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Tidbits of Love

By Kassandra Lea

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.

Copyright 2017 Kassandra Lea

ISBN 9781634864558

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.

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This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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Tidbits of Love

By Kassandra Lea

The Last Night

Rain tapped on the black fabric of his umbrella, the autumn shower providing an extra chill on the last night of October. Eric Storm stood in the middle of the gravel driveway, his breath visible on the air. A few yards away an old manor sat, gabled roof rising toward the sky. Some of the windows were busted, the cracks a close mimic of those he felt in his heart, and there was a sizeable gap in the roof. The remains of a rusted out truck were slowly being eaten up by weeds, a glimpse of what used to be, falling victim to the hands of time. Given recent trends, the place would have been perfect for one of those flip jobs.

But he’d left his mark, and it kept people away.

Bare branches resembling skeletal hands swayed in the breeze. Dressed in little more than a suit of the finest threads, Storm should have been chilled; instead he barely registered the temperature. He tapped the tip of his gentleman’s walking stick against the side of his shoe. Every time he came to this place, he experienced an ever-shifting array of emotions. It started with a touch of longing then turned to excitement only to morph into bittersweet, which he was currently mired in.

Storm started toward the house, the tip of the walking stick—which was actually more than it seemed—clicking lightly against the ground. As he drew toward the house it began to shimmer and shift, reacting to his presence. By the time he passed the truck the weeds were gone, the rust once again a bright blue paint job. Little by little, the manor returned to its former glory. Sagging rotted wood became firm. The hole vanished from the roof and lights glowed behind smooth panes of glass.

Jack o’ lanterns with grimacing monstrous faces sat on the porch steps, candles flickering in their hollowed out innards. Artfully crafted tombstones made up a fake graveyard, complete with a skeleton in the front yard. Spider webs stretched from the porch roof down to the railing, and after all this time the spiders within were real, though Storm did not fully understand why. The home was trussed up in its Halloween finest despite the fact very few people would brave the long trek up the drive. Even during the height of its heyday, stories were whispered about the ghosts that supposedly haunted the grounds, the witch that would turn trespassers into pies, and the vampire that occupied the tower room, none of which were true.

Sure, the last night of October was ruled by the dead, the veil between worlds painfully thin, but witches and vampires had nearly vanished from the populace. Still, with the help of scary stories and the sigil he had drawn on the front porch and a matching one on a tree where the driveway met pavement, both using his blood, people had plum forgotten about the old manor.

Perfectly fine by him as it made this night possible.

The wood creaked under his weight as Storm approached the front door. A lone white pumpkin sat on a table beside a bowl of candy. A little chalkboard bore the message “help yourself.” The corner of Storm’s mouth twitched as he plucked a Snickers from the bowl.

He paused before the front door, a heavy oaken thing with a very large stylized glass panel that made it nearly impossible to see in, as well as distorting the image. There was no need to check his reflection, his appearance never changing; six-two, perhaps a bit on the thin side for some, his hair silvery gray and neat, eyes an enchanting shade of purple. His suit was always black and paired with a purple tie that only served to enhance his eyes. And he never went anywhere without his trusty walking stick. Storm fished in his pocket and withdrew a pocket watch, the old item carved from bone.

Human bone.

The time was right.

He wished his heart was racing with the anticipation of what he knew waited inside, but in order for that to happen, his heart would have to possess the ability to beat and that ability had died many years ago.

The metal of the door handle was cool against his palm. Storm passed over the threshold into a beautiful foyer. A somewhat sad smile played across his lips as he took in the little trinkets and mementos that allowed a glimpse into the life of the home’s dweller. Over the centuries, he’d learned a lot could be garnered about a person from the things they chose to surround themselves with; in this case, there were lots of framed photos of family members on the wall. The home had a welcoming vibe, just another strike against the whispered rumors.

“Where oh where is my little treat?” Storm mused.

Organ music piped from speakers, the volume on low. Storm ventured from the foyer into the living room; the coffee table littered with the chaos of magazines and video games; through the dining room, the table set for two; and into the kitchen. There were traces of his beloved everywhere, but he had yet to cross paths with the man.

“What a cruel trick,” he muttered.

“It makes the treat so much better,” another voice cooed.

Storm whirled around and let his gaze travel over the form of Timothy Fields. In life, Timothy had been a lawyer, something Storm didn’t hold against him. He wasn’t the fittest man, a little pudgy around his midsection; Storm saw it as more to love. Timothy’s skin seemed to have a permanent tan, complimented nicely by his dark features. During his life, he sported a lot of three-piece suits. At present, he wore nothing more than a pair of boxers and a white T-shirt with the name of a candy bar scrawled hastily across the front.

“Well, well, what, may I ask, is with the getup?”

Timothy looked down at himself. “It’s Halloween.” His grin lit up his face. “I’m a candy bar. Want to have a nibble?”

“Most definitely,” Storm purred. “Will you melt in my hand?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

“And I most certainly will,” Storm said, knowing the entire conversation by heart, almost like following a script, and perhaps in some ways he was doing just that. He thought, hoped, that after all these years the lingering heartache would be long gone, not still hanging around waiting for a chance to remind him of all he’d lost. “Let’s start slow, build our way to the…melting.”

“What have you got in mind?”

Storm turned to the fridge, knowing a bottle of wine waited within. A few chocolate covered strawberries resting on a plate sat on the shelf beside the bottle. He retrieved both.

“For us?”

The splash of red that appeared on Timothy’s cheeks was like an extra twist of the knife. But this was his moment, his one moment in the life of another that he chose to relive every year. It hadn’t been the time they first made love, not by a long shot, and there were probably a million other moments he could have chosen, but for some reason this night stuck with him. Perhaps because it was the night he finally understood that he truly loved Timothy.

Only to have him cruelly torn away just days later.

He passed the bottle to Timothy, his other hand still clutching tightly to the walking stick, and as he considered blurting out the horrible truth—not for the first time—the accessory was suddenly hot enough to burn the tender flesh of his hand. A reminder to keep the secrets of the future locked deep inside or he would lose the man he loved in a more final fashion. Storm tried not to dwell, finding it harder every year not to think of the fateful accident. If only he could have changed the outcome, found some way to keep his beloved Timothy at his side for more than just one night.

Meanwhile Timothy hummed as he popped the cork and began pouring blush pink wine into glasses. They would finish the bottle before night’s end, Storm knew. The glasses full; Timothy lifted his in a gesture of a toast.

“To us,” he stated simply. They clinked their glasses together, and Timothy downed most of his in one gulp.

Storm rested the walking stick against the counter and took up the plate of strawberries. He walked around the little kitchen island with its marble countertop, slipping his hand effortlessly into Timothy’s, their fingers becoming entwined, a little electric spark racing up Storm’s arm. “Come with me, my little chocolate morsel.”

He led them back through the dining room—they’d never get around to having a fancy dinner for two that evening—and into the soft glow of the living room. Using a touch of magic, Storm had dimmed the lights and gotten a fire going, the flames dancing hypnotically. From the back of the couch he pulled a blanket, dropping it on the floor before the fireplace. He sat, patting the spot beside him and Timothy sank down within reach. The organ music had stopped and aside from the pitter-patter of raindrops on the windowpanes, all they could hear was the snap and crackle of the fire.

Without a word, Storm offered one of the delectable strawberries to Timothy; their gazes locked as Timothy slowly sank his teeth into the sweet fruit. A bit of juice dribbled down his chin. Storm could not resist, leaning forward and licking it away, the tip of his tongue lingering on the corner of Timothy’s mouth. And then they were kissing, Timothy’s lips a delicious mix of wine and chocolate and strawberries. He savored the feel of those plush lips pressed softly against his, sensing the hunger and desire burning within his lover.

Almost painfully he pulled away, his forehead resting against Timothy’s. He fought against the words that danced in his mind, ever so ready to pop out of his mouth, knowing that once they were free, they would set in motion the events that led to him losing the one thing that meant the world to him. Just three little words he wished he had managed to keep locked inside because they should have brought him great joy, and at the moment they would, but now he knew the awful truth and they only served to stir the ache of his fragile heart.

“I love you,” he said, fighting the urge to cry. “I love you, Timothy Fields, like I have never loved another.”

The following silence wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable, merely the moment of one heart rejoicing in the embrace of another. Then Timothy kissed him, the sweet sensual sort of kiss reserved only for lovers. And Storm felt his heart breaking all over again, the fragile cracks widening until all the pain and agony inside came oozing out. Oh, how he wished…“I have wanted so long to say the same to you,” Timothy started off. “But I was afraid you didn’t feel the same. Afraid your heart might already belong to another.”

Storm jerked back, still disturbed by the hint of doubt in Timothy’s words. His reaction would probably be the same next year and every year after it. What could he have possibly done in their short time together to ever make Timothy question his love? Oh, the amount of time he’d spent trying to figure out where he might have gone wrong. It never occurred to him that he should have asked, and now it was far too late.

Storm cupped Timothy’s cheek in his hand, his eyes searching those of his lover. “Forgive me, my love. It was never my intention to make you feel any less than the sunlight on my cloudy days. It is the love we share that brings me hope each and every day, a glimmer that this world isn’t so bad.” He realized just how cheesy it all sounded and yet, here he was happily repeating the phrase for the umpteenth time, always wishing he could have said more, could have had the time to show Timothy just how much their love meant to him. “You know my job,” he continued, wondering if by some chance confessing the true nature of his existence might have had a hand in Fate taking his Timothy away.

Reapers were meant to pass through the world sight unseen until the moment they arrived to possess a soul.

Love wasn’t supposed to be on the table, but there was his Timothy, sweet, beloved Timothy.

Rules be damned.

On what had originally been a spur of the moment, he took firm hold of Timothy’s hand and practically dragged the surprised man toward the front door. Back then he didn’t really understand what the hell he was doing, but now he was reliving the moment for the umpteenth time, he saw it made sense in its own little twisted way. Out the door they went and down the steps of the porch into what remained of the autumn storm, now nothing more than a drizzle. The clouds were starting to break apart, allowing for a glimpse of the stars every now and then.

Storm gestured at the long gravel driveway, the surrounding trees, the faint glow of lights at a house some distance away. “All around us life is thriving and dying, people are going about their evenings without much care, and all I ever want to do is be here with you, Timothy.” He glanced into those dark eyes. “The world could fade away, and as long as I have you, it wouldn’t matter.”

“D-d-do you really mean that?”

For some reason he chuckled, drawing Timothy to him. “My dear, I meant every word and then some. I would give up everything I am to never spend another day without you by my side.” And his heart broke again.

Why couldn’t it have played out that way?

It was hard to tell if Timothy was crying or if it was the work of the cold drizzle. He looked about to say something—and so very often now Storm wondered what it might have been—hesitated, then popped out with, “Let’s go back inside.”

He faked being caught off guard. He knew exactly where things were headed, and he wasn’t about to stop them. “What?”

This time it was Timothy who did the dragging.

“Come on, there’s something we should be doing.” “What could that possibly be?”

At the front door, Timothy stopped by the bowl of candy. It didn’t look as though anyone had been by to take up the offer. Timothy plucked a fun size bar from the bowl. “Chocolate doesn’t melt in the cold, hun.”

Back into the house he led Timothy, back to their spot in front of the fire. Standing there, he kissed Timothy, happy to let his lips linger. It was Timothy who made the first move, tugging at the waistband of his pants, somehow managing to undo his belt with quick efficiency. More kisses were shared as they slowly undressed each other, letting hands explore, fingertips caressing bare skin. Only once they were both naked in the glow of the fire did Storm gently lay Timothy on the blanket. For a moment, he merely looked into Timothy’s dark eyes, letting himself get lost, knowing that no matter how much time passed he would never find another’s gaze so enchanting.

Another kiss, soft lips pressed together, the ever pleasant taste of his Timothy.

Then he was leaving a trail of soft, feathery kisses along Timothy’s chin, down the side of his neck, and along his collarbone. It was with his mouth only that he touched Timothy, restraining himself from further pleasures as he worked his way over Timothy’s chest, stopping to flick his tongue over each nipple. One of those things that Timothy once told him no other lover bothered to do despite having been asked. For Storm, he got his pleasure from making sure he took care of his lover, that satisfaction in knowing that he’d managed to make Timothy feel desired, there was nothing else like it.

So he kissed, licked, and nipped at Timothy’s nipples, earning a series of encouraging soft moans.

Following the contours of Timothy’s body, he worked his way further south, skipping passed Timothy’s now full erection and instead pressing his lips to the inside of Timothy’s thigh. He wanted to taste every inch of

Timothy, to devour his lover like the piece of chocolate—more like smooth caramel—Timothy suggested.

It wasn’t until Timothy whispered pleadingly that Storm finally ran his fingers delicately along the length of Timothy’s erection, first up and then down, wrapping his fingers around Timothy’s pleasing girth. For a heartbeat, he rested his lips against the tip, then his tongue darted out, eliciting a gasp from Timothy. Oh so teasingly slow, Storm drew in Timothy’s length, eyes temporarily closed, a moan issuing from Timothy. Up and down, hand and mouth, Storm varied his speed, one of Timothy’s hands on his head. There were moans and groans, whispered words of pleasure and it didn’t take long for Storm to bring Timothy to the edge, then send his lover toppling over the other side.

Storm lay beside Timothy, pulling Timothy close, chest to chest, feeling the beat of his lover’s heart. He fought back the urge to cry while holding onto Timothy, knowing it would be another year before he would find his way back to this moment, desperate to enjoy what little he had while he could. The night always went by much too fast.

“You know,” Timothy broke the silence, a hand traveling south between them until fingers brushed against Storm’s erection. “I think we’ve talked enough about how we feel; maybe it’s time to show you just how much I love you.”

“And how are you planning on doing that?”

A coy smile played across Timothy’s lips. “Just you wait and see.”

Taking the upper hand, Timothy forced Storm onto his back, straddling him, those dark eyes drinking him in. The fire crackled. Outside the clouds were swept away, the moon brilliant and bright and full. Children snuggled deep into their beds, costumes forgotten, the spoils of their work securely tucked away in cabinets for future savoring.

And all that mattered to Storm was what Timothy was doing with his hand.

* * * *

A faint trace of the coming daylight lingered on the horizon, light chasing away the darkness with every passing minute. It was the first of November and Storm stood outside the house. His gaze played over the still full bowl of candy, the jack-o’-lanterns, their lights now burned out. A quick glance over his shoulder and a tentative touch of the oaken front door closed fast to the outside world. Upstairs tucked away in the comfy blankets of a lush bed, Timothy slept peacefully, their night of play and pleasure over yet again.

In a few more days, he would be gone for good, taken into the world of spirits by one of Storm’s colleagues.

“Best not to dwell,” he muttered, heading off toward the drive.

As he put distance between himself and the house, the façade began to crumble, to fall away until it once again was nothing more than a shell of a grand manor. The truck in the drive was certainly not going anywhere any time soon. Storm tapped his walking stick against his shoe, gazing upon the structure. This time he didn’t fight the tears. He was granted one night every year, one night in which he could relive whatever he wanted, and it was the love he still felt for Timothy that brought him back to a rainy Halloween.

“Forever,” he said, turning and heading off into the coming day.

* * * *

Let It Hurt

The driver’s side window was down, letting in the cool autumn breeze as Leo Shelton cruised along the blacktop. The two-lane road wove its way past farm fields and eventually through untouched, protected portions of forest and open prairie. With the trees dressed in their fall finery—leaves fiery red, blaze orange, and golden yellow—it made for quite the trip. One he should have been enjoying a hell of a lot more than he was, all things considered, but his mind was miles away.

A glance in the rearview mirror revealed the wicker basket on the backseat, the one in which he had carefully packed a picnic lunch. Well, it was a tad late for lunch; judging by where the sun sat in the sky, it would be more appropriate to call it dinner. When he’d put the meal together he had actually planned on heading out earlier, but a nagging voice of doubt kept back the courage he needed to leave the house. After a quick phone call with his sister, he gathered up his things and hit the road with a singular destination in mind.

And with each mile that fell away, his heart beat a little faster.

As he rounded a curve, a stray beam of sunlight shimmered off the gold band on his left ring finger. The sudden glint caught him off guard, his gaze straying from the road. He had just enough time to think how strange it was and all so new, this metal ring around his finger, the one that left him with such warmth when it was first put on and now brought forth a gut-wrenching ache that threatened to tear him apart inside. Someone laid on their horn. Leo looked up to see he had drifted into the oncoming lane. Swearing under his breath he gave the steering wheel a quick jerk and sent the nose of the sedan off in the other direction.

Somehow, it all went so very wrong.

Leo lost control of the car.

Tires screeched.

The basket in the back was jostled, spilling its contents across the seat and floor.

And again he saw the glimmer of gold as the car went off the side of the road.

* * * *

A horse nickered softly while Caleb Hart made his way slowly down the barn aisle. His senses were overrun with the atmosphere of the stable, from the smell of hay and horses and leather to the sound of the coach instructing her student and the rush of water as someone bathed their mount after a ride. As he bypassed a number of stalls, most of the occupants in at the late afternoon hour, he couldn’t help thinking how out of place he and his horse happened to be. There were jumpers and dressage riders, even a few who liked to play cowboy and ride western. But his gelding, a big, thick-boned bay half draft, occupied his days with an entirely different job.

Caleb stopped before Highlander’s stall, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The bay looked up, ears flicking, water dripping from his lips, having just enjoyed a hearty drink. Caleb slipped into the stall, mindful of the door, and approached his friend. He said nothing as he rested his forehead against Highlander’s and loosely wrapped his arms around the horse’s big head.

With eyes closed, he stood there breathing in the scent of horse and letting his mind wander. It had been hard to concentrate on work-related tasks, when all he could think about was the argument he had with his man earlier that morning. Over something stupid, no doubt, as he could no longer even recall what got the ball rolling.

But things were said, some of them very unpleasant, and just thinking of the way he ended it sent cracks racing across his heart.

Maybe this was wrong.

Just thinking it made him flinch, his eyes burning with the threat of tears. In all their years together, of which there were plenty, he always made it a habit of leaving for work by planting a kiss on his lover’s cheek, whispering sweet words in the man’s ear, and then making the solemn promise to return home when his shifted ended.

In his line of work he learned awfully fast how uncertain day-to-day life could be, that he wasn’t guaranteed a never ending story of happiness. It could all be torn away in the blink of an eye. So why had he said such a hurtful thing?

Highlander shifted and Caleb kissed his forehead.

“Thank you for another day of duty, buddy.”

Giving the gelding one last pat on the neck, he stepped out of the stall, secured the door, and left Highlander to munch on a few flakes of hay. Tomorrow he would saddle up again and they would do their best to keep the people of the city safe.

One of the other boarders waved and smiled as they passed in the aisle, a cell phone pressed to one ear. Unlike her casual outfit of jeans and a T-shirt with low ankle boots, Caleb wore his standard work attire. His shirt looked like those worn by every other uniformed police officer, complete with a black tie, the badge pinned to his chest, his name tag, and the county police insignia on both sleeves. And though he maintained the typical policeman’s utility belt, he wore black riding breeches instead of slacks and finished the look with thigh-high riding boots. Caleb had been on the police force going on ten years now, having joined the mounted unit as soon as possible and never looking back.

In fact, it was while out on patrol one afternoon that he stumbled across the brightest spot in his future.

Another pang of guilt over the morning’s argument threatened to bring forth tears.

Leaving the barn for the coolness of dusk, Caleb wracked his brain trying to think of the most appropriate way to apologize for the wrong he’d done. He loved his significant other with all his heart and soul and what they had, what they were; he never considered it a mistake. Foolishly, he had just wanted to hurt his partner, nothing more, and the guilt of it had been slowly gnawing away at him all day like a termite on a rotting barn.

A swift breeze rustled the leaves, a few more floating slowly toward the blanket already covering the ground. Caleb hit the button on his key fob, the lights of the pickup truck flashing. Halfway across the gravel lot, he drew to a halt as the sound of sirens not too far off in the distance could be heard. Their familiar whine sent his heart racing, caused his muscles to tense, his body trained to respond, and a second later he reminded himself the work day was over. He was no longer on shift. Though, should he cross the scene of whatever it was on his way back home, he might offer a little support to his law-enforcement brothers.

The phone in his pocket began to vibrate.

Caleb stopped outside his truck, hand on the door.

Surely it was nothing more than a simple phone call, and he’d certainly been waiting all day to hear from his lover, so why did he feel a sense of foreboding? Almost reluctantly, Caleb retrieved the device from his pocket. The screen displayed an unfamiliar number, and he pressed the talk button. He barely managed to choke out a hello before the person on the other end told him about an accident, one that turned out to be not too far off from where he was—those stupid singing sirens—and his heart plummeted into his stomach.

The moments after that happened in a blur as he climbed into the truck, throwing his phone onto the passenger seat.

His mind raced, but not one single thought stood out. Somehow, he managed to get the truck out of the parking lot and down the drive without a mishap, himself. Before pulling onto the two-lane road, he closed his eyes, let out a slow measured breath, and loosened his hold on the steering wheel. Getting into an accident of his own would be doing nobody any favors. Recalling his training, he kept the panic under control—barely—as he raced toward the accident.

It wasn’t long before emergency vehicles came into view and he was pulling onto the shoulder of the road.

Leo’s car was down in the ditch, the front end looking none too pretty and the windshield cracked.

The sight of the ambulance gave him a moment’s pause, if it had remained on the scene…

Caleb made his way over, the fact that he was still in his uniform keeping other officers from stopping him, not that it would have done them any good to try. He focused solely on the big, white-and-red vehicle with its lights swirling silently, and the rest of the world faded away. His mouth had gone dry and he could feel every beat of his heart as it threatened to hammer its way right out of his chest. Blood roared as it rushed through his ears. Unshed tears pricked his eyes.

Please, please, please, he silently prayed, don’t let him be gone, don’t let those be the last words I said to him.

He rounded the back side of the ambulance.

And there was Leo sitting in the back getting fawned over by one of the paramedics. Blood oozed from a cut above his left eye, and already the shadowing of what promised to be a beautiful bruise had taken up root around the other. There were specks of red, though not any great amount, on his shirt and Caleb figured he was more battered and bruised than anything else. What a blessing.

At the sight of him, Leo squirmed free of the paramedic and practically dove into his embrace. He held Leo tightly, the tears he’d been holding back finally managing to spring forth. For a moment neither of them spoke. In fact, nobody said a word, not even the paramedic who sat quietly by giving them as much privacy as she could manage.

“I’m sorry, I never meant it, never,” Caleb rasped, afraid that if he let Leo go he would somehow lose that which he held most precious. “You aren’t a mistake, we aren’t.”

“Please,” Leo implored softly, “just take me home.”

* * * *

It took a bit of convincing on Caleb’s part and a promise to keep a vigilant eye on his lover, but eventually he got Leo tucked safely away in the cab of his truck, a few things retrieved from the wrecked car, and they headed for home. On the way, he shut off the police radio to avoid any further reports of the incident, the two of them riding in silence. He wanted so desperately to ask Leo about what happened, but figured it could wait for another time.

The paramedic assured him Leo should be fine, if not achy and sore for a few days. Upon arriving at the scene, the first officer found Leo standing on the side of the road with a napkin pressed to the gash. It hadn’t been a bad wreck, not by far, but it was enough to scare Caleb and he was already planning to call off work the next day or two.

He wanted to keep Leo in his sights as much as possible.

Back home, he helped ease his lover down from the truck and held tightly to Leo’s hand as they meandered up the walkway. Judging by Leo’s somewhat jerky steps, the pain was already starting to set in. Inside the home they’d shared the last three years, Caleb took one look at his beloved Leo and knew exactly what was needed, doing his best to ignore the troubled look in Leo’s eyes. There would be plenty of time later for a heart to heart; right now he wanted to get other tasks out of the way.

Cupping Leo’s face in his hands, he softly ran his thumb over the spot where the bruise continued to darken. “I was foolish,” he said, his eyes searching Leo’s. “I was hurt and wanted you to feel the same so I just let my anger get the best of me in the worst way. It’s been eating away at me all day and I wanted so badly to call you, but the fear you wouldn’t answer or that you didn’t want to hear from me kept me frozen. Oh, Leo, I hope you realize just how much I love you.”

To punctuate the statement, he leaned forward, bringing his lips to Leo’s. The kiss was soft and gentle, yet filled with a deeper desire, the hunger of getting closer. Leo moaned, prompting Caleb to hastily pull back, afraid he might have hurt his lover. It pleased him to see the flush coloring Leo’s cheeks.

“Can you ever forgive me?”

Leo raised a hand, taking hold of Caleb’s wrist and working their fingers together. “I was on my way to apologize to you,” he offered with a little chuckle.

“If we hadn’t gotten into a fight…” Caleb left the rest of the thought unspoken.

A quick kiss from Leo. “It is what it is.”

His beloved might have been willing to let him off the hook easily, but it did little in the way of making Caleb feel better. There were so many things he wanted to say, afraid none of them would do justice, so he chose to let his actions speak for him. Quickly he assessed Leo, picking up on the pain his lover was in, thinking about how achy Leo must feel after being tossed around in the front seat after going off into the ditch. Without a single word, he directed Leo to the bathroom, careful to keep the pace slow. The paramedic said painkillers should be fine—he hated the lack of confidence in the use of “should”—so he grabbed a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet, filled a glass with water, and presented the little gift to Leo; who accepted graciously.

Caleb twisted the shower nozzle to warm and while it heated he turned back to Leo. “I think you might need a touch of help.”

They shared another kiss as Caleb took the hem of Leo’s shirt in his hands, tugging it upward. With some effort, Leo being a bit stiff, they managed to get it off, ditching the article on the floor. The threat of tears returned as Caleb took in the bruises crisscrossing Leo’s chest. Tentatively he ghosted his fingers over them, mindful not to cause Leo anymore pain. His lover had yet to speak and though it worried him, Caleb pushed it to the back of his mind. He had a strong desire to pull Leo in close, to feel skin on skin, to touch and taste, and never let the man go again out of fear it might all be lost.

He needed Leo.

And clearly the need was mutual; Leo was undoing the buttons of his uniform shirt. Caleb shrugged out of it. In a flash, socks and shoes were kicked off, pants tossed aside, leaving the two of them in their undies. Along the way there had been loving caresses and lingering kisses, the heat between them growing until it was hard to ignore. Caleb slipped his hands into Leo’s boxers, making sure to brush one along the treasure waiting there, then slid them around back to momentarily grasp Leo’s ass, then disposed of the pesky cloth.

One of his favorite things was drinking in the sight of a buff Leo.

The curve of his thighs.

His smooth abs.

The muscles in his arms.

His strong jaw, lush lips, and mesmerizing eyes.

Even the little birthmark on his right hip that sort of resembled a paw print—according to Leo, it was the inspiration behind his name.

Caleb wanted nothing more than to devour Leo right then and there, but he hesitated. Steam curled through the bathroom.

“What?” Leo finally broke his silence.

Once again he traced the bruises, pressing his lips lightly against one just north of Leo’s left nipple. “I want you, my love, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.”

Leo took his hand, leading him over to the shower. “Let it hurt.” He ducked under the stream of water.

After a heartbeat Caleb removed his boxers and followed him, letting most of the water fall on Leo, hoping it would help ease the aches and pains. Grabbing the soap, he worked it into a considerable lather and began rubbing it over Leo’s back. His fingers followed the dips and curves, from strong shoulders down the small of Leo’s back, and over perfectly rounded cheeks. He drew close, pressing up against Leo’s backside. He left a trail of kisses along Leo’s neck and collarbone, enjoying the taste of his man.

While he kept his lips busy, his fingers worked a little magic of their own, taking firm hold of Leo’s cock. Keeping one hand wrapped around the base. He moved the other up and down, alternating his speed, loving the way it felt to have Leo lean back into him, his own erection trapped between them. The moans issuing from Leo brought him a deal of satisfaction, though not nearly enough to dampen the guilt.

Or make him feel they were close enough.

“Leo,” he whispered. “Sweet, delectable Leo, I want you.”

* * * *

The words vibrated through Leo, his heart dancing. Though every inch of his body left him feeling as though he’d been tackled by a professional football player, all he wanted to do was shut off the water and drag Caleb to their bed, caveman style. Watching the pavement give way to grass and brush, getting jostled around in his seat, he had cried, afraid their exchange of angry words would be how they ended. Thankfully he had walked away, and even though he hadn’t been given the chance to offer his apology picnic and suggest they bury the hatchet, he couldn’t complain.

Not when Caleb was touching him in such a way.

Oh, if only he didn’t hurt so much!

Maybe…maybe he could just…His thoughts swirled in a cloud of ecstasy brought forth by the ever-so-delightful things Caleb was doing. His lover knew just how he liked to be touched and Leo was finding it hard to concentrate on anything more than the hand sliding the length of his erection. It also didn’t help to have Caleb nibbling on his earlobe. Caleb was doing a fantastic job of keeping the accident from his mind.

“Oh,” he moaned, the pleasure building. It wasn’t until Caleb that he had truly understood the sheer joy of make-up sex. They did it rarely but it always resulted in toe-curling orgasms. “Caleb…”

The water began to turn cold. Without a word, and much to Leo’s dismay, Caleb let him go, reaching around to twist the knob. A chill swept over his wet skin as Caleb drew back the shower curtain. If possible, he ached even more, watching the muscles of Caleb’s body, momentarily presented with a wonderful shot of the cop’s backside. He wasn’t entirely sure he could move without exploding. Caleb beckoned and with a bit of help he stepped out only to be embraced in the fluffy warmth of a towel.

A heartbeat later he discovered the joys of being rubbed dry by his lover.

He was practically ready to burst, and judging by the glint he saw in Caleb’s eyes, his lover knew exactly how he felt.

Hand in hand, fingers twined, Caleb led them from the bathroom into the bedroom. Lying down amongst the soft blankets was one of the most amazing things to Leo, and he was able to give a fleeting moment’s thought to how sore he’d be by morning before Caleb was on top of him and yet again forcing the accident from his mind. Their lips met, wrestling, tongues touching. He let his hand travel along the contours of Leo’s abs until he found a most promising treasure. He wrapped his fingers around Caleb’s erection, swirling his thumb over the head.

Caleb moaned, but did not break their kiss.

Wanting to return the favor, he trailed his fingertips lightly up and down Caleb’s erection, his lover always highly aroused more by ghostly, feathery touch than by a firm grip. At some point their lips parted, and Caleb rested gently against his shoulder, moans and gasps like sweet music to Leo’s ear. Closing his eyes, not once slowing his pace, mimicking the movements with his other hand along Caleb’s back, Leo basked in the glory of their togetherness. He was so thankful, almost to the point of tears, that they could share this time, it hadn’t all been torn away.

Caleb swore, uttering Leo’s name as he reached his high, his whole body shuddering with shockwaves of sheer pleasure.

Leo didn’t care in the least about the mess now covering his stomach. It wasn’t important.

“I love you,” Caleb said as he slowly came back down.

“And I you,” responded Leo, flicking his tongue against Caleb’s ear.

“Let me get a towel and—”

“Leave it,” Leo said, figuring the mess could be cleaned later.

Their eyes met, Caleb raising his eyebrows. “Are you sure?”


For a moment he thought Caleb would object, then his lover leaned down to whisper in his ear. “You dirty, dirty boy.”

The simple remark—perhaps because of the stress of the accident or the worry of the argument—caused Leo to chuckle; which quickly turned to a gasp as Caleb kissed the tip of his now-neglected erection. In the blink of an eye, the entire length disappeared into Caleb’s mouth, Leo clutching fistfuls of the blanket as the warmth of his lover’s mouth brought him careening toward the brink. He arched his back, pain lancing across his chest, a hiss escaping as he clenched his jaw. It was a wonderful combination, pleasure and pain, his muscles aching, but his brain more occupied with other, more splendid matters.

Caleb had a mind-blowing technique that involved swirling his tongue as though writing words while he sucked.

That was all it took to make Leo see stars, his body finally finding the release it so desperately sought. He called out Caleb’s name, soaring on the waves that crashed over his body again and again. And with a touch of regret, he slowly returned to earth to find Caleb resting at his side, drawing figure eights in the sticky mess on his stomach.

There were tears in Caleb’s eyes.

“What’s wrong?”

Caleb shook his head. “I could have lost you today. This moment…” He seemed unable to finish the thought.


An eyebrow raised in silent question.

“Just let it go,” Leo said. “If need be, we can talk about it in the morning. Right now, please, I just want to be close to you, to feel you against me, with me. Please.”

“What if I hurt you?”

“Let it hurt.”

Caleb slipped his arms around Leo and kissed the man’s cheek, snuggling in close. “For you, my love, I would do anything.”

* * * *

Kiss of the South

The band struck up the chords to a lively waltz and couples dressed in their finest twirled around the dance floor. Others mingled off to the sides, the gala turning out to be quite the affair. Wine and champagne flowed. Delicious treats passed by on silver platters. Joseph Calder had never witnessed such a party, and he tried not to get caught up in the hoity-toity festive mood.

It wasn’t really his scene; although, he had absolutely no problem imbibing his fair share of the bubbly stuff. He held the delicate crystal flute and sipped the pink liquid as he scanned the grand room. Men in suits that cost too much either catered to bejeweled wives or attempted to woo their way into a lady’s good graces. A few of the eligible women asked if he would join them for a go around the dance floor, and every single one of them went away disappointed. He tried his best to be gentlemanly, saying he would honor their request later in the evening. But as the night grew long, he continued to skirt the issue, only one person at the party listed on his dance card.

He ditched his empty glass on a side table before slipping unseen from the ballroom. A few other guests mingled in the adjoining rooms and he smiled and offered simple, quick greetings as he passed them by. One or two of the men tried to lure him into talk of business, but Joseph had other matters on his mind.

The kind that weighed heavy on his heart.

Joseph broke free of the stuffiness of the manor. The summer night was surprisingly cool, the light breeze refreshing against his bare skin. His boot heels clicked on the porch’s wooden boards as he left the party behind, trading piano and violin for the more pleasant strum of crickets. Various buggies waited on the grounds of the manor, the horses dozing and the drivers passing the time recounting stories beneath a tree. The all-too-familiar scent of pipe tobacco lingered in the air.

And though Joseph noticed all these things, none of it truly mattered.

Under cover of darkness, he took a pebbled path lined by beautiful, well-manicured rosebushes. From his vest pocket he produced a watch and popped it open, barely able to make out the current time. Even though he couldn’t see the numbers or the hands, Joseph knew without a doubt the time of their departure was close. His heart began to beat a little faster, his mouth going dry. Adrenaline trickled through his body as he thought of the weeks spent planning for this night.

What if my beloved doesn’t show? Joseph clenched his jaw, refusing to humor such nonsense. Of course his lover would show; Joseph felt it with certainty. Now was not the time to let doubt creep in and ruin things. He needed to be strong, for both of them, if they were going to see this through.

The pebbled trail led to the banks of a pond verging on the size of a lake with its vast mirrored surface. A nearby bench beckoned to Joseph and he sank down upon it. There was nothing he could do but wait, his stomach in knots.

He closed his eyes and let out a slow, measured sigh. “He’ll come. Just have faith,” he muttered under his breath. Slipping his hand into the pocket of his suit jacket, he wrapped his fingers around the little object concealed there and put all his faith in love.

* * * *

Back at the manor, Ephraim Pickett tried to figure out how he was going to make his escape. Stuck in the kitchen with a few others, making sure the platters were presentable and that the food got circulated at a decent pace, he was under the watchful eye of the kitchen master—a big, busty woman with a permanent glare. She worked them hard while barely bothering to raise a finger to help.

Somehow he had to get away, though. Otherwise, he would not only be passing up the opportunity to go north, where he would be a free man, but he would also risk losing what promised to be the greatest love of his life.

The temperature in the kitchen continued to rise as the night wore on, making Ephraim sweat. His white shirt stuck to the small of his back, and he mopped at his brow with a handkerchief. As he was readying to put it back in his pocket, Ephraim saw his answer. His gaze strayed to the clock. The time was drawing near. Either he found the courage to make his move or he would regret it for the rest of his life.

Staying meant losing so much.

Yet instead, if they should fail to make the crossing, his life could be forfeit.

With a silent prayer, he plucked an expensive-looking china, hand-painted dish from the counter. He spun around and promptly smashed into another slave. (Oh, how he did so hate that word.) The dish and its hors d’oeuvres crashed to the ground. Not missing a beat, Ephraim began to apologize.

“I’m sorry,” he said, doing his best to come across as flustered. He bent down to clean the mess. “I’m sorry.”

“Boy, what’s your problem?” thundered the busty woman, making haste in his direction.

Ephraim could never remember how to pronounce her name and saw no reason to make a bad situation worse. When he looked up, she loomed over him, hands on her meaty waist and furious brown eyes piercing right into him.

Adopting the timid approach, Ephraim stood, legs trembling. “I’m sorry, ma’am.” From his pocket he freed the handkerchief, wiped his brow, and began to wring the piece of fabric. He avoided the lady’s penetrating gaze. “It’s the heat. It’s making me feel faint. Perhaps if I could be allowed a moment outside in the fresh air…”

If she rejected his request, Ephraim would be left scrambling to find another means of escape. Time seemed to creep by while he waited with bated breath, fearful his heart might up and stop out of dread. Did he feel the burn of unshed tears in his eyes?

“Fine,” she grumbled, then proceeded to jab him in the chest. “But you stay out there no more than five minutes, you hear me? The master is relying on us and I won’t have you screwing things up.”

“No, ma’am, of course not. Thank you.”

Though his brain told his legs to make a run for it, Ephraim maintained control as he worked his way out of the kitchen with faltering steps. Tired, and pretending to be slightly faint, he stepped out into the coolness of the night. As the door swung closed in his wake he heard the woman order everyone else back to work, fire in her words.

Ephraim silently apologized to his friends, then moved off into the night. Luckily, the majority of the party goers remained inside. He did pass a few, but, because of his skin color, they mostly ignored him.

Would they still forget about him, pretend he didn’t exist, once news broke of his escape? Ephraim hoped to be long gone by then, because even if the kitchen warden reported his absence, what was his master going to do about it in the middle of such a grand affair? The man wouldn’t want to be seen as a fool in front of his guests.

Which was what made it the perfect evening for escape.

* * * *

Joseph resisted the urge to get up and pace as he checked his pocket watch for the umpteenth time. He still could not read the face and didn’t care. It was something to do to help pass the time. A way to occupy his mind and keep the anxiety from becoming too much.

Stars twinkled in the pond; a near perfect reflection of the night sky. Every now and then, a pair of ducks sent ripples along the surface, an occasional quack joining the abundant choir of frogs and crickets. It was just the sort of thing he would have enjoyed had he not been so worried.

Tonight was their only chance.

And if Ephraim didn’t show…

“He’ll show,” Joseph muttered, tired of the doubting thought.

“Of course,” came an unexpected reply.

Joseph jumped off the bench and whirled around to see his beloved standing there. His heart filled with joy, and he grasped Ephraim and pulled the man close, searching those sweet chocolate eyes that always warmed his soul.

“I would kiss you,” he whispered, “if not for fear of being seen.” How he longed to taste Ephraim’s lips, to feel them pressed against his own. He slipped his hand into Ephraim’s, entwining their fingers. “Come, let us make haste and leave the horrid place. I have a farmstead up north where you will be a free man. We shall make it our home and work the land together, for our love will know no bounds.”

Ephraim threw a worried, half-panicked look over his shoulder. “If we do not get going, our future won’t be so wonderful.”

Joseph led the way, tugging Ephraim along the banks of the pond. He did his best to keep fear at bay. Nobody would miss him at the party, but he was unsure how they’d take Ephraim’s disappearance. The risk, though great, was worth every ounce of the reward. He need only concentrate on the feel of Ephraim’s hand in his to know he had found love everlasting.

When Joseph first visited the plantation owned by a local judge, he arrived with plans to purchase a well-bred steed. Which he did. All because of Ephraim. Though capable of tending many parts of the estate, Ephraim proved most knowledgeable about equines and often spent time in the barn working the judge’s horses. Joseph had heard people speak of love at first sight, often debating whether or not such a thing existed, but the first time his eyes locked onto Ephraim’s he knew the answer.

After that, Joseph did everything he could to befriend the judge, spending way too much time in the grand house swilling expensive alcohol and discussing the most boring of topics. Not to mention the little gifts he always passed along to the judge’s wife.

Time at the manor meant witnessing the way the man treated others, especially those considered to be property. It made Joseph sick to his stomach. But he put up with it for those precious moments he managed to steal in secret with Ephraim, falling more and more in love with the man every time their paths crossed. Upon learning Ephraim felt the same, his heart threatened to burst. He had never before in his life experienced such joy and, after a handful of clandestine meetings under cover of darkness, he began to talk about getting away—making their way north and leaving all their troubles behind.

And when Ephraim announced plans for the party, well before Joseph’s invitation arrived in the mail, it seemed like a sign from a higher being for them to make their move.

Tonight would bring them both a new beginning, a new lease on life.

Secreted behind a grove in one of the fields was a pair of horses, saddled and ready to go; one of them being the very steed that had brought them together. Ephraim turned toward his mount, but Joseph halted his progress by taking hold of his hand.

“We are far from the party,” Joseph said, “shrouded in the darkest of shadows and there is something…”

Joseph left the rest of the sentence unspoken as he pulled Ephraim close. At first, the kiss was little more than a feathery touch of lips, but it quickly morphed into one born of two souls in love, with a touch of hunger for things a bit naughtier. There would be plenty of time for that when they were far away from the judge and his southern reach. But there were so many miles to cover, so many people who would do anything to keep them apart.

“Once we have crossed the Mason-Dixon line,” whispered Ephraim. He placed his hand over Joseph’s heart, then let it drop lower. “I will have you and you will have me.”

“Don’t tease, Ephie. You know I find your charms hard to resist.”

When Ephraim laughed it always made Joseph smile. “Then I suggest we get moving so we may reap the rewards of this daring night.”

Joseph grabbed the stallion’s reins and swung up into the saddle, his heart hammering wildly as Ephraim followed suit. Aside from a few papers and precious items stuffed into saddlebags, they were leaving only with the clothes on their backs. It would make the going quicker and easier and, besides, he’d been north last month to ready the farmstead for their arrival.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Joseph asked, studying the man who had stolen his heart. “You do realize the consequences should we be caught? If it’s too much to ask—”

“No risk will ever outweigh the way I feel for you in here,” declared Ephraim, placing a hand on his chest. “I want to spend the rest of my days with you, and this is the only way to make that happen. Let’s go, please, my love, before they notice my absence.”

So many things crossed Joseph’s mind; not least an overwhelming desire to grab Ephraim right then and there and show him how much his sweetly spoken words meant. But, as already pointed out, time was of the essence. They could make their intentions clear when they arrived somewhere safe. A place far away from this horrible plantation.

They rode all night and the entire next day. They didn’t stop until the sun sank below the horizon, taking only enough time for a quick dinner and an even quicker nap. Joseph fretted most of the way, constantly looking back over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t being followed. For days he’d carefully planned the route they would take—the one least likely to get them spotted by southern sympathizers. They rode through fields and forests, trying to remain undetected.

Though it exhausted them, there was also ample time for conversation, the two of them opening up in ways they hadn’t yet had a chance to do. Of course, the time spent in silence was just as perfect and comfortable, Joseph finding every minute he spent with Ephraim to be splendid. And he was more sure than ever that he’d made the right choice in ditching his business in the south to make a better future in the north. A future that came with a fulfillment money could never provide.

On the third night, Joseph directed them down a worn trail to a cabin. For the first time since their departure, there would be a roof over their heads as they slept. Joseph swung out of the saddle, muscles sore and fatigue tugging at his eyelids. His jaw stretched as a yawn broke free.

“Why are we stopping here? Is it safe?” Ephraim eyed the lone cabin secluded in a thicket of evergreen.

Joseph strolled over and placed a hand on Ephraim’s thigh. “We are safe enough.”

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