Ruan was in their room. The same small cell they’d been assigned as novices. As full priests—as blades—they could have moved to better quarters, but Varajas hardly saw the point, since they were on the road all the time. Might as well leave the better accommodations to people who would make use of them.

Besides, sharing a room had other benefits.

Celibacy wasn’t a requirement for those who dedicated their lives in service to the light, but it was quietly—and sometimes not so quietly—encouraged. Particularly in the Brotherhood. The High Father didn’t like his blades to be distracted by the divided loyalties that came from bonds of mortal affection. He far preferred their thoughts rest entirely on the divine.

He had a point. Relationships outside the church led to trouble. Relationships inside the church led to strife.

It seemed this was yet another area in which Varajas was simply determined to be disobedient. After seven years studying and working together, he couldn’t imagine how anyone could stand this close to Ruan and not fall in love.

He didn’t like that the church didn’t approve, that they had to hide. One more thing on the list of things about the church Varajas didn’t approve of, or agree with. But they were doing good. He just kept reminding himself of that. What mattered was how they were helping people.

Ruan was unpacking both their gear, separating things into piles of need cleaning, need repair, need replace. He looked up as Varajas opened the door, hope bright in his eyes. Hope Varajas had to kill with a shake of his head. “They’re sending us south.”

“They don’t need us in the south.”

“You don’t have to tell me.” Varajas sat down heavily on the bed that wasn’t covered with their stuff.

Ruan continued to sort. They were both so practiced at packing and unpacking, it wasn’t as though the task required any attention. “We could petition Father Donatian.”

“He’s not here.” Varajas had made a couple quiet inquiries on his way back from Eldred’s office. “It seems he’s currently a guest of the Archduke zhi Darkivel.”

War was coming. That was becoming more and more clear. The Darkivels had been agitating for it for years, and the High Father had his own vendetta that Varajas didn’t understand. Whatever the knights were doing—whether or not they deserved it—they and their Ulek protectors were running out of allies to keep the rest of the world from turning against them.

Ruan was looking at Varajas, but his attention was far away. He was thinking. Varajas was happy to sit back and let him, enjoying the quiet moment, the opportunity to drink in Ruan’s lovely face.

He had a deceptively delicate look. Fine features, too-expressive eyes. Children tended to trust him. Adults tended to underestimate him. They’d used both to their advantage.

To Varajas, he was just Ruan. Fractious and intense. Passionate and brilliant.


Ruan’s eyes came into focus. “What are you smiling about?”

“You. Always you.”

Ruan rolled his eyes, but dropped the bags and came over to the bed. He spread his knees to straddle Varajas’s lap, took Varajas’s face between his hands and leaned down for a kiss.

A kiss that Varajas was happy to give, surrendering to first the soft, teasing brush of Ruan’s lips, then a deeper, more demanding touch. A reminder. A claiming. No matter what else happened, they had each other.

Varajas needed that reminder. Wanted to feel it under his skin. He took hold of Ruan’s wrists, twisted his hips, and flipped Ruan over so he was on his back on the bed with Varajas leaning over.

Raun lifted an eyebrow, a pretense of disapproval, but his lips were parted and the tip of his tongue had slipped in and out, wetting the bottom one.

Three years, now, they’d been together like this, and Varajas had learned so many of Ruan’s tells. That was a clear invitation.

Now that they’d started, though, Varajas was in no rush. Or at least, he was willing to ignore his own needs for the fun of driving Ruan to distraction.

He tightened his grip on Ruan’s wrists and pressed his knees into Ruan’s thighs, pinning him. Ruan pulled and squirmed. A fight that was always a little bit real; a little bit for show. Ruan didn’t know the meaning of graceful surrender. Even to his own pleasure.

Adjusting his grip so he had both of Ruan’s wrists in one hand, Varajas slid the other hand under Ruan’s tunic, tracing his fingers lightly over the thin cloth of the shirt beneath. Making Ruan squirm more sincerely as he traced soft designs over Ruan’s stomach.

He loved this, taking Ruan apart piece by piece with pleasure. Especially after weeks on the road of Ruan being sharp and bristly. It was reassuring to know he could get inside that whenever he needed.

A soft sigh drew his attention back to Ruan’s face, to open eyes watching him. “Please,” Ruan whispered.

Varajas couldn’t say no. He released Ruan so they could both drag out of their clothes, tossing everything into a new pile that would just need to be sorted. Later.

Ruan did lean over to dig through a pile, grabbing for the little bottle of oil that travelled with them. He tossed it to Varajas, who caught it deftly.

He wasted no time preparing them both, lingering only a moment with two slick fingers inside Ruan, making him gasp and grab for Varajas’s shoulders. “Please,” he said again, more urgently.

Varajas pushed Ruan’s knees apart and slid into him, watching Ruan’s face as a momentary wince transformed to a moan of pleasure. Slowly, Varajas dragged out, then slid back in, searching for just the right angle, that perfect place that would send Ruan flying.

Ruan’s fingers clamped bruisingly tight as he found it, and Varajas took that as the signal to let go. With powerful thrusts, he pushed Ruan and then himself over the edge of pleasure.

After, he collapsed on the bed, pulling Ruan against him, and, without thinking, said. “I’m not going south. I’m going back to Whitecliff.”

Ruan nodded against Varajas’s shoulder, as though he’d just been waiting for the words. “I’m going with you.”

After that, there was nothing left to say.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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