Samuel has devoted the last six years of his life to serving his king as an assassin, but the adventures he was promised are starting to lose their appeal. Two years ago, he realized what was missing in his life, but he was too afraid to act on it. When the need becomes too great, he leaves in the middle of the night to return home to his best friend … the man he fell for without even knowing it. Though he fears Quentin might not be able to accept his past, he knows he has to try to win the man’s heart.
Samuel swung the ax again, the catharsis of the physical labor calming him some. Despite the number of dangerous missions he’d completed, and the way he’d defied King Jareth by leaving the palace without his permission, he felt like a coward.
I can’t even tell Quentin how I feel. How will I ever convince him to give me a chance?
He’d had several opportunities the day before, but he hadn’t taken any of them. The looks Quentin had given him seemed to prove his friend suspected the truth, yet Samuel had let each chance slip away. Samuel’s preference for male lovers had never been a secret, but Quentin had never expressed any interest in men before. Samuel knew Quentin wasn’t a virgin—he wasn’t either—but they’d never talked much about sex beyond curious speculation when they were teenagers.
Glancing back to the house, Samuel saw Quentin at the kitchen window, probably washing the breakfast dishes or preparing some vegetables for lunch. He paused a moment and watched the other man turn his head and say something to Jesse before moving away quickly, probably to keep the little boy from bringing a piece of furniture down on himself. Samuel longed to stay here forever and take care of Jesse and Quentin, but that would only work if Quentin could return his feelings. Quentin was too tenderhearted and passive to ever ask him to leave, but it wouldn’t make sense to anyone else that a man as wealthy as Samuel would choose to live on a small farm with a “friend”. The fact he’d claimed Jesse as his biological son would excuse it to many, but it would still look a bit odd.
But more than that, Samuel couldn’t spend every day at Quentin’s side without touching him. He usually stayed about two weeks, which was about all he could take. Once he ran out of tasks to do around the farm, all he could think of was holding Quentin in his arms.
Samuel didn’t remember the exact moment he’d developed feelings for Quentin. It had only really hit him when he’d arrived in the village two years ago and seen Quentin cradling an infant lovingly in his arms. His heart had nearly stopped, as he’d thought that perhaps Quentin had neglected to tell him about a woman he’d become involved with. When he’d learned the truth and looked down at Quentin’s tear-stained face, the lie had simply spilled out. Samuel couldn’t even remember half of what he’d said that day. All he’d been able to think about was the fact that Quentin needed help and how claiming Lizzie’s baby as his own would tie them together forever.
It had been a stupid move. They’d been friends since infancy, and that would never change. He hadn’t needed to do a damned thing to remain a part of Quentin’s life. The shock had made him desperate to pull Quentin as close as he could. They’d never fought about it—not exactly—but Quentin brought it up every time he visited. After two years, though, he couldn’t take it back. Everyone would think he was crazy.
And what will they think if Quentin and I get together? That’ll be a lively round of gossip. Quentin and Lizzie had been twins, though it hadn’t been obvious because Quentin had inherited his father’s dark hair while Lizzie had somehow gotten the blonde hair dominant on their mother’s side. People would whisper, but didn’t they already? Not everyone had thought it proper for Samuel to seduce Lizzie and then stay gone so long.
Of course, he couldn’t defend himself and say he hadn’t actually done that at all.
Samuel had just turned twenty-five, and every time he returned home, the local women slyly asked if he planned to marry soon. He’d always been discreet at home, so only Quentin really knew about his preference. He’d left home at nineteen, four months after the deaths of his own parents, following King Jareth off on a “grand adventure”. Part of that adventure had been a very torrid affair with one of Jareth’s grooms, his first real lover. His teenage years had been filled with clumsy fumblings, but he’d never gone all the way until he was far from home.
“Would you like some water?”
The voice broke through Samuel’s thoughts, and he blinked as he lowered the ax and lifted his gaze. “I’d love some. Thanks.” He reached out, brushing Quentin’s fingers as he took the glass.
“You’re welcome. You’ve made short work of it,” Quentin said as he shifted a wiggling Jesse in his arms.
Samuel downed the water as he looked around and realized he only had one more small section to chop. “Yeah, I guess I was daydreaming myself.”
“Is everything all right?”
Samuel set the glass on a smooth rock by the fencepost. “For now.”
Unable to make himself tell the whole truth, he settled for half the truth. “I don’t have Jareth’s permission to be here.”
“What? Tell me you’re kidding. That man scares me so much.”
“He shouldn’t. He’d never hurt you or treat you unfairly. I know how he seems to everyone, but I’ve gotten to know him well over the years.” Samuel paused, knowing he shouldn’t talk too much about the king’s private life. Jareth had plenty of flaws, but Samuel had come to respect him in a more tangible way since meeting him in person. He came closer and set the ax aside, coming over the fence and removing his shirt to wipe his face down. “But I have the queen’s blessing. I told her I needed to go home, and she understood.”
Quentin’s gaze wandered over Samuel’s chest as he wiped himself down. Samuel hadn’t taken his shirt off intentionally, but now he slowed his movements to see Quentin’s reaction.
“I could’ve brought you a towel. Sorry.”
Samuel spread the shirt over the fence to let it dry in the heat of the suns, and then he shrugged. “It’s fine.” He reached over and flicked a bug off Jesse’s shirt. “Don’t worry. If Jareth wants me back, he’ll send a messenger. I’m not in trouble.”
“What did you tell the queen?”
“That I needed to go home. See my friend. My child.”
“Even away from here, you say he’s yours?”
“Yes. Inconsistency is how you get caught in a lie.”
Quentin tilted his head. “Then maybe you shouldn’t have lied. I still don’t get it.”
Samuel shrugged again. “Didn’t want people gossiping about her. Your sister was sweet.”
Quentin didn’t look convinced, but he seemed to let it drop. “So that’s all that’s distracting you? Worrying Jareth will make you go back?”
Samuel sighed. “There’s always a lot on my mind. Perhaps we can talk later.”
“Do you want to quit?”
“What you do for the king. Do you want to quit?”
“Possibly. Depending on how some other things go.”
Quentin hugged Jesse closer. “I’d like it if you did something else.” His gaze went to the ground, and he lowered his voice. “I have nightmares. Sometimes.” He lifted his eyes, a noticeable sadness visible there. “About learning you died in some horrible way.”
Despite the heat of the twin suns, Samuel felt cold. “You’ve never told me that.”
“Of course not. It’s embarrassing.”
“Don’t be embarrassed. I worry about you, too. Out here alone. Both of you.”
Quentin started to say something else, but a horse and cart pulled up in front of the house. Quentin handed Jesse over as he waved at the man climbing down from the cart. “Watch him for a bit. Those are the milk bottles from the inn. I need to count them and sign for them.”
“Sure.” Samuel took Jesse, who immediately began to wiggle. He walked to calm him a bit. Jesse seemed to like Samuel, but he was only really content if Quentin held him.
I need to tell him tonight. Make him understand why I risked defying the king.
Samuel turned back to watch Quentin, wondering what would happen next. To Jesse, he said, “What do you think? Should I go for it?”
Jesse nuzzled his neck and then held his hand up to the sky, waving it around before looking at Samuel and laughing.
“I’m going to assume that’s a yes.” Looking back at Quentin again, he said, “Maybe soon, we really will be a family.”
Jesse began wiggling again, and Samuel let him down, grasping his hand and letting himself be pulled across a field toward the sandbox Quentin had set up for Jesse to play in. Samuel let himself get lost in building castles and fortresses with sand and rocks, for a time.