demeanor, but in truth he was aching for release. He watched as Larkin fastened his trousers and prepared to service him. “I have such a considerate master,” Rian quipped.
“What a charming scene,” came a voice like liquid silk behind them. “Can anyone play this game, or is it meant only for two?”
Larkin spun around, his alarm triggered by the thought that he had not sensed the stranger’s approach. Although, he admitted, he had been rather deliciously distracted.
Out of the shadows stepped a tall figure. The man moved with an amazingly fluid grace. When Larkin caught sight of the man’s dark chocolate hair, he relaxed slightly. For a moment he’d been worried that Kane had come to pay them a visit. Though Larkin felt no sense of threat from the man, he was wary after having been taken off-guard.
As he moved closer, the light from the upper windows fell on the stranger’s face, revealing the bluest pair of eyes either man had ever seen. Looking into those brilliant cerulean orbs was like gazing out over a vast ocean, and the light refracted in the man’s irises like the sun glittering upon the waves.
“Don’t let me interrupt you. From what I’ve heard, you enjoy an audience.”
“Might I have your name, friend?” Larkin asked, moving in front of Rian protectively. The servant tucked his arousal nonchalantly back into his breeches as he peered around Larkin at the stranger, curious as to the man’s business at the estate. Being exposed in front of men he did not know was nothing new for the previous brothel worker.
The stranger, with his arrogant, seductive voice and gorgeous looks, irritated Larkin. Perhaps he was not dangerous, but that didn’t mean he was trustworthy. Moreover, the man had interrupted Larkin’s lovely session with his young lover. “And what are you are doing here?” he added.
The crystal-eyed stranger smiled, but before he could answer a familiar voice called, “Ah, there you are!”
The company turned to see Faolan walking towards them, with Keeley close behind. “Have you gotten a thorough survey of the area?” Faolan asked the man with the impossibly blue eyes.
“Yes. Quite thorough,” the stranger answered with a knowing glance at Larkin.
The man nodded. “I think I can help, and I am willing to take the challenge. It will make life interesting.”
“Might I ask what this is all about, Faolan?” Larkin asked, looking annoyed.
Taking in the scene, Faolan smiled. “If you take your antics outdoors, you should be willing to accept the risk of being caught,” he told his friend with a chuckle.
Larkin crossed his arms and sulked. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
Suppressing his merriment, Faolan motioned to the stranger. “This is Aigéan Conmara. I have recruited him to help deal with our…dilemma concerning Keeley and Sir McKenna,” he explained tactfully.
“However,” Aigéan said smoothly, “we haven’t yet discussed the matter of payment.” He reached past the earl to take Keeley’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, examining the young man with an open, hungry gaze.
Faolan expected Keeley’s temper to flare at the man’s presumption, but he just blushed a deep scarlet and hung his head. Given everything Keeley had been through with the Bishop, Faolan had assumed he would be skittish or defensive at the touch of a stranger. Faolan found he was both amused and surprisingly jealous that Keeley wasn’t immune to the man’s charm. Gently nudging Aigéan’s hand away, he asked, “You’re still sailing under Captain Muirios, if I’m correct?”
The tall man nodded and Faolan grinned.
“I will finance your own vessel.”
Aigéan’s eyebrows lifted in amazement. “A generous offer,” he remarked, “especially considering I would be content with a far less financially burdensome arrangement.” The man glanced meaningfully at the raven-haired young man at Faolan’s side. “However, I can’t very well turn down your offer.”
“Splendid,” Faolan replied, subtly stepping between Aigéan and Keeley. “I will speak with you about the details later.”
“Till then,” Aigéan replied, bowing elegantly. He winked at Keeley, then vanished back into the misty shadows.
“Well,” Larkin said, after the man had departed. “You do enjoy your surprises.”
Faolan gave his friend a crooked grin. “Come, Keeley. We’ll let these two get back to their… entertainments,” he said, chortling to himself as he made his way back inside.
Just inside the doorway, Faolan felt Keeley tug at his arm. “I haven’t gotten a chance to tell you this since we spoke this morning but… I’m sorry I was so angry last night. I doubted you, even after all you’ve done for me. I shouldn’t have.”
Turning to face his young lover, Faolan brushed his fingers tenderly along Keeley’s smooth, pale neck. “It’s understandable,” he conceded. “I’ve been overprotective.”
Looking into Faolan’s deep emerald eyes with passionate resolve, Keeley said, “I’m glad you told me the truth about Kane. Part of me wants to speak with him, to find out more about what happened between him and my mother, but if you say he’s dangerous, I’ll believe you. And if he tries to attack this place just to get to me, as you warned, then I’ll fight him. Just… Please, let me help you. I don’t want to sit aside while everyone is working to protect me. Let me help too.”
Faolan gazed at him thoughtfully. “All right. But Keeley…” He paused.
Faolan looked at him questioningly.
Keeley’s pale blue eyes grew sober. “I know that you haven’t told me everything.”
“Do you?” Faolan asked in a barely audible whisper.
The young man nodded, and Faolan could see the new maturity that had grown in his lover’s eyes.
“Yes, but I suppose it’s no good trusting someone halfway.” He stopped and gazed intently up at Faolan. “I love you, Faolan. I believe that you will tell me when you can.”
“Keeley,” Faolan said softly, crushing him to his chest. “Thank you.”
Keeley nodded. Part of him had hoped Faolan would immediately reciprocate his feelings, but he had not expected it. He had learned—and was beginning to accept—that Faolan did things in his own time.
It had not been easy for Keeley be so accepting, but he’d spent the last few days reflecting on what his own mother must have gone through—the heartache she must have endured in protecting him all her life. Keeley had decided the only way to convince Faolan to be more open with him was to show the man that he was an adult who could accept the harsh truths in life and move onward. He couldn’t deny that a small part of him was embittered by the feeling that so many people he loved chose to keep secrets from him, but he could either let the anger consume him, or move past it.
“Just promise me,” Keeley began after a moment, looking up from the circle of Faolan’s arms, “when the time is right, you will tell me everything.”
Faolan knew Keeley’s plea had a double meaning. More than just the truth, Keeley wanted to hear the same words of love from him.
“Yes, I promise you.”
The household was restless. Everyone sensed the storm that was coming, but there was little to be done but wait. Faolan and Larkin had many close talks as they discussed different tactics they might use against Kane. Keeley and Rian were included in these talks as often as possible.
The day before Beltane, Faolan lured Keeley back to bed after breakfast, keeping the young man pleasantly distracted from the uncertainties that lay ahead. Keeley knew Faolan was only trying to keep his mind off the danger they would face, but he had no complaints. They made love until the sun began to head into the West.
As the last rays of the sun sank under the hills behind them, the light through the windows caught in Faolan’s fiery hair, creating a glow about his face. Almost it appeared to Keeley that a power radiated from the man as he gazed at him, but when the light vanished, Faolan’s colors faded. Keeley shivered as the world fell into shadow. Was it just his imagination or had something more than the light vanished in the sunset? Searching his lover’s eyes, Keeley thought Faolan somehow looked changed, though he couldn’t say how.
“Come,” Faolan said, “we need to get moving. It’s time.”
The eve of Beltane was upon them.
Kane pulled up to the gates of Faolan’s estate in a large carriage, sleek black horses pulling it along. Stepping down from his ornate coach, Kane was greeted by Rian who, to his surprise, was leading two horses behind him.
“My master wishes for you to meet him in the fields,” the servant said simply, handing the man the reins to a tall chestnut gelding. Though Kane looked curious at the odd arrangement, he followed without comment as Rian mounted and led him away to the Western fields.
“Well, my dear earl,” Kane said once he had pulled his horse up in front of the man, “this is quite an odd meeting place, wouldn’t you say?”
Faolan greeted him with a quiet nod and watched him dismount. Rian took his horse and tied both steeds to a nearby tree as the proceedings began. The young man stayed off to the side of his master, as Faolan and Larkin stood before the dangerous visitor. Keeley waited behind them.
“Sparks have a way of finding kindling,” Faolan said smoothly. “I’d prefer my home to be a safe distance away while we discuss matters.”
Kane smiled. “You don’t trust me.”
“Should I?” Faolan replied plainly.
The other man laughed. “That all depends on whether or not you choose to be reasonable. Will you hand the boy over willingly?”
“Keeley,” Faolan called, and the young man stepped up to face the man he now knew to be his father.
Bowing graciously, Keeley then straightened to look Kane in the eye. “Regretfully, I cannot go with you,” he said with cool, polite civility. Then he added, “If you truly respect me as your son, you will leave us.”
“Is that so?” Kane replied with amusement. “It seems that both you and your master don’t realize your position. You will be coming with me. In time you’ll understand it was for the best.”
Keeley’s eyes grew cold. “I doubt that.” He did not like this man. Could Kane really be his father? This red-haired, smug figure who reeked of hidden menace? No, Keeley thought, the man who was truly his father was the one who raised him, the one who had held him when he was sick, the one who had made his mother smile and taught his sister to sing… the one who had died, along with the rest of his family, not two years earlier.
The person who stood before him now was a stranger. The moment Kane had set foot on the ground before him, Keeley had known Faolan was right: the man was dangerous. How was it that Kane and his mother had come together? He now wondered. Had the man forced her? Bewitched her? Keeley shook his mind free of these thoughts. He needed to concentrate; they could not afford for the plan to go wrong. They might only have one chance.
“How is it that you plan to stop me, I’d like to know?” Kane asked.
“We have our ways,” Larkin interjected hotly, snapping his fingers. Suddenly the field burst into flame. Larkin smiled as he saw Kane wince, but the triumph was short-lived.
With a wave of his hand, the elemental extinguished the flames. When he opened his palm, they saw that he had harnessed the fire, and it rolled in his hand like a live ball of glowing embers. “Trying to fight fire with fire?” he said with a soft snicker. “I expected better.”
Left behind, among the curling smoke, was a pattern singed into the grasses. Kane glanced about, assessing the design. “Marking this spell in the field must have taken quite some time,” he mused. “A binding invocation, by the look of it. Too bad I could sense it the moment I set foot on the ground. It’s quite useless now.”
Faolan made no show of surprise or agitation, but Larkin gritted his teeth. Nearby, Rian hushed the horses, who were spooked and agitated.
Keeley stood blinking dumbly. Though Faolan had warned him that the man wielded considerable powers, even manipulating fire, it was quite another thing to see such an impressive demonstration of it. He recalled an odd light in Faolan’s eye when he had told him this. Now Keeley remembered it and something nagged at him in the back of his mind.
“Don’t tell me that was the best you could do?” Kane inquired with mocking laughter.
Watching Kane slowly draw nearer, Keeley felt the man’s presence go before him like a cloud. He knew this presence, had felt it somewhere before. Then, like a blow, it came to him. The last time he had felt this aura, it had been fainter, lingering in the singed air of his old home. It had pressed against him as surely as the sick smell of death, as he’d stepped over the broken threshold of his home and beheld the bodies of his family, dead on the floor.
Keeley stood stock-still. Everything was falling into place. His family had been killed in a fire, though no one could figure out how it had begun. Now, Keeley believed he knew. Kane was vengeful and powerful, it would not be such a hard thing to imagine him a murderer.
Could it be true? Could this be the man who had killed his family?
“Keeley?” Faolan asked quietly, his voice concerned. When Keeley met his eyes, he saw the confusion and conflict swirling in their blue depths. Keeley must have suspected the truth already, but Faolan had not expected him to make the connection so quickly. This could prove disastrous. Keeley played a central role in their plan. They couldn’t afford for him to be distracted.
Faolan cursed himself. He should have told Keeley his suspicions beforehand. Well, they would have to make the best of it now.
“Are you all right?” he asked, urgently.
As if called out of a dream, Keeley nodded.
“Keeley,” Kane said abruptly. He looked at his son commandingly and held out his hand. “This is your final chance to save your friends from their folly. Come.”
All was still for a moment. Everyone’s eyes rested on Keeley—who hesitated. Faolan grew anxious. They had more in store for Kane, but they needed Keeley’s signal to begin. Why did he wait?
“Did you love my mother?” Keeley asked unexpectedly, taking a step forward.
Faolan and Larkin exchanged looks. This had not been what they had discussed. Keeley’s position was compromising the plan.
Keeley was aware of this, but he wanted more time--needed more time—to see if his suspicions were true.
“I knew her for only one evening,” Kane told him. “She’d stumbled into the faerie realm on a festival night when the veil between worlds was thin. I happened upon her—dazed and aglow with the magics that filled the air. They drug the mortal senses like a fine wine.” At Keeley’s hard glare, he lifted an eyebrow knowingly. “I didn’t force her, if that’s what’s behind your question. I admit I used seduction, but I did not lower myself to use force. She should have felt blessed by the union—few mortals have ever had such an opportunity—but the foolish woman immediately regretted it, babbling on about some mortal nobody who she had pledged herself to. If I had known she was carrying my child, I never would have returned her, no matter how she begged me, until after you were born. It is rare for an elemental’s seed to bear fruit within a mortal. Your mother must have had some faerie blood in her ancestry.”
Keeley listened with distaste and his face showed it. The man spoke of his mother like a breeder about cattle. His anger was underlined by the heartache that swelled inside him as he realized how very human his mother had been. It was something every child must learn after crossing the threshold into adulthood, and the lesson was bittersweet. Keeley envisioned the young, adventurous girl she must have been, and thought of the burden she’d had to bear after one night’s folly. Yet Keeley remembered well her laughter and her smile. If he could shoulder his mistakes half as well, he would consider himself a man.
Kane continued on, his voice edged with anger and pompous indignation. “She hid you like a thief! Just as I am sure she hid my existence from the man you called your father. She was like all women—deceitful, manipulative.”
“You lie!” Keeley spat back.
Faolan saw his temper flare—a bad sign. This situation could get out of hand at any moment. Keeley was letting his emotions take over. He was forgetting himself, and their objective. Moreover, Faolan had the disquieting feeling that Kane was baiting him, though he couldn’t imagine why.
“A liar, am I?” Kane retorted. “She is the one who lied to you since the day you were born! She had no right to keep you—living among mortals—among peasants! I imagine how she must have mocked me, knowing she’d fooled someone as powerful as I, but she couldn’t hide you forever—and when I found her, she paid the price! And the rest of your useless family went down with her.”
Keeley went rigid. Silent wrath emanated from him in waves. For years he had consoled himself with the idea that his family’s death had been an act of God, a tragedy no one was to blame for and no one could have foreseen.
Now, he knew the truth. They had all died because of one man’s grudge. This man. Within Keeley a fury began to rise such as he’d never known.
Watching the scene intently, Faolan saw Keeley fidget with something in his sleeve, and he suddenly realized what he was about to do.
“Keeley, no!” Faolan yelled, a second before the young man dashed off. He reached out to grab him, but Keeley escaped him. Giving a loud cry—echoing with hatred and vengeance—Keeley rushed at Kane.
With a smug grin, Kane caught Keeley’s fist as it swung toward his face, but in the next moment, Kane’s face crumbled. The man hadn’t noticed the dagger in the young man’s left hand until it had pierced his side.
“Clever boy,” he said, “but it won’t do you much good.” The wound had not hurt him; his essence was spirit not flesh.
Looking into his father’s face, Keeley saw him sneer, and a cold chill swept through his bones. Yanking the dagger free, he turned to run, realizing too late that Kane had deliberately enraged him—and he did not want to wait to find out why.
It was too late. Kane’s arm dashed out and seized him round the neck. Though Keeley struggled, he was no match for the other man’s strength. A strange, cryptic language began to flow from Kane’s lips and Keeley felt a powerful energy start to fill him. It seared his senses, and he cried out in agony.
His friends looked on in horror. It had all happened so fast, they barely had time to react. Faolan, however, had not lost himself. In the few moments it had taken for the tide to turn against them, he had weighed their options and chosen the course that seemed best. He had almost opened his mouth to order the new plan of action, when he saw Keeley’s dagger, now slick with blood, slip from the his hand.
The weapon had been made partially from the silver melted down from Keeley’s broken locket, and still held some magical properties. Keeley had been entrusted to it, and it had been his duty to drive it into the ground, igniting the true spell against Kane at the opportune moment. By chance or fate, the blade fell straight as an arrow and its tip sunk into the ground, finally releasing the spell.
A blinding flash of azure flame set the field ablaze. A mandala of glowing blue appeared, Kane anchored at its center. The man screeched in pain and let Keeley fall at his feet. He had not seen that the binding spell had been a decoy to cover a more powerful form of sorcery hidden beneath it.
“Aigéan!” Faolan shouted. The man instantly materialized at his side. “Get him out of there!” In a flash, Aigéan swept into the dazzling ring of light and rescued Keeley from where he lay. With Keeley safely outside the circle, the spell could begin in earnest.
Faolan called to Rian and Larkin. The two men were already in place—one at the westernmost point of the circle, one at the easternmost. Faolan remained in the south and Aigéan situated himself in the north—the place of power. Kane twisted around to face the newcomer. The two men locked eyes, recognition passing between them—not of who they were, but what they were.
For the first time, Kane realized he’d underestimated his opponents. In a voice wavering and dim, he ground out, “Using a water elemental to fight me. Very tricky…”
Aigéan’s handsome face smirked at him and he began the incantation. The rest of the company, having learned the verses beforehand, recited along, and emptied out small vials they had prepared of hallowed seawater at their feet.
Kane raged, but he was caught like an insect in a net. A mist grew about him and, slowly, his body was encased in a watery blue light. His voice, spewing curses, faded into muteness and, as they watched, his body vanished before their eyes. All that was left behind was a sputtering ball of flames that quickly disappeared into the ground. The magic azure circle faded then, and the men were left in the dim, mundane shades of evening.
Kane’s corporal form had been vanquished, but he was not dead. He was an elemental. His power came from the raging fire of the earth. There were few ways to ensure an elemental never took form again, and they had had neither the time nor the means to implement any of them. However, Faolan hoped that Keeley would be safe from Kane for years to come. If they were lucky, it would be longer than that. If they were not so lucky… Well, they would cross that bridge when they came to it. For now, it was enough.
As soon as the spell ended, Faolan rushed to where Keeley lay on the grass. The young man began to stir, but any relief Faolan felt suddenly turned to dread when Keeley fixed his gaze on him.
His eyes were terrible: yellow and fey. A wild light was in them, burning from within.
“Dear, God,” Faolan whispered, aghast. “What has he done to you?”