“He’s still under the influence of Kane’s powers, Faolan,” Aigean warned, pulling him back as Keeley stood. “Be caref-”
Before further words could be spoken, Keeley gave an awful cry. He clutched his head, as if in agony. The powers within him were overpowering his rational mind. To the other men’s amazement, Keeley lifted his hand and a stream of flame swept towards them.
Larkin and Aigean both threw up hasty shields, the energy sparking where it threw back the flames.
When the flames subsided, they could see Keeley standing there, dazed and en-spelled. He was breathing hard, sweat pouring off him, and his eyes still blazing the same mad yellow.
Faolan cursed. “That power will consume him before he even knows what’s happened to him,” he said. He began to move forward, but Aigean held him back.
“You should leave this to Larkin and me. Since the sun set, you’ve been weakened, haven’t you?” Aigean asked the red-haired man.
Rian and Larkin looked at the earl in wonder, and saw the man nod.
“Stay back, then,” the water elemental warned him.
“I can’t do that,” Faolan said simply.
Keeley sent another shot of flame from his hand and rushed toward them. Faolan and Rian were shoved behind Aigean and Larkin who set up a concentrated barrier to protect them all. Each time Keeley was rebuffed, his rage seemed to grow, even as his energy ebbed. The magics were draining him. He was wavering like a drunk man about to collapse.
“Any more of this and he could die! Step aside!” the earl ordered. His voice held such authority that the other men gave way before him. Slowly, the red-haired man stepped up to face his possessed lover.
“Keeley,” he said gently, “it’s me, Faolan.” He held out his hand tentatively.
The dark-haired boy wavered, as if in an internal battle, but the powers seething within him would not let go so easily. Suddenly, he lashed out, a bright flame streaking toward Faolan like lightning. The earl lifted an arm to deflect it, but his sleeve withered in the flames, his skin blistering.
“Listen to me!” Faolan said in a voice laced with steely authority. “Let go of this madness!”
The others looked on, tense and expectant.
Keeley seemed nearly spent. Though he looked wary and dangerous, the young man allowed Faolan to reach out to him. In one swift movement, the earl took the young man in his arms. Then winced. The boy’s very body burned with an unquenchable fire that scorched at the mere touch. Keeley began to struggle, but Faolan held him tight, knowing that in the boy’s weakened state he had a small chance to reawaken Keeley’s coherent mind.
“Keeley,” the earl said softly next to his ear. “Come back to me.”
Looking down into the boy’s face, Faolan saw the fey yellow color flicker, a sign the magic’s hold was yielding.
“Come back,” Faolan repeated passionately. He bent his head and kissed him, searing his lips. When he pulled back, Keeley looked up at him like a man coming out of a dream.
“Faolan?” he whispered. His lover nodded, and the boy went limp, his body exhausted.
The others rushed over to them, just as Faolan succumbed to his injuries and crumpled to the ground. His body was badly burned. With as much care as possible, the pair was transported back to the house.
The next evening, Keeley woke with his head spinning. He’d been in and out of consciousness the entire day. Vaguely, he recalled waking to soothing voices and slipping back into forgetfulness. Now, his mind was finally coming back to full wakefulness, but not without a struggle. His temples ached and his body felt almost too heavy to move. But more burdensome than that was the weight on his heart.
Though the memories remained vague, like pieces of a dream, Keeley knew that he’d been controlled by Kane. With a pang of guilt, he thought of the way he’d let Kane get the best of him, and walked right into the man’s trap. He’d been so foolish and rash. Keeley remembered the way his body had been filled and overwhelmed by his father’s magic- and how he had lashed out at his friends with a horrible, violent force. Then everything had seemed to go dark. What had happened? Had he hurt anyone? Had the other Society members managed to contain Kane’s powers? The last image he could recall was Faolan looking beseechingly into his eyes. Oh God, Faolan!
With that thought, he opened his eyes, ready to jump out of bed and find out if the earl had been hurt. His body, however, was not so willing as his mind. He was weak and every inch of him protested the sudden movement.
“Well, well. Looks like you’re finally awake,” said a voice.
Glancing about the room with his weary eyes, Keeley tried to find the owner of the voice. Even the dim light hurt his eyes, but eventually they adjusted and he made out a lone figure standing against the wall near the door.
“What happened?” Keeley asked weakly, his voice raspy. “Faolan-?”
“Hush. You need to rest. Everything is fine. Kane’s been dealt with.”
Closing his eyes, Keeley breathed a sigh of relief, though almost immediately afterwards, other thoughts began to trouble him. If it had all gone so well, why wasn’t Faolan there, watching him over him?
“Is Faolan all right?”
Before the man could answer, the door opened. Rian stepped quietly inside, bringing Aigean the tea he had requested earlier.
Keeley looked up and saw that one of the young man’s hands was bandaged.
“Rian! What happened?”
Startled, the servant jumped, sending a teacup crashing to the floor. “Keeley,” he said quietly. “I didn’t know you were awake.”
Rian had an uneasy look in his eyes as he knelt to pick up the shards of the teacup. Keeley slipped out of bed to kneel beside him and gingerly helped him clean up the pieces.
“Did I do that?” Keeley asked softly, indicating the boy’s hand. “It was me, wasn’t it?” he pressed, when the servant hesitated. “Oh God, are the others all right? Faolan!” He jumped to his feet and made for the door- too quickly. His body was still weak, and he would have fallen to the floor had Aigean not caught him.
The man gave a sigh. “It wasn’t your fault, Keeley. Rian’s hand was hurt when he was trying to control the horses. They were spooked during the fight.” Keeley visibly calmed at this news, and Aigean smiled. “Come on, let’s get you back to bed.”
However, the dark-haired man wasn’t as familiar with Keeley’s stubborn streak as the rest of the household. The boy’s pleading expression turned abruptly angry.
“No! I still want to see Faolan for myself.”
“He’s the one who ordered you to bed rest!” Aigean said crossly.
“I will see him,” Keeley said, eyes hard.
Seeing the futility of the situation, the elemental yielded with a good-natured grin. “Have it your way, but I have one condition…”
A few minutes later, the dark-haired man made his way down the hall toward the earl’s room. In his arms he held a weak, sulking Keeley, who had agreed to be carried as long as he was able to see Faolan.
Larkin, who was just closing Faolan’s door, looked up at the pair and frowned.
“Sorry,” Aigean said in answer to his look, “Keeley wouldn’t be kept away.”
“Why should I be?” the raven-haired boy asked irritably as he was set on his feet. As if in answer, his body swayed and he had to clutch at Aigean to steady himself.
Larkin crossed his arms, and gazed at Keeley’s determined face. Then, with a sigh of resignation, the blonde conceded that they could hardly keep the boy away indefinitely, and opened the door.
Nudging aside any helping hands, Keeley straightened himself and stepped into the room.
“It’s going to be hard on him,” Aigean said once the door was shut.
“It’s hard on everyone,” Larkin replied, his eyes on Rian as the young brunette appeared in the hallway, holding the tray laden with broken porcelain.
“Perhaps we could use a bit of distraction before my departure this evening?” Aigean offered as the pretty young servant walked over to them.
Larkin cocked an eyebrow, and Rian grinned. The three men slipped away down the hall, while Keeley sat himself in a chair at Faolan’s bedside, where the red-haired man lay motionless.
Keeley’s legs had nearly given out again at the sight of his lover lying there- nearly half of his body bound in bandages. The earl’s chest, hands, arms- even lips- all bore witness to the spirit fire that had scorched his skin during Keeley’s possession.
Instinctively, the boy reached out to take Faolan’s hand, but jerked back when he realized it would aggravate the man’s wounds. A stone fell into the pit of Keeley’s stomach and his eyes stung. He’d done this. It was all due to his carelessness.
“Faolan,” he whispered, distraught. At the sound of his voice, the earl stirred. “Keeley?” he muttered.
“Yes? I’m here!” the boy answered anxiously, sniffing back his tears.
Two piercingly green eyes opened and turned his way. The man gave him an affectionate smile. “You should still be resting,” he chided.
The young man was so relieved to hear his voice, he laughed through his tears at the rebuke. “You know how stubborn I can be.”
The earl grinned at this statement, but he watched Keeley’s smile fade.
“Faolan,” the young man said in an anguished whisper, “I’m so sorry…” Keeley kept his eyes averted as he spoke. “If I had just stayed with the plan--if I hadn’t let Kane rattle me…”
The boy felt something touch his face, and saw it was his lover’s bandaged fingers pressing against his wet cheek.
“Don’t take everything on yourself, Keeley.”
“But I was the one who begged you to include me in the plan! You trusted me, and then everything fell apart! Look what I’ve done to you!”
“Stop this!” Faolan said sharply. “There is risk in everything, Keeley. If sometimes we don’t do as well as we’d like, if we stumble, we must learn from it and move ahead. Letting regret and guilt eat at you won’t help matters. And in any case, you were hardly in charge of the plan against Kane, and it is my responsibility to watch over you. Don’t forget you are still under my care.”
“Faolan,” Keeley said in a hushed tone, his tears flowing freely now. More than anything, he wanted to crawl into his arms. If only he could bury himself in his lover’s embrace and feel his touch, somehow he’d feel that everything was going to be all right. But in the earl’s current state, Keeley was afraid of hurting him if he reached out.
“Are you in much pain?” he asked gently.
The red-haired man gave a roguish smile. “I’m not as fragile as all that, love. And Larkin as already sped my healing along- as he’s done with you. I’m quite indebted to him. You look much better than you did yesterday.”
“What…” Keeley ventured tentatively, not wanting to trouble the man with questions, but still confused about the events of the previous day. “What exactly happened to me? Did Kane possess me with his powers?”
“To a degree, yes. But Keeley, you’re the son of an elemental, which means you mostly likely have many powers you’re unaware of. In this case, I think Kane triggered some of your latent abilities, and boosted them with his own.”
The boy shook his head vehemently. “Those weren’t my powers! They couldn’t be!” Keeley protested. The idea that he was capable of such violent magics unsettled the young man. “I barely knew what was happening to me.”
“I’m not suggesting you had control of your powers. Kane was far too strong for that, but I believe you do have the ability to harness spirit fire yourself.”
At another time, Keeley might have been excited by this information, but now it simply made him feel more responsible than ever for the injuries he’d caused the other man, and made his connection to Kane all the more prominent. It was not a bond he wanted to acknowledge.
“What if I can’t control it?” Keeley asked, voicing his fears.
“Have some faith in yourself, love. I do.”
Their eyes met, and Keeley felt the strength shining from within the man’s brilliant green eyes flood into him. He nodded, and gave the earl a tearful smile.
“Come here, my love,” Faolan said, beckoning the boy to him.
“But…but, your injuries,” he sputtered.
“My left side isn’t bad. Just be careful of my shoulder.”
With care and caution, Keeley nestled against the man’s side. To avoid brushing any tender areas, he had to lay rather low, so that his head was cradled just above Faolan’s hip.
His initial security and warmth quickly grew into something more stirring. Absentmindedly, Keeley nuzzled his cheek against the earl’s belly. With his face down, the boy couldn’t see the amused smile that graced his lover’s lips. Although Keeley was still a bit weak, his body was craving attention. His desire began to outweigh his fatigue and he ran a caressing hand along Faolan’s thigh. The young man wondered if Faolan was healed enough for…intimate activities.
Venturing a glance upward, Keeley saw the earl’s heavy-lidded eyes glittering down at him. His breath was arrested at the sight of the lust smoldering in the man’s gaze.
“Can you…?” the dark-haired young man let the question hang unfinished in the air.
Faolan’s subsequent grin was laced with wicked delight, both at Keeley’s shyness and obvious arousal. The boy’s cheeks were flushed, and he enjoyed seeing them filled with color once again. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pretend that his injuries wouldn’t be a hindrance to further endeavors in the bedroom.
“My mobility is a bit limited,” he conceded.
Feeling emboldened by his lover’s predicament, Keeley slowly drifted his hand back up the man’s thigh, and brushed it across his groin. Faolan’s cock jumped to life, only inches from where the boy’s face rested.
With a sly, bashful smile Keeley said, “maybe you won’t have to move. This time, why don’t I take care of you?”
Above him, Faolan widened his eyes in feigned surprise, and Keeley’s cheeks reddened, but his eyes smiled. Although the boy had always been content to let Faolan be in control when they made love, Keeley was curious how it would feel to be in charge. His experience was lacking, but he decided it might be interesting to experiment. Slowly, he moved his hand over the bulge in the earl’s pants and felt the shaft harden and twitch beneath his touch. His pulse quickened as a heady surge of empowerment filled him.
Slowly, Keeley loosened the man’s breeches and slipped out his substantial erection. The young man stroked it tentatively, attempting to pump his lover the way he might his own aroused member. After a few moments, he dared to look at Faolan’s face, to see whether or not his technique was having the desired effect. To his amazement, Faolan had his head tilted back on the pillow, his chest rising and falling in heavy breaths. The boy was thrilled that he was able to arouse him into such a state, and carefully moved himself between the man’s thighs for a better angle.
Having Faolan writhing under his hands was one of the most amazing experiences of Keeley’s young life. The young man was filled with a new confidence at the knowledge that he could give the earl as much pleasure as the man always gave him. His mind flashed visions of the many instances during which Faolan had stroked him, touched him, and made him moan and shudder uncontrollably. Keeley wanted to do the same. An idea crept into his brain and he blushed, wondering if he’d be daring enough to carry it out.
The earl lifted his head to watch his young lover stroking him, and his erection swelled at the arousing vision. But the man was totally unprepared for what his young, eager lover did next. Shutting his eyes, Keeley parted his lips and slipped Faolan’s throbbing cock into his mouth.
“Ah! Keleey!” Faolan groaned, his voice thick with desire.
The lusty tone bolstered Keeley’s courage and he tried to suckle the man’s length, bobbing his head up and down as Faolan had once done with him. The movement was awkward, and the boy had to break away several times to avoid gagging, but slowly he grew accustomed to the odd feeling of his lips wrapped around the hot shaft. When Faolan began to moan, losing himself to the blissful sensations, Keeley started to improvise. He wriggled his tongue along the man’s cock, kissing the blushing tip, and was rewarded with his lover’s renewed groans of ecstasy.
Faolan opened his eyes to watch Keeley pleasuring him, and wished he had the strength to push the boy down into the bed and give him a good fucking. However, Keeley’s lingual skills were rather stirring in themselves. The boy was a quick learner. Just seeing Keeley positioned between his legs, his cock disappearing between those sweet pink lips, was painfully arousing. It was a vision the earl had been longing to see, and the fact that Keeley had done so willingly was even more intoxicating. The redhead felt his climax building. As lovely as the young man’s ministrations were, the earl felt the need to take charge at last.
“Hold still,” Faolan said with a moan. Keeley paused and felt the earl’s hands frame his face. “Relax your throat.” The dark-haired boy did his best, but he was suddenly apprehensive, wondering if he’d done something wrong. Faolan saw the uncertainty in his eyes and smiled. “You feel heavenly, love. Let me show you something else I enjoy,” Faolan said in a husky tone, just before he began to thrust rapidly into the boy’s mouth, fucking his flushed face.
Keeley did his best to do as the man said, and relax. In actuality, he found that Faolan’s demanding actions fueled his own passions. As good as it felt to be in charge, he still enjoyed the feeling of being possessed as well.
When Faolan suddenly stiffened, Keeley realized the man was about to explode in his mouth. In the next moment, Faolan gasped and poured his seed down the boy’s throat. Keeley, unprepared, did his best to swallow him, but had to pull away, sputtering, by the end.
Above him, Faolan tried to catch his breath. He was quite spent. The red-haired man hadn’t even planned to release in Keeley mouth, but he’d been unable to stop himself. Reaching out with his uninjured hand, he wiped a stray drop of semen from Keeley’s lips.
“You were amazing, my love,” he said groggily.
The dark-haired boy blushed and watched the other man lay his head back with a grin. Within minutes, Faolan was fast asleep.
Keeley resettled himself at the man’s side and smiled at the earl’s sleeping form. The boy’s mind was more at ease now, certain that Faolan would heal quickly. The man looked to be resting peacefully, and Keeley had faith in Larkin’s healing abilities.
Yet even as he reassured himself that everything would soon be back to normal, an odd feeling nagged at his mind. Something about Faolan didn’t seem quite right. It was as if the man was changed somehow, though in no way that could be seen. Faolan was lying right beside him, yet part of him was missing.
But whatever questions Keeley had would have to wait. His mind and body, still worn out, soon succumbed to sleep.
“Now, take off my shirt,” said Rian with a mischievous grin.
Rian sat on the edge of a large bed. Larkin kneeled before him, placing the shoes he’d just slipped off Rian’s feet neatly next to the baseboard. Aigean lounged in a chair across from them, looking sly and satisfied.
It had been the elemental’s idea that, for the occasion of celebrating Beltane, Larkin and Rian’s roles should be switched, so that Larkin was now the servant and Rian his would-be master. After all, Beltane was all about suspending one’s usual limitations and indulging in life’s pleasures.
“Anything you wish, Master,” Larkin purred, enjoying their roleplay.
Rian stood to face Aigean, and Larkin slowly stripped the young man from behind. Larkin let his head drop and his breath deliberately caress his young ‘master’s’ shoulder. The feathery touch made Rian’s eyelids flutter with desire and anticipation. The added delight of being watched spiked Rian’s arousal even higher. He could get used to this arrangement.
When Larkin brushed a hand over Rian’s waist, the young man rounded on him. “What an impertinent servant!” he chided, “to touch me without permission.”
“My apologies, Master. I couldn’t help myself. That lovely alabaster skin of yours looked needy for caresses.”
“Such things are not for you to judge. You will obey me at all times—and remember who commands you!” Rian said reprovingly. Larkin found his lover’s attempts at authority quite adorable, but refrained from spoiling the moment by chuckling.
“Indeed, it is not my place. I am your humble servant. Command me, and I will obey.”
“Then get on your knees.”
In mimicry of the game the two men had played on the first night they met Aigean–only with roles reversed–Larkin sank to a kneeling position with fluid, graceful subservience.
“That’s better,” Rian murmured, unable to disguise his playful glee at ordering about his older lover. Unbuckling his trousers, the young man offered his swollen member to his servant, pressing the tip lightly against Larkin’s lips.
“Are you going to open your mouth, or would you prefer that I come on your face?” Rian asked sweetly.
Larkin gave his lover a knowing smile. “Whatever my master desires, I will submit to.”
“Now you’re learning,” Rian replied, then slipped a finger past the man’s lips to prompt him to open his mouth.
Larkin took Rian’s throbbing cock inside his hot mouth with ease, swallowing him whole. Briefly lost by the sensation, Rian moaned and swayed, clutching at Larkin’s shoulders. Larkin’s hands came up to squeeze the young man’s hips, steadying him and making him writhe as he took control.
As Aigean watched Rian grasp and claw at the Larkin’s shoulders, he realized that even in the young man’s role as ‘master’, he still yearned to be dominated. The elemental smiled and felt the need to participate beyond his voyeurism. He stepped up behind Rian and the young man was so distracted he didn’t even notice Aigean’s presence until he felt his teeth graze one tender earlobe.
A shudder ran through Rian’s entire frame as he found himself situated between the two other men. Aigean felt Rian lean back against him as the young man thrust his hips forward, to continue encouraging Larkin. “Two servants?” Rian whispered, twisting his head back to cock an eyebrow at the elemental.
“All the better to love you, little one,” Aigean murmured. His fingers slid across Rian’s skin and pinched his nipples into tight, hard buds.
Rian moaned with ecstasy, feeling completely consumed by the other two men. Enjoying Rian’s sounds of pleasure, Aigean moved one hand between Rian’s round cheeks and fondled his portal, teasing him. Rian began to pant as his body was worked over by the handsome men. Larkin was working him exquisitely, his mouth and tongue hot and skilled. When Aigean pressed a digit inside him, and thrust in time with Larkin’s rhythm, Rian thought all his bones might suddenly dissolve into liquid. His muscles trembled and his knees already threatened to give way.
Seeing his lover’s cheeks flushed and his breathing rapid, Larkin knew Rian was on the brink and decided to push him that little bit further. Reaching between Rian’s legs, he rolled the young man’s testicles round in his palm and sucked his cock down ‘til it hit the back of his throat. At the same moment, Aigean’s penetrating finger brushed that sweet spot hidden deep with Rian’s secret sanctuary, and the young man was thrown over the edge. His mind flashed white as his orgasm rolled over him. Larkin drank down the copious ribbons of semen as Rian trembled with release. Then Rian’s strength left him. Thankfully, Aigean had wrapped his arms about the young man and lowered him to the bed, careful of Rian’s bandaged hand.
Larkin smiled down at Rian, knowing that this was only the beginning of their escapades for the evening. He stripped off his clothes and joined his momentarily spent lover on the coverlet. Aigean retired once more to his chair.
“Is my master pleased?” Larkin asked gently trailing kisses down Rian’s chest.
When his breathing returned to its regular pace, Rian opened his eyes. “Get on your hands and knees.”
Though the command surprised him, Larkin gave Rian a saucy smile before replying, “Yes, Master,” and assuming the position. Larkin wondered how far his young lover was going to take the game. Would he use it as an excuse to enter him? If so, it would be a first. Though Larkin had been penetrated before, he always preferred to be on top. Still, if it was what Rian desired, he was willing to oblige him.
Larkin waited patiently, feeling the weight on the bed shift as Rian moved behind him. Two soft lips kissed the hollow of his back and drifted down his buttocks. Rian’s hot breath caressed the crevice of his ass, then moved lower. Larkin gasped as a tongue darted out to lick his sac, just before he felt a mouth draw his hanging testicles into a cavern of soft, wet warmth.
“Oh, yes,” Larkin breathed, his lust stirring deep in his belly. How did Rian always find his weak points? But then, the former prostitute probably had an instinct for such things after so many years of training.
Gradually, Rian repositioned himself. Nudging Larkin’s knees further apart, he wriggled beneath his lover’s thighs and began a leisurely exploration of Larkin’s most sensitive regions.
In short order, Rian had Larkin panting breathlessly.
“Master, please,” Larkin pleaded, his tone half-playful and half-serious. “Let me come.”
But at these words, Rian abruptly moved away. Larkin groaned his frustration and was considering ending this little game of theirs, when Rian came up to lie beside him.
Rian’s grey eyes sparkled as he held up his arms. “Come here.”
Immediately, Larkin smothered him in his embrace, settling comfortably between the young man’s thighs.
Lifting his legs so his feet were hooked over the back of Larkin’s legs, Rian pulled him close, whispering in his ear, “Come inside me. Fill me until it flows down my thighs.”
Larkin moaned at the sultry words and kissed Rian with all the desire and affection brimming up inside him. The game was forgotten as their mutual need superseded all other things. Rian felt the other man’s substantial erection open him and impale him. He sighed at the heady sense of completion that only came with Larkin’s body joining with his own.
Sweat beaded over Larkin’s brow as he held his lust in check and inched forward slowly, wanting to draw out the sensation of delving into Rian’s tantalizing depths for as long as possible.
And all the while, Aigean sat, weeping shaft in hand, stroking himself and watching the pair with glowing eyes.
When Larkin began his conquest in earnest, pumping in and out of Rian’s tight channel in a demanding rhythm, as Rian whimpered in ecstasy. His unruly chestnut hair spread out around him, framing his face as Larkin gazed into Rian’s glassy eyes. There seemed to be a different quality to their lovemaking that night. They had been playing games in bed frequently lately. Now, without them, the underlying passion and love between the two men was heightened. It wasn’t often that they left behind all other pretenses and allowed nothing spoken between them but their love. Larkin knew that such emotional vulnerability was still difficult with Rian. As much as Larkin lavished his affection upon him, and as often as they coupled, Rian was still scarred by insecurities left behind from his days in sexual slavery.
But now they held one another’s gaze, and let their bodies express all the naked emotion between them. Moreover, having Aigean as witness to the moment somehow made it that much more stirring.
As Larkin felt his climax about to descend, he worked Rian’s hard length to bring him to his second orgasm of the evening. Rian cried out his rapture and clung to Larkin, wrapping his legs tightly about his waist.
The sound of all three men’s pleasure bounced along the walls and echoed around them. Larkin and Rian made a stunning pair, and Aigean was about to burst at any moment. Yet he tried to hold back, to time it so he would explode just as the other men screamed their release. It wouldn’t be long from the look of it. Larkin was ramming into Rian’s body with vigor, and Rian writhed and twisted beneath him in an agony of ecstasy.
Within minutes, their ravenous desires mounted beyond control. Larkin was the first to voice his delirious release, spilling forth into his young lover even as Rian’s muscles clamped down around him. Rian’s ass spasmed and milked Larkin’s shaft as Rian’s body was flooded with the sweet intoxication of his climax.
Aigean drank in their cries, licking his lips at the sight of Rian arching his back off the bed, Rian’s arms wrapped securely about the older man’s neck as Larkin kissed him. Finally, the elemental let himself go, and a choked gasp escaped his throat as his seed scattered across the floor before him.
It took several minutes for the men to collect themselves. The scent of sex remained, lingering in the room. Aigean breathed it in and smiled. All in all, it was the best Beltane he had spent in years.
On the bed, Rian and Larkin drowsed contentedly. Rian was curled in Larkin’s arms, his wavy chestnut hair falling over the man’s chest. “I love you,” Larkin whispered softly. Rian titled his face up to kiss him, then flashed the man a playful grin.
“You forgot to say, ‘Master’,” he teased. “I’ll have to punish you for that.”
Rian nodded. “Yes, but… later,” he replied smiling.
Keeley shut the door to Faolan’s room quietly and stepped into the hall. He had woken late in the night, his stomach grumbling loudly. Not wanting to disturb his injured lover, Rian had slipped out of the room for a late-night raid of the kitchens. He was still groggy, but he didn’t want to trouble Rian at this hour to fetch him something. He felt his strength coming back to him; the rest at Faolan’s side at done him good. Keeley always felt a greater sense of wellbeing when he was near the man. Though he would have preferred to stay warm and secure in the earl’s bed, the young man’s hunger had won out in the end, luring him from his comfortable slumber.
As Keeley made his way as silently as possible down the hallways toward the kitchens, the faint sound of voices came to his ears. A few doors down from where he stood, a door was cracked open, the light streaming out into the dim hall. He heard soft laughter drift out from the door and recognized one of the voices as Larkin. Keeley bit his lip, wondering if he should just walk by, but something about the voices made him hesitate. Knowing Rian and Larkin’s penchant for exhibitionism, Keeley didn’t wish to take the chance of being seen, should he pass by. Glancing back down the hall, Keeley tried to remember if there was a back passageway that would allow him to get to the kitchens without being seen. He gave a tired sigh and leaned for a moment against the wall. His stomach was protesting the delay of food and he wondered if he should just take the chance, when another voice caught his attention.
“I really must be going now.”
The voice was Aigean’s, Keeley realized. Why would he be in Larkin’s room so late?
“But it’s the middle of the night,” said Rian in a surprised tone.
“I prefer travel by night, actually. But I thank you both for your–hospitality.”
Keeley could hear the smile in the man’s voice and it made him blush, inexplicably. Certainly he was letting his imagination run away with him by thinking that all three men would have been engaged in…intimate relations? They must have been talking. So much had happened during the past two days, there must have been need for a long discussion.
However, Keeley did not quite believe his rationalizations and was determined to hide until Aigean had left, until he heard Larkin say, “Wait, before you go, I wanted to ask you something. What did you mean yesterday, when you said that Faolan had been ‘weakened’ after the sunset? Was he hurt in some way we didn’t see?”
“Ah, that’s right, you wouldn’t know,” the elemental said thoughtfully. “I suppose he never was allowed to discuss it.”
“Discuss what?” Larkin asked. His tone was clipped, obviously annoyed–or unnerved–by Aigean’s cryptic reply.
“I meant that Faolan’s intuition, or clairvoyance–whatever you wish to call it–had been taken from him when the sun set.”
“By Kane?” Larkin asked, incredulous.
“No. Perhaps I should say that his intuition wasn’t so much taken as it was returned–to the person who bestowed it upon him in the first place.”
There was a pause before Larkin whispered in amazement and sudden knowledge, “The Queen…”
“But why now?” Rian asked.
“The earl missed his appointment,” Aigean explained. “It was known within the faerie realm that they met once a year, on Beltane’s Eve. The rumor was that was their contract, and he broke it.”
“For Keeley…” came Rian’s soft voice. The words were not accusatory, but sad.
Keeley braced himself against the wall. Aigean’s words had hit him like a blow. He had been right–Faolan was different now. The man’s powers had been stripped from him. And why? All because of Keeley–all for his sake. The young man clutched at his chest as a storm of emotions engulfed him.
“What did this ‘appointment’ involve?” Larkin asked.
“Hmm, I wonder?” the elemental quipped suggestively. “Faolan was high in Her Majesty’s favor.”
If there was more conversation, Keeley did not hear it. He could hear nothing over his own heartbeat echoing in his ears. Quickly and quietly, he retreated to his room. No fire had been made there and it was chill in the darkness, but Keeley already felt numb.
What would he do?
It was his fault that Faolan had been so badly injured and left bereft of all his powers. Keeley felt a heavy responsibility for it, and felt that somehow, some way, he would have to restore the Earl’s intuition. But how? He felt helpless, inadequate. Faolan had an entire relationship with the Queen he knew nothing about. Even as he contemplated it, new questions and worries flooded his mind.
For a long time he sat shivering on his cold bed. Unable to help himself, he slipped back into the warmth of Faolan’s chambers, kneeling close by the fire and watching the red-haired man sleep. As his eyes drifted over the man’s injuries, a fierce determination rose inside him and with it, the answer to his dilemmas. He would get Faolan’s powers back–and he would find out the secrets of his relations with the Queen as well.
Walking over to the earl’s bedside, he took the man’s hand in his own. His azure eyes shone with love and calm, resigned courage. “You’ve always watched over me, always tried your best to protect me,” he whispered. “Now, it’s my turn to take care of you.” As he spoke, tears threatened his eyes, but he forced them back and remained resolute. “Wait for me,” he said softly and, laying a kiss upon his lover’s brow, he left.
“I wonder how the Master is doing,” Rian said the next morning as he lounged with Larkin in bed. “Things will be quite difficult if his powers are truly gone.”
“Yes,” Larkin replied thoughtfully. “We’ll be working blindly from now on. My magics are no substitute for Faolan’s intuition. It’s unfortunate timing, considering we must begin training Keeley to harness and control his own powers. It could be dangerous.”
They continued to talk for a time, but as the sky grew pink, Rian rose to begin his duties–despite Larkin’s pouting. In truth, Rian enjoyed the early mornings. In the faint glow of the sky, just before sunrise, the world always seemed new and fresh. There was a kind of peace within it. However, this morning the servant was uneasy. Perhaps it was because he sensed Larkin’s tension, but his apprehension would not leave him. Even the most average person has some sixth sense, he recalled Larkin saying.
As Rian carried a tray of morning tea into his master’s room, he was surprised to see that Keeley wasn’t with him. When the servant knocked on the young man’s door and found Keeley’s room empty as well, he grew uneasy. Soon, Larkin was recruited to help him search for Keeley. Larkin assured Rian there was nothing to worry about, but as the morning aged to afternoon, and there was no sign of Keeley.
By evening, it was clear he was nowhere on the grounds of the estate. Ancalagon was still in the stables, nothing else seemed to be missing, and Larkin could sense no aura of ill will anywhere nearby. Yet the night changed to morning and still Keeley had not returned. With Faolan’s connection with the faerie realm severed, their search for him went slow. One day passed, and then another. It was as if Keeley had been swallowed up in the fog one night, and vanished.
Faolan folded and refolded the small note in his hands. It was the only message Keeley had left behind, and it wasn’t found until several days after the boy’s disappearance. The slip of paper had dropped from its resting place on the Earl’s pillow and fallen beneath the bed. Rian had been the one to find it during his cleaning.
Looking over the lines yet again, Faolan frowned.
‘There is something I need to do. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll return to you soon.’
But days turned into weeks, and still he did not return, nor could they gain any information. Staring out the window, Faolan sent out a silent prayer for his lover’s safety, hoping that today would be the day he was found. He was immensely frustrated that he often had to leave the search in other’s hands… since Faolan no longer had the power to hear Keeley’s voice from afar.
On the night of Beltane…
It was the dark, dead of night. Keeley could barely see a few yards ahead of his feet, but he walked forward with surety. The young man had a mission, and he was driven by it. Though he had never ventured into the faerie realm, he had learned from Faolan some of the places where the passage was easier. Of course, the earl had told him this information in order for him to avoid those areas, not seek them out.
Mists curled about his feet, chilly and almost material in their thickness, like glowing, ethereal tendrils reaching out for him. It reminded him sharply of the evening last Halloween, when he had first ventured to the earl’s estate.
On and on Keeley went, until he had lost all sense of direction in the darkness and was completely surrounded in the fog. A vague uneasiness settled over him for a moment as he paused to assess his surroundings, or lack thereof. He could see nothing. A feeling of weakness began to steal over him. Keeley should’ve eaten more than the day-old bread he’d snatched from the kitchens before leaving. Yet, it had been crucial for him to venture out as soon as possible, before the sun rose and Beltane came to an end. But for All Hallows Eve, it was the night when the veil between worlds would be at its thinnest.
Surely he would find the faerie realm? He had to. Keeley shut his eyes and focused his determination and intentions, knowing that this too was important for crossing into the other world. A sudden shift or flutter in the air nearby startled him, and when he blinked his eyes, he saw, faint but certain, the form of a fiery red butterfly wafting in the mist before him.
The scarlet butterfly. The sign of a faerie’s soul-spirit. He had only seen one before, and Keeley hoped this vision belonged to a different soul. Keeley didn’t relish having to deal with Far Dorocha. Although considering he was seeking the Queen and that the man was Her servant, it was likely he would have to.
Cautiously, he followed the flittering red wings, careful to keep his mind as clear as possible. Keeley did not want to risk his soul by being separated from his body. He’d come to strike a bargain with the Queen, not to throw his life away. Yet with every step, the world seemed further removed from his conscious mind. It almost felt as if he was sinking into the ground with each step.
Keeley shook his head clear and refocused on the butterfly ahead. Concentrate, he told himself. Step after step, he continued, wondering when the mists about him would clear. It seemed endless.
Slowly, he became aware of voices mingling in the air about him. Their speculative murmurs seemed to brush just passed his ears, but he couldn’t make out the words.
Suddenly, he realized that the butterfly before him had disappeared, in its place was a shadow with the vague silhouette of a man. The figure was somehow familiar and Keeley found his instincts prickle.
“Whom do you seek, little one?” came a voice that seemed to emanate from the air itself. It surrounded him and reverberated in his mind. It could have been male or female, and commanded immediate authority.
“I wish to speak with the Faerie Queen,” Keeley answered with a voice much more steady and clear than he would have thought himself capable of. His conviction to help Faolan had helped him to overcome his feelings of foreboding and fear. He was in completely uncharted waters now.
“Why should she hear you?”
Keeley swallowed, knowing he had to choose his words carefully. If dealings with powerful men could be tricky, they were doubly so with the faerie folk—or so he had been told.
“I have come to make a bargain with Her Majesty.”
Although Keeley could not see the figure’s face, he could almost certainly sense an amused smile behind the mist.
“To bargain you must have something to sell. What can you offer, little one?”
“Whatever is of equal value that is in my possession.” Then, quickly he added, “I withhold only my life.”
The shadow nodded, seeming satisfied. “He’s a clever one,” it said smoothly, the voice now coalescing to one point and losing its ambiguity. The figure sounded clearly masculine. “Don’t you think, my Queen?”
As these last words were spoken, Keeley watched, bewildered as the fog drew back like a curtain, and he stood facing Far Dorocha—with the Queen herself behind him. The air around him was littered with more soul-spirits than Keeley had ever seen in his life. Most were a rosy or scarlet hue, though a few were pale white.
His eyes wandered from the soft, fluttering forms to the woman seated before him. The Queen both was and was not what the young man had expected. Impossibly beautiful, ageless and radiant, yet she was approachable. Her warm smile made his heart melt, and her cool sky blue eyes held him in their power, looking straight through him. He blushed.
“Keeley Finnegan, why have you come to me? What bargain do you wish to propose?” she asked gently.
He gazed up at her from where she sat on her high throne made of intricately intertwined branches and vines. Every leaf and stem seemed to glow.
“I have come to bargain for Earl Faolan’s powers.”
The Queen cocked an eyebrow down at him, giving him a curious, unreadable expression.
“Is that all you came for?” the Queen asked, her rosy lips spreading in a sly, knowing smile.
Keeley was at a loss for a moment, as the faerie looked into his eyes. “I also came for answers,” he found himself saying, though he had not meant to. The words seemed to have poured from his mouth unbidden.
“Indeed,” she said softly, leaning down to reach a hand out and touch his face. “You wonder about him and I, don’t you?”
“Yes, your Majesty.” Again, he answered immediately, as if he could not refuse her the truth.
“What do you want to know?” she asked, tilting her head and considering him.
He opened his mouth, then paused, deliberately checking himself—though with some effort. “First tell me the price of this information,” Keeley said with a hint of suspicion.
“Knowledge comes at its own price. Once given, it can never be taken back. I will tell you what you like, but ask yourself if you really want to know. I will only warn you once.”
Keeley had not expected this answer and his mind filled with uncertainties. Did he really want to know the extent of Faolan’s relationship with the Queen? Knowledge had ruined Paradise before—did he really want to taint his own mind with this information when he might not be better off without it?
Lifting his eyes to meet the Queen, he surprised her by asking a question she did not expect: “Did you love him?”
Her countenance warmed as she answered, “I loved him in my own way, but I do not have a mortal heart and my love is not contained to any one man—no matter how special.”
There had been a thousand other questions written on Keeley’s brain when he had learned Faolan and Her Majesty might have been intimate, but now he found he could not ask any of them. At least not to the Queen. Keeley had asked her the only question she could truly answer for him. Everything else, he suddenly realized, he should be asking Faolan himself. It was not a conversation the young man was looking forward to, but he would not be a child and skirt around the issue. He would have to face it head-on when he returned.
“Are you satisfied?” the Queen asked when Keeley fell into silence.
“Yes,” he replied quietly.
“Then let us name the terms of our bargain.”
Keeley nodded, his face turning determined once more. “I want Faolan’s powers restored—permanently.”
“That is a tall order,” Her Majesty replied, though she continued to smile. “The price could be high.”
“I understand,” Keeley said with conviction.
“If Faolan wants his powers restored, why did he not come himself?” asked the Queen.
“It was my choice to come. He didn’t ask me to…He doesn’t know I’m here.”
“Interesting,” the woman murmured. “Why come at all then? The Earl made his choice. He was aware of the consequences.”
Keeley stared into the Queen’s unfathomable eyes. “He made his decision because of me, and now I am here for him. This is my choice.”
“But you,” Her Majesty began, “perhaps do not know the consequences.”
Keeley looked at her questioningly.
“What if I asked you never to see Faolan again, as your price?”
Swallowing hard, Keeley tried to tell the Queen he would do even this, but the words would not come. His heart squeezed in a vise just thinking about it. But was his resolve so weak? He’d been so determined to help Faolan, no matter what the cost. How could he waver now?
The Queen’s hand brushed his face once again and Keeley, whose eyes had dropped to the ground in doubt, looked up at her once more.
“I will not ask such a thing,” she told him gently. “It would be a cost to Faolan as well, and even after breaking his tryst with me, still I would not take away his happiness.”
Keeley’s sigh of relief had barely left his lips when her Majesty added, “However, some price must be paid, and if you are here against the Earl’s wishes, he may be cross with you for it.”
“But I am trying to help him.”
With wise, knowing eyes Her Majesty evaluated him. “This is your request, not his. Remember that.”
Growing frustrated at the Queen’s hints and warnings, Keeley straightened his shoulders and said boldly, “I am aware of that. Name your price.”
The regal figure leaned back in her high seat and Keeley waited with growing impatience as she considered him. Finally she said, “Faolan struck my fancy, and so we entered into a pact. You, however, are more to someone else’s liking.” Her hand beckoned a man to her side, and Keeley realized he’d forgotten that Far Dorocha had been close by, witnessing their conversation.
“My servant will be naming the terms,” she said, much to Keeley’s dismay.
He watched as Far Dorocha, also known as the Dark Man, stepped up to him, looking down at Keeley with a grin of pure satisfaction and desire.
“If you wish to restore your Master’s power, you must spend a night—with me.” To punctuate the meaning of his words, Dorocha slipped an arm about his waist, pulling Keeley taut against his body. The tall man’s lips brushed Keeley’s ear as he said, “Give yourself to me, for just a little while, and your request will be granted.”
Disturbed and suddenly feeling foggy-headed, Keeley looked past Dorocha to the Queen. She looked back at him long and meaningfully and he wondered if this had been planned since the moment he’d stepped over the border into her realm.
“Do we have a bargain?” she asked.
Keeley knew he should try to negotiate. If he agreed to these conditions, it would be a betrayal toward Faolan, even if it were for the Earl’s sake. The young man tried to think clearly and formulate some counter-offer, but his head was swimming. Dorocha’s lips were tracing the curve of his neck and Keeley’s will was wavering. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew this was wrong. If he had been himself surely he would be pushing the Dark Man away from him. But then, Keeley had never been able to thwart the man’s advances—he still lacked the skills to defend himself in such a situation. An all-out attack was in some ways far easier to defend that the subtle, well-crafted spells cast to seduce the mind.
Pulling back, Keeley glanced up at the Dark Man’s face—a mistake he recognized too late. Dorocha’s obsidian eyes caught his own, and all Keeley’s defenses fled. The man had him fully under his power now.
“Do we have a bargain?” the Queen asked again.
Immediately the fog that had stood at bay around them closed tightly in. Keeley’s skin tingled at its chilly breath, but a new heat had begun to burn in his belly. His eyes fluttered shut.
“That’s it. The pact has been made already—let yourself go,” the Dark Man whispered.
Dorocha smothered Keeley’s lips, diving his tongue between them. Keeley gasped, feeling helpless as the other man teased him, slowly coaxing his tongue into Keeley’s mouth. Deft hands slipped beneath the young man’s clothing, peeling it off layer by layer. When Keeley’s upper body was exposed, Dorocha’s fingers hooked about his waist, thumbs caressing his hipbones and causing Keeley to shudder. A sinuous mouth slid along his throat.
“You really do have the most delicious energy,” Dorocha whispered in a husky tone. “It’s rare to find a mortal of mixed blood. For those who have the power to sense it, it is intoxicating.”
Keeley squirmed under Dorocha’s touch, disliking his words. However, he’d given his consent, and his body was already drowning beneath the man’s lustful spell.
Yet even as the Dark Man set his flesh aflame with passion, Keeley recognized that this feeling was nothing like the desire he felt for Faolan.
Would the man know? Keeley wondered. Could he hide this from him? Did he want to?
Faolan had kept so much from him in the past, Keeley questioned whether part of him was seeking to even the score between them. He was beginning to glimpse how difficult the situation was going to be upon his return.
But between his guilt and confusion glowed the current spell of lust, and a fresh wave of desire suddenly crashed over him.
“You’re thinking too much, little one,” came the Dark Man’s silky voice. His hands became more insistent, forcing their way into Keeley’s breeches and gliding the fabric down the young man’s hips until he was completely exposed. Fingers danced across his skin, brushing his nipples into hard nubs. Dorocha’s skilled lips followed and Keeley moaned as an almost painful arousal shot from his chest down into his groin.
Keeley felt as if he’d been drugged. Behind his shut eyes the world was awash in a dazzling light, or maybe it was the brilliant heat of his own body blinding him. One hand cradled the small of Keeley’s back as Dorocha’s mouth moved down his body, sampling each curve and crevice with frenzied delight. Keeley found his fingers tangled in the man’s midnight black locks as Dorocha circled his navel with his smooth tongue. Keeley’s body was acting on its own, the need for fulfillment burning within him like a live brand. His passion cried out for more and made Keeley delirious.
The boundaries between reality and dream blurred. Keeley felt as if he was floating and all around him the Dark Man’s hands and limbs were guiding him. Dorocha knew just how to play his body so that Keeley was beside himself. Long fingers molded Keeley’s body to his touch, grazing his ribs lightly then gripping his wrists firmly to hold him still while his mouth descended down his torso.
“Tonight, you are mine,” Far Dorocha whispered against his skin. His voice reverberated with his consuming desire to make the young man submit to him in all things. “I will have you begging for me before the night is through.”
“No…” Keeley whimpered, but he could no more stop the power of his carnal desire than he could hold back the tide. Never before had he been such a slave of his lust. His body was under the Dark Man’s sway and although Dorocha could not taint the longings of Keeley’s heart, he could still manipulate the passions of his body.
In the next moment, the man had lowered his mouth around Keeley’s weeping cock and he gave a spine-tingling cry in direct opposition to his earlier protest.
“Gnnhh,” came Keeley’s choked gasp as Dorocha worked him.
While sliding his tongue up and down the young man’s rigid length, Dorocha let his hands fondle Keeley’s most private regions. One hand rolled the young man’s testicles against his palm, while the other crept slowly from the arch of Keeley’s back to the cleft of his ass.
The poor boy writhed and moaned, unable to escape the rapture that had ensnared him. His cock was fit to burst already, but Dorocha kept him just out of reach of his orgasm, teasing him mercilessly. A digit probed him from behind, and Keeley eagerly pressed against it, aching for further stimulation.
More than happy to violate the young man further, Dorocha obliged him, sinking first one then another long finger inside him. For a long time Keeley was posed thus—with the Dark Man’s fingers pumping him while he thrust with abandon into his hot mouth. The pleasure was intense, and it seemed to go on forever.
How long had it been in reality? Keeley had lost all sense of time.
When his body grew frustrated by skirting the brink of ecstasy, but never reaching it, Keeley groaned and tried to pull back. Dorocha, however, did not let him loose for a second.
Coming to his feet, he crushed Keeley’s naked body against him and slowly reclined them back onto the ground.
“You feel it now don’t you?” Far Dorocha said in his ear. “You’re body is almost ripe.”
Lying on his back now, Keeley briefly opened his eyes to see the mysterious, raven-haired man hovering over him.
“Open you legs, precious. I want to explore you,” said Dorocha.
Incapable of protest while the drugged feeling of need and euphoria had hold of him, Keeley obeyed. Dorocha dipped his head and explored him thoroughly with his mouth and tongue—licking a line from the curve of his ass to the base of his shaft and back again.
As Dorocha sucked leisurely at the young man’s pulsing cock, he asked, “What is it you want, my little firefly?”
“I want…” Keeley replied through clenched teeth, “release!”
A smile curled over Dorocha’s lips. “That could be interpreted a number of ways, best be careful.” He raised himself to nip gingerly at the tormented young man’s nipples and pressed a finger between his ass cheeks suggestively. “Be more specific.”
Swallowing hard, Keeley told him, “Make me come.”
There was a soft chuckle, and Keeley felt himself flipped over onto his stomach. Behind him, Dorocha scattered kisses over the soft rise of the young man’s ass, taking his time as Keeley squirmed in the throes of his driving desire.
There was the sound of shuffling clothing. Dorocha pressed his body up against him, the man’s cock now positioned at the rosy bud of Keeley’s entrance. A warm hand wrapped about his twitching erection, then stopped. “Tsk. Our time is nearly up, little one. Unless… you wish to continue?”
Keeley could barely breath for his wanting. He felt that if his lust remained unconsummated he would go mad. Attempting to collect his thoughts when his entire being was focused on the hot desire searing him, he said, “Only for a little while.” His hands dug into the ground beneath him in frustration. “Please, only for a little while. Just--finish it!” he begged.
“If that is your wish,” Dorocha said with a smirk. With that he drove forward and buried himself in the young man’s tight depths.
“Ahh!” Keeley cried, his mind overcome by a delirious pain and pleasure as the Dark Man plunged into him ruthlessly.
Dorocha relished every cry from his sweet mouth. It was a thrilling, rapturous fuck for the handsome servant, who had waited far longer than he had anticipated to violate the delicious specimen so helpless beneath him now. And he was going to hold onto him for as long as he could.
For what felt like days, Keeley spun through a world of ecstasy and sexual torment. Far Dorocha kept his word: Keeley came so powerfully he nearly screamed his rapture, but the blood in his veins did not seem to cool and their session continued. Again and again, the Dark Man took him, making the young man beg for him each time. Between rounds of coitus, Dorocha teased and toyed with Keeley’s body, until Keeley was exhausted.
“Any more and you will go too far—he won’t be able to return,” said a voice somewhere nearby, when Keeley lay panting.
“A pity,” came Far Dorocha’s reply. “Very well.”
A hand touched Keeley’s face and his weak eyes blinked open to see the handsome figure grinning down at him. “It was a pleasure, my little firefly. I hope someday we can meet again.”
Dorocha’s face wavered, or maybe Keeley’s eyes fell shut. He couldn’t remember. The next time he opened his eyes, it was the light of the sun waking him. The dazed sensation that had held his mind for so long gradually lifted and he felt the sharp texture of grass under his hands. Looking around, Keeley saw that he was lying in a field not far from where the fog had first overtaken him when he was searching for the faerie realm.
Pulling off his coat, Keeley wiped his brow. It was unusually hot for early spring. Looking around, he noticed that the foliage wasn’t right for the season either. A sinking feeling hit his stomach—something wasn’t right.
Keeley sat up, trying to get his bearings, but he immediately regretted the sudden movement. His head spun and filled with questions. Why was it so hot? Where was he? What was he doing lying in a field?
He was so distracted that he didn’t hear the sound of two horsemen approaching. When Keeley finally looked up, his eyes met the sight of auburn hair glowing in the morning sun.
Faolan, Keeley realized, his face brightening. Of course! How could he have forgotten? He had gone off to restore the man’s powers and, for once, return to the Earl some of the kindness and bravery the man had always shown him. And Keeley had succeeded.
Grinning from ear to ear, Keeley anticipated Faolan’s joy upon realizing he’d regained his powers of clairvoyance—and his own satisfaction in telling his lover that it was he who had been able to restore them.
A brief shadow flitted across his mind when he tried to remember just how he had managed this, however. He recalled meeting the Queen and her fathomless eyes, but little else. They had struck a bargain, but what had it entailed? It was so dim and foggy now.
When Keeley’s mind refused to give up the details, he had an uneasy feeling that he would be just as happy not knowing. What did it matter, anyway? His purpose had been achieved.
Turning his attention back to the riders, he stood and confirmed that it was indeed Larkin and Faolan coming toward him. Certainly they had recognized him by now as well, though there were no shouts of surprise. Keeley took this as evidence that Faolan had followed his newly restored intuition and had been expecting to find him in the field.
Keeley smiled as he met Faolan’s emerald eyes, but the other man did not return the gesture. The man looked back at him with an odd mixture of relief, longing, and—to Keeley’s surprise—vivid anger. Without a word, Faolan reined in his horse not a yard from where Keeley stood, and descended.
“Faolan, I—” Keeley began, unsure of the man’s mood, but still brimming with the joy of his accomplishment.
His words were abruptly curbed when Faolan whipped his hand from his glove and slapped the young man hard across the face. The force of the strike was so severe it knocked the boy off his feet, sending Keeley tumbling back into the tall brown grasses.
Stunned, Keeley looked up at his lover with unbelieving eyes filled with hurt and confusion, his lashes quickly collecting tears. He couldn’t bring himself to speak as Faolan gazed at him with a heated anger hehad rarely witnessed from the other man. Then, still remaining silent, the Earl remounted and rode off at a thundering gallop over the dry grasses.
For a moment, Keeley didn’t realize that Larkin was still there, not until the man guided his horse over and bent down to offer his hand. “Come, let’s get back to the estate,” he said gently. Keeley barely heard him, but he allowed himself to be drawn onto Larkin’s horse, sitting before him in the saddle.
“I… I don’t understand…” Keeley finally whispered, tears spilling over his cheeks. It seemed a cruel irony that he would have tried so hard to help Faolan only to be so ruthlessly rejected by him without explanation.
“You went to the land of faerie for him, didn’t you?”
“How did you—?”
“Faolan’s powers returned to him early this morning and he immediately knew where to find you. He also seemed to know that you had been to see the Queen and bargained with her, though he wouldn’t speak of it.”
“I thought he would be happy. I thought he would be proud of me…” Keeley replied, bitterness lacing his voice, the injustice of the situation rankling him.
As sympathetic as Larkin was toward the young man, and as difficult as it was to see his shining tears, he clicked his tongue impatiently. “Do you honestly think Faolan would want you to put yourself in danger on his behalf?”
“It wasn’t dangerous,” Keeley retorted, although he actually couldn’t remember enough to declare this with honesty. “It was my fault that he lost his ‘intuition,’ and it was my duty to get it back!”
“If it was anyone’s fault it was Kane’s. Faolan never expected you to take responsibility for it.”
Keeley bit back more tears and tried to collect himself. “But it was something I felt I had to do,” he said softly, and Larkin had to strain to hear his words above the beat of the horse’s hooves. “I wanted to be able to do something for him, after all he’d given me. Was there something wrong with that?”
Behind him, Larkin gave a sigh. “You could have discussed it with him—with one of us, at the very least. You went into the faerie realm blindly. You don’t know how lucky you are to have come out again.”
His youthful pride stirring, Keeley retorted, “But everything worked out fine!”
“I wouldn’t say that. You put Faolan in an awful state, Keeley.”
Larkin continued before the young man could interrupt. “You don’t understand, you didn’t see him; he was crazed with grief when you went missing.”
“I couldn’t have been gone more than a day or two!” Keeley cried, scowling.
Larkin man shook his head. There was no use hiding it, the boy would find out sooner or later. “No, Keeley. You’ve been missing for almost four months.”
This sudden news rattled Keeley so badly that he nearly toppled from the horse. Only Larkin’s strong hand clutching about his waist saved him from the fall.
“That is the danger of stepping into the land of faerie,” the older man explained. “Time works differently there. You could have spent half your life within that realm and never have known it.”
Keeley made no reply, a chill setting into his bones as the reality of his situation finally hit him.
Larkin watched Keeley’s face pale as he soberly digested this new information. They rode together the rest of the way to the estate in silence.
* * *
“Keeley!” Rian cried, the young man’s face alight with relief. He took hold of the reins of Larkin’s horse as the men cantered up to the gates. “I could hardly believe it when Faolan said he knew where to find you!”
Slipping down from the saddle, Keeley was surprised by the servant’s excited greeting and even more so by the hug Rian gave him. Though he and Rian had never been close confidants, the unexpectedly warm welcome was a balm on Keeley’s heart after Faolan’s cold reception. Even Larkin had been unusually sober. At least someone seemed happy to see him, Keeley thought dejectedly.
When Rian led him through the house, Keeley found that many other servants greeted him with smiles of surprise and welcome as well. It made the estate feel more like home than it ever had, but also increased Keeley’s sense of lost time. He saw several faces among the staff that were completely new to him. For Keeley, hardly more than a night had past, but here everyone looked at him as if he had been gone for months—which, of course, he had.
As they passed through the kitchens, one of the cooks stopped Keeley to comment on how wonderful it was to see him returning to the household. Larkin took the opportunity to pull Rian aside, whispering in his ear, “Show Keeley to his old room and bring up some tea. Sit with him and see if you can get him talking.” He paused. “It’s as Faolan thought, he was in the faerie realm. Find out what you can. I’ll be with Faolan.”
The young servant nodded and Larkin left them. Rian followed Larkin’s wishes, depositing Keeley in his room before fetching the tea. While he carried the tray back up the stairs, Rian reflected that he must have spent about half his life at the estate fetching tea—but of course that was much preferable to the activities of his old life.
When he returned to join Keeley in the young man’s room, he saw him looking thoughtfully at his surroundings. Everything was just as he’d left it, yet slightly tidied up. Rian had obviously been caring for the space in Keeley’s absence, but the room had the slight, stuffy air of a room long left abandoned.
Setting the tray down on a small table, Rian pulled up two chairs and immediately jumped into conversation.
“What was it like?” Rian asked excitedly, handing Keeley a steamy cup of amber-colored tea. “You went to the faerie world, didn’t you?” he asked when Keeley blinked at him.
Taken off-guard at Rian’s animated questions after the heavy silence of the room, Keeley began awkwardly, “I—I don’t remember much of it, actually.”
“Did you see her?”
“The Queen,” Rian said, his eyes filled with curiosity.
Keeley recalled her Majesty’s penetrating gaze and his cheeks turned pink. “She seems to look right through you with her eyes…” he found himself saying.
“So you did meet her,” Rian said softly, awe underlying his words.
Being the only member of the Society without any kind of otherworldly power, Rian held a secret fascination for faerie magic. He’d never felt quite right asking Faolan or Larkin questions about such matters—the men told him what he needed to know and he accepted that his knowledge would be limited. However, now that Larkin had encouraged him to get information, Rian felt all his latent curiosity and fascination suddenly given free rein. He was almost as surprised as Keeley at his enthusiasm.
“How did it happen? How did you get there?” Rian asked. Across from him, Keeley shifted uneasily in his chair.
“I just aimed for the Hawthorn trees on the other end of the estate. It was Beltane after all so… I knew it would be easy to cross worlds if my intention was there.”
“But why did you go seeking it?”
Keeley blinked. “To restore Faolan’s powers, of course.”
Rian nodded. Yes, certainly that would make sense. His master’s hunches had been correct, though how Keeley had discovered the truth about the Earl’s magics they still didn’t know.
“But how,” Rian paused, wondering if he was pressing Keeley with too many questions, but could not help asking, “how did you manage to convince the Queen to help him?”
For a moment, Keeley said nothing, simply staring down into his teacup. Flashes of memory were coming back to him, but he shoved them away. “That’s between myself and the Queen,” he said, more sharply and defensively than he’d meant it.
“I see,” was Rian’s flat reply.
Quickly, Keeley tried to switch gears and keep the conversation from falling into a brooding silence. “Rian, has it really been four months?”
“Almost that, yes.”
“I thought,” he started, and fidgeted as he continued, “that Faolan would be happier to see me.”
In a quiet, serious tone Rian told him, “Of course he’s happy to see you. No one felt your absence more than Faolan did.”
“It didn’t appear that way to me.”
Rian didn’t respond right away. He had seen how angered and upset his master was when he returned and Rian knew the man must have been torn between relief that his lover was safe and anger that Keeley had gone off without word or warning. Still, Rian had expected Faolan to ravish Keeley for days on end if he was ever found again. Faolan must have been even more heartbroken than he had realized, to be in such conflict now.
“What did he do, when he saw you?” Rian asked, genuinely curious.
Keeley’s eyes dropped, looking away—a sign Rian at first took for embarrassment, before realizing it was shame. “He hit me.”
“He slapped my face without saying a word.”
The room fell into silence then, and they sipped their tea together quietly. Rian didn’t press for more information, allowing Keeley his privacy while giving him the comfort of his company.
Meanwhile, Larkin was sitting, arms crossed, assessing his friend while Faolan stood in his room refusing to look at him.
“He did it for you, Faolan. Wouldn’t you have done the same in his place?”
The Earl stubbornly refused to reply.
“I know you were worried—”
“Worried!” Faolan almost shouted. “I was nearly out of my mind! Have you any idea what it was like, Larkin? Of course you don’t!” he riled. “Keeley’s disappearance would have been unbearable under normal circumstances, let alone when I had just lost all my powers! It was like suddenly being struck deaf and blind! He left at the one time I wouldn’t be able to follow!”
Larkin allowed his friend to vent and shout without interrupting. It was better to allow Faolan to let the anger and frustration out, than to let it boil and stagnate in his heart.
“I could do nothing for myself! Nothing! I thought I had been prepared to relinquish my power, because I had done it for the sake of someone I…” his voice faltered. “But when I realized I had no way to find him, and where he must have gone… Knowing that I didn’t have the power to reach the faerie world and that he probably had no idea what he was getting into.” Faolan sank down onto the bed, his head in his hands. “God, Larkin. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I explain everything? Keeley should have heard everything from me himself. If I had maybe he wouldn’t have…” He fell into silence.
After a moment, Larkin ventured, “Things happened fast on Beltane. You were still recuperating when Keeley left. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault.”
Faolan shook his head, and Larkin could feel the man’s anger still brewing—whether at himself or Keeley he wasn’t certain.
Larkin refrained from telling Faolan that the crux of his problem during those last several months had been the fact that Faolan had never been at such a loss before. The Earl needed to be in control—and he normally was. Always, Faolan had been one step ahead—until Keeley dropped into his life. This last incident had only illustrated the point more strongly. Love is an unknown factor, and it could wreak havoc in the heart as much as it sowed peace, the blonde man reflected as he watched his friend struggle.
It had surprised Larkin when Faolan slapped the young man. The last few weeks, he had thought Faolan was improving, but he knew at that moment that his friend had only found new ways to hide his pain and uncertainty.
“Faolan, if you want my advice, I’d try to put the past behind you,” Larkin suggested. “It’s over with and it will do you no good to dwell on it.”
“What about Keeley?” Faolan insisted. “Do you think he can put this all behind him?”
Larkin eyed his friend warily. “I don’t think he remembers, Faolan.” At the man’s questioning look, he continued, “You know the boy better than I, but if Keeley remembered everything that happened, surely the guilt would have been written all over his face. It wasn’t. All he knew was that he’d been able to help you—and that his reward for it was literally a slap in the face.”
Faolan winced as he recalled the scene, and sunk his head in his hands in frustration.
“You kept your secrets, Faolan. Let Keeley keep his own.”
Shortly after this, Larkin stood and left his friend to ponder the day’s events. He had been worried about this. During his long friendship with the Earl, Larkin had never known him to fall so deeply for anyone as he had for Keeley. The thought that he had lost him, and the added frustration of having no internal compass to guide him, had devastated Faolan. It was possible that the pain had dragged out too long, and scarred the man’s heart beyond repair. That was Larkin’s chief concern: that Faolan would shut his heart away and shut Keeley out just as surely as if the boy had never returned.
With an aching head and heavy heart, Larkin wandered back to his own room. To his delight, Rian was there waiting for him.
“You were with Faolan a long time,” the pretty brunette mused, taking Larkin’s jacket from his tired shoulders. It wasn’t yet noon and already Larkin was worn out from the day’s activity.
“Tell me you don’t have to rush off to do any absurd chores today?” Larkin inquired, looking down into his lover’s face.
“I’ve delegated my duties today so I don’t have anything to do but attend to you… and Faolan and Keeley,” Rian said with a sly grin.
“Make that just me,” the other man said, pulling them both down into the bed. “I won’t get you in trouble, now will I?” Larkin asked teasingly, as he kissed down Rian’s neck, working loose his collar.
With a giggle, Rian told him, “Half the servants have nothing to do anyway. I think Faolan must have hired them just to keep the house bustling and distract himself from Keeley’s absence.”
Pulling away to meet Rian’s grey eyes, Larkin replied, “You may be right.” Then, shaking off the solemn mood, he grinned again. Lifting Rian from the bed, he said, “Come on. Let’s make the most of the day and leave Faolan and Keeley to themselves.”
A half an hour later they stood at the foot of a brilliant waterfall, located in a woody valley a short ride from the estate. Larkin had discovered the sight years ago and brought Rian there once before at the beginning of their courtship. The pretty servant had still been emotionally bruised by his experiences at the brothel then, and the setting had been a serene backdrop for Larkin’s gentle seduction of the young man.
Rian remembered every moment of that first visit with absolute clarity. At that time, he had still been infatuated with Faolan and the intimacies he had shared with Larkin at the falls had helped to turn the tide of his heart. Looking back on it now, Rian wondered if the handsome blonde had chosen the setting not only for the water’s beauty, but also because the cascade’s mists had served to disguise his tears when Larkin had taken him.
It had been so difficult to be honest with himself back then. Larkin’s gentle voice and stirring touch had reopened old wounds, making him feel vulnerable, but it had also drawn out the poisonous bitterness that had slowly been eating away at him. It was good to revisit the spot now, when Rian could fully enjoy its beauty with a heart that was healed and whole.
“The perfect place to come after a long ride in the sun,” Rian said. He looked down to where the falls plunged into the pool below. It was maybe ten meters from where they stood on the surrounding rocks to the water’s cool, rippling surface. “Shall we?” Rian asked, grinning as he nodded down toward the pool below.
Larkin smiled, “Race you!”
The two men stripped in record speed, carelessly tossing their clothing aside. Larkin finished first and began to work his way down the steep stones to the water. He heard a whistle and looked up to the rocky ridge he had just descended from to see Rian still standing there.
“Looks like you’re going to lose,” Larkin smirked.
Rian gave him an enigmatic grin. “That’s what you think,” he said smoothly. Without hesitation, the young man stepped over the rocky edge and plummeted straight down to the pool in an elegant swan dive.
“Rian!” Larkin yelled, his voice filled with fear and reproach as Rian disappeared beneath the surface. One moment went by, then another. “Oh, God,” Larkin whispered when the boy still did not appear. “Please, no,” he said fiercely. Scrambling down the stones, he jumped in after him.
As soon as Larkin crashed into the water, a head popped up.
“Beat you,” Rian said with a beaming grin.
“Bloody hell!” Larkin cursed. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Rian replied with a mischievous giggle and Larkin lunged for him.
“You think it’s funny, do you?” the older man said, grabbing him about the waist as Rian squealed with delight. Larkin got a firm hold of the young man’s slick body and yanked him back beneath the water.
They both came up sputtering for air, and a playful wrestling match began.
“I thought you said you only learned how to swim after the first time I brought you here!” Larkin huffed, trying to get a hold on his slippery lover.
“I did!” Rian protested, still laughing unrepentantly. “But I’ve gone swimming a few other times since then. And diving isn’t that hard.”
Winded from his exertions, Rian settled back into Larkin’s arms and let himself float in the cool, refreshing waters.
“That nose-dive didn’t look like the work of a beginner,” Larkin said, half-serious, half-teasing. Rian shrugged, too content to offer any other reply.
Guiding them into shallower water where they could stand on their feet, Larkin leaned his back against one of the bordering rocks and held Rian to him. He looked down into the young man’s face as Rian’s back pressed against his chest and soaked in the lovely sight. Rian had his eyes shut and his lips slightly parted, perfectly at ease. Larkin shook his head in wonder.
Although he had joked about it, Larkin had been genuinely surprised at Rian’s skillful dive. As far as he knew, Rian had never attempted such a feat before—yet he’d done it effortlessly from the dangerous outcrop. But that was Rian. He was nothing if not a fast learner. Only sixteen, yet he practically ran the entire estate with fluid efficiency, and the household staff had come to rely on his expertise. The young man was so quick and confident in fact, that it was easy to forget his age as well as his traumatic past. Larkin often wondered if someday Rian would grow bored with his daily chores—or maybe he just hoped he would so they could have more time to themselves. Though the servant could easily delegate his duties and simply act as an overseer, Rian opted to take care of the small things himself—such as the ubiquitous tea services.
Larkin often saw himself as not only Rian’s lover, but as someone who could remind the young man that his life wasn’t all about work. Had he thought about it, Larkin would have realized that Rian balanced his own personality as well. Larkin being someone who tended to shirk responsibility a little too often, Rian reminded him that sometimes duties had to be tended to.
But not at the moment.
Now was the time to relax and forget about the rest of the world.
As Rian floated with the back of his head resting on Larkin’s shoulder, the blonde peppered his wet locks with kisses. Rian murmured his appreciation and slid his hands behind him and into Larkin’s golden hair. Tilting his head back, he sought the other man’s lips and kissed him. Immediately, Larkin’s hands were roving the contours of Rian’s body beneath the water.
Rian took advantage of his weightlessness in the pool and turned to face his lover, floating on his side and curling up against Larkin’s body. The other man cradled Rian to him, one arm around his shoulder, the other hovering over Rian’s naked backside.
The kiss between them lingered as they took their time exploring one another. Larkin brushed his lips over Rian’s mouth in soft, feathery caresses before dipping his tongue between those rose-petal lips. He sampled Rian’s mouth with long, sensuous sweeps of his tongue, savoring the unique flavor of his lover.
When Larkin’s hand drifted between his thighs, Rian moaned encouragingly. In return, Larkin pillaged his mouth with renewed vigor and slid one tempting finger into the valley of Rian’s buttocks. The slight, teasing pressure against the sensitive ring of muscle had him writhing for more intimate contact.
“More,” Rian pleaded, pushing his hips back.
With a wicked grin, Larkin swiftly repositioned the young man, so that Rian was now against the smooth rock with Larkin behind him. Larkin pressed his chest to Rian’s back and breathed in the groan of pleasure that slipped from his lover’s lips. He waited until Rian had a good grip on the slippery rock before proceeding with his agenda.
Rian looked over his shoulder provocatively, and Larkin smiled. He glided his lips over the exposed skin of Rian’s neck while his hands worked unseen beneath the water, spreading the cheeks of Rian’s inviting ass. He probed him with gentle strokes, making Rian gasp and cling to the stone before him.
The young man relished the feeling of Larkin’s adept fingers sliding into his body. Sighing in luxurious rapture, he tilted his head back into the sunlight, soaking in the moment for everything it was worth. The balmy afternoon breeze warmed his skin while the cool water of the pool surrounded his lower body in delicious contrast.
It had been a long time since Rian had felt so aroused and refreshed. The last few months had been extremely taxing on the O’Callaghan household, Rian not the least. The young man had watched his master fall further and further into frustration and melancholy—and there had been little he could do for him. While Larkin spent his days searching far and wide for information that might lead to Keeley’s whereabouts, Rian ran the ever-increasing staff at the estate. Additionally, he tended to his distraught master, spent hours in the libraries looking for anything useful, and used what little free time he had to ride the countryside with Larkin, hoping to find something, anything, that could led them to Keeley.
Larkin and Rian both felt a weight had been lifted off their shoulders now that Keeley had been found. Although they didn’t say it, both men knew that stealing away to the waterfall was silently acknowledging the fact that their long struggle had finally come to a successful end. It was also an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves before the inevitable new difficulties began—and Rian was determined to take advantage of it.
“Larkin,” he moaned, meeting the man’s hazel eyes over his shoulder. Larkin leaned in, licking a trail up along the shell of his ear.
“Is this what you’ve been waiting for?” he whispered, removing his fingers to guide his hard cock swiftly into the young man’s welcoming channel.
“God, yes!” Rian whimpered as the other man began to move inside him.
Larkin wasted no time. It had been too long since he’d taken his sweet, young lover. He drove into him now with abandon, heedless of the strength of their voices as their mutual ecstasy began to build.
For too long they had been sensitive to Faolan’s brooding mood and it had dampened their own desires. Now they let loose a torrent of passion, their naked bodies shimmering in the sunlight as they worked each other into a frenzy.
“You’re so tight, so perfect!” Larkin gasped between hard, pounding thrusts—and still Rian demanded, “Harder!”
Larkin obeyed with enthusiasm, their frantic lovemaking disturbing the water and causing the waves to crash violently on the bordering stones nearby.
“Yes, ahh! Ye—” Rian’s cry of rapture caught in his throat as he spilled his milky seed into the water. Larkin gave a low, guttural moan as his own ascent took him, then collapsed over his lover’s back.
Despite a very satisfactory climax, Larkin found his cock still stiff and swollen inside Rian’s body. He was looking forward to a second round when suddenly Rian yelped, shoving himself away from Larkin and burying himself in the water up to his nose.
“What on earth—?” Larkin began, quite annoyed. Rian turned to face him, setting his back to the rock and looking up at him with large, panicked eyes. He pointed over his shoulder and up to the rocky bank above them.
Glancing up, Larkin went pale. He was looking up into the barrel of a rifle held in the hands of a well-dressed woman on the ridge above. Rian watched as Larkin’s face changed from shock to frustration and annoyance.
“What rotten timing,” he grumbled. Then added irritably, “Will you point that thing someplace else?”
The woman smirked, looking very satisfied with herself, but she finally turned the gun away. “Well, well, if it isn’t my dear little brother. You never change, do you?”
* * *
Keeley paced the floor of his room, every so often moving towards the door only to turn back again. He wanted so badly to see Faolan and to try and explain things to him. Yet the more he remembered of his time in the faerie realm, the more conflicted he became. His mind tortured him with images of him and Far Dorocha together, and of Faolan’s look of anger when he’d met him on the field that morning. Somehow he must have discovered the truth of his dealings with Dorocha and the Queen. The thought made the pit of Keeley’s stomach cold with dread.
Everything had happened so fast after he entered the faerie realm, and it all seemed so hazy, even now. Things had simply gotten out of hand and out of his control. In the end, however, he had still accomplished his goal. Keeley wished that somehow Faolan would find it in his heart to accept that everything he had done had been on his behalf.
Keeley gritted his teeth, reluctant to face his lover yet reluctant to stay away. At the very least he had to try to talk with him. With a deep breath, he opened the door and ventured out, steeling himself for whatever was to come.
Keeley’s tension grew as he went from room to room and could not find the master of the house. Faolan had certain rooms he frequented more than others, but he wasn’t in any of his usual areas. As Keeley stood contemplating where the man might be, he suddenly thought of a small lounge on the top floor of the house. He didn’t know why he should think of it just then—Faolan rarely ever went there. But Keeley had often frequented the room when he needed a quiet place for some solitude and for whatever reason he now felt himself drawn there.
Taking the steps slowly, he made his way up to the top level, which was more of an attic than anything else. The lounge room, a large storage space, and a few extra servant’s rooms (that even now were vacant), were all that the third floor consisted of. Keeley felt a slight sense of apprehension as he reached for the door handle of the lounge.
The poor boy nearly jumped at the sound of Faolan’s voice and hoped he didn’t look too startled as he opened the door and stepped inside.
“Am I disturbing you?” Keeley asked hesitantly.
Faolan looked back at him with an enigmatic expression and replied evenly. “It’s fine.” He motioned for Keeley to sit down in one of the empty chairs. Keeley took the seat, looking quite self-conscious.
Now that he was before the other man, he had no idea what to say to him. Despite the fact that his actions in the faerie realm had been questionable, Keeley still felt a nagging desire to press Faolan for an apology after the slap he’d given him earlier. He hadn’t deserved it. Torn between his yearning to mend relations between them and his typical unyielding stubbornness, Keeley remained silent, fidgeting in his chair.
Faolan’s eyes inevitably drifted over to him. He watched the boy where he sat, crystal blue eyes downcast and uncertain. A reluctant yet burning desire to take Keeley in his arms seized him, but he forced it back. Too many emotions were vying for control and he hadn’t made sense of them yet.
Sensing the man’s gaze, Keeley glanced up and their eyes briefly met before Faolan looked away. Keeley’s heart sank. Faolan’s deep green eyes, always so alive and vibrant, had seemed like two unfeeling bits of pretty glass—all the warmth he had once known gone.
Had he known what was stirring in the other man’s heart, Keeley might have been comforted, but all he knew was that he had been shut out.
So the two former lovers sat in the quiet room, silence stretching out between them—each man wanting desperately to be with the other but unable to express his need. After a time, Keeley caught sight of something out the window and stood to get a better view.
“Rian and Larkin are coming up to the front gate. Oh—there’s someone else with them as well.”
“We’d best head downstairs to greet them.”
“Y-yes,” Keeley replied, watching Faolan’s back as he left. He followed with a heavy sigh.
Shortly after, Keeley found himself walking down the stairs behind Faolan as the front door was opened and the party stepped inside. Rian immediately hurried off to the kitchens while Larkin glowered and showed a slender young woman, in her late twenties perhaps, into the foyer.
There was something about the woman that seemed familiar to Keeley. He hung back behind Faolan, however, when he caught the scowl over the young lady’s features. She and Larkin did not look at all pleased with one another. However, the moment the guest espied Faolan coming to greet her, her harsh features softened and her eyes lit up. Then Keeley suddenly realized the resemblance.
“Clair,” Faolan purred, “how kind of you to stop by. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Mr. O’Callaghan!” she beamed, while Larkin’s scowl deepened. “You’re looking fine as always. I do apologize for visiting so suddenly without warning.”
The earl grinned, taking the young woman’s hand and laying an elegant kiss over it. “Call me Faolan, dear lady. There’s no need to apologize. You know you are welcome here at any time.”
It was Keeley’s turn to scowl now, but he quickly plastered a smile over his face when Faolan turned toward him.
“Let me introduce you to one of the newer members of my household. I don’t believe you’ve ever met him. This is Keeley Finnegan.”
“Ah, yes,” Clair said, her voice several shades cooler. “I’d heard of the young Catholic boy you’ve taken in.”
Keeley tried his best to keep his expression neutral, though he was seething inside. Who did this woman think she was and why was Faolan being so ingratiating to her?
“Keeley, this is Clair, Larkin’s older sister.”
“Please to make your acquaintance,” Keeley said flatly.
The young woman gave a skeptical ‘hmph,’ but no other reply.
“Honestly, Clair!” Larkin spat. “Need you be so rude?”
The blonde-haired woman looked back at her brother with annoyance. “If you care nothing of your reputation, there are still some of us who do. I am sure it is your carelessness that has tainted the Earl’s judgment in recent matters. The way you carry on with this hedonistic lifestyle of yours—”
“For heaven’s sake!” Larkin growled. “Do we have to go through this every time?”
“Perhaps we would be more comfortable in the parlor?” Faolan asked placidly amidst the growing tension. “I believe Rian is fetching the tea. Shall we make ourselves comfortable?”
He led the group into a spacious receiving room, and they settled themselves into the various sofas and armchairs. Larkin slumped down in his seat, pouting like a rebuked child. Keeley would have found it amusing if he hadn’t been so irritated himself. So much had happened already that morning that he felt as if all he wanted to do was lie in a hot bath or sleep for days on end. Instead, he was obliged to sit here near this insulting woman and watch Faolan fawn over her.
As soon as they were seated, Faolan began making polite inquiries of Clair. Keeley suspected he was trying to keep her attention so she and Larkin wouldn’t fall into another spat.
“You’re staying with the Murphy’s, I guess?” Faolan asked politely.
“Yes, my dear friend Leah has been kind enough to let me impose on her for a fortnight.”
“Then we are in her debt,” Faolan said with a smile.
Larkin and Keeley’s frowns mirrored one another at the comment. However, Larkin knew that his friend was only favoring his sister to placate her, since they were both well aware that Clair was partial to him. Keeley, unfortunately, had no such knowledge, and wondered if Faolan was somehow trying to punish him with his flirting.
Thankfully, Rian—along with two other servants—came bustling in at that moment. Their hands carried several silver trays laden with tea, biscuits, and various sweets. Clair gazed at the offerings appreciatively, but did not look up at Rian when he asked, “Is everything to your liking, Miss?”
Clair nodded absentmindedly, and Keeley wondered at Rian’s nervous disposition. Rian was usually so collected, but he hovered about Larkin’s sister with an obvious anxiousness to please. Keeley sighed inwardly, wondering why this woman was here and why everyone was making such a fuss about her.
“Oh,” Clair said, finally seeming to notice Rian now that the other servants had gone. “You’re still here, are you?”
Somehow, Keeley knew from her tone that she was referring to more than his current presence in the room. Larkin sat up in his chair.
“Clair, don’t speak to him that way.”
The young woman’s features were so like her brothers, yet their mannerisms were completely contrary. Where Larkin was laid-back and agreeable, Clair was strict and aloof. Keeley wondered how on earth they’d been raised in the same household.
“He’s a servant, Larkin. How would you like me to address him?” she asked coolly.
Now Larkin’s annoyance turned to genuine anger. In a low warning tone he told her, “You know he’s more than that! You—”
“Larkin,” Rian whispered hesitantly, “it’s all right.”
“It’s not all right!” Larkin replied loudly.
“Why don’t you listen to your little bed toy?” Clair cut in, and a shouting match between the two siblings quickly ensued.
Keeley watched with wide eyes as they threw taunts back and forth. Even at their worst, he and his sister had never fought quite like this. He saw Faolan’s facile smile falter as he slumped in his seat and drew his hand over his forehead with a sigh. Rian’s shoulders fell in a signal of resignation and he stepped over to his master.
Discreetly, Rian said beneath the din, “Well, we tried. Can’t be helped I suppose. They never do anything but argue.”
“Try bringing in the shortbread they both like so much,” Faolan replied. “Maybe if we can get them eating and keep their mouths stuffed, it’ll keep them quiet.”
Seated nearby, Keeley heard the exchange and realized with relief that Faolan had only been playing a part to try to keep the peace during Clair’s visit. Somehow, however, Keeley’s dislike of her only managed to increase further. Why should they have to put on such a show just to appease her? He nudged himself down the sofa closer to Faolan and asked him, “What is this all about?”
Keeping his voice quiet, Faolan explained, “Clair and Larkin have always been like oil and water—they never mix well. I don’t know how they ended up with such differing temperaments, but they never meet without a fight erupting.”
“It’s no wonder,” Keeley said. “With a sister like that, I wouldn’t be able to stand it either. She’s intolerable.”
Keeley’s obvious dislike made Faolan smile despite himself. “I suppose you would see her that way. But you don’t know the family history. Larkin is a good friend of mine, but I can’t deny that he has left Clair with all the responsibilities of running their family’s properties. It hasn’t been easy for her. You can hardly blame her for being bitter towards him for his dalliances when she has had no choice but to do the work that should be his as the only son. It would be easier if their father would simply acknowledge her as heir, but he refuses—no matter how hard she tries.”
Turning back to the siblings, Keeley looked at Clair again as he mulled over the new information. The argument eventually fell into a glaring match, and Rian scurried in with the new biscuits, laying them down and saying awkwardly, “Here’s your favorite, my lady—the shortbread.”
But the woman shook her head, standing. “I’m afraid I’ll have to take advantage of your hospitality another time. I should head back before it gets too late.”
“Yes,” Larkin interjected. “A young lady riding alone over the fields. For someone so worried over appearances, you could at least have hired an escort.”
Clair turned during her retreat from the room to glare at her brother. “I couldn’t afford one!” she retorted hotly. “I may as well tell you now—father is ill and the money is running out! He’s been calling for you, demanding your return, and sent me out to fetch you. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll come home at once! Good day!” With that, she turned and rushed for the door. Rian hurried to get there first and opened it for her as she stormed out.
When Rian returned to the parlor, Larkin sighed. “Who else needs a drink?”