Cloak and Dagger (Weapons of Redemption 3)
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Copyright ©2013 Saloni Quinby
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Breac paused in the dusky woods, his senses straining. His hand tightened on his spear. The sounds he heard in the clearing ahead weren't from a wild animal, but from a man.
The slam of a shovel in hard earth.
Breac knew a man was often far more dangerous than an animal and just as wild when provoked. With random battles breaking out among the clans, Breac couldn't be sure if friend or foe waited ahead.
In the cover of trees, he observed a tall, dark-haired man, wearing only breeches and boots, jab the dirt with his shovel. Muscles in his lean torso rippled beneath sweat-slicked skin as he dug with a vengeance. Nearby an enormous gray dog lay, dead. The man paused and dragged his forearm across his face, then he coughed and continued digging.
Breac stepped into the clearing. The man dropped the shovel, reached for the sword that lay on the ground nearby, turned to Breac and demanded, "What do you want?"
"Who are you?"
"What do you care?"
"My clan has claimed this land. You're intruding."
"I'm passing through, that's all. Once I bury Dow, I'll be on my way."
Breac approached, once again glancing at the dog, then back to the man whose wide-set blue eyes were tinged red. "What happened?"
"He was old." The man swallowed, his expression turning stony, as if ashamed of a stranger finding him weeping.
"I don't recognize your clothes. What clan are you?"
"I have no clan," the man snapped.
Breac stepped closer and the man lifted his sword higher.
"Unless you want to fight, you can put that down," Breac said. "It's nearly dark. I'll help you bury him."
"Are you always this difficult?"
They locked gazes for a moment before the man placed his sword aside and resumed digging. Breac joined him. The hole was already quite deep. Moments later, they lifted the heavy dog into it. Breac's unexpected companion stared into the grave and sighed deeply.
"What's your name?" Breac asked.
"Sometimes dogs are better companions than men."
Again their gazes locked and a faint, sad smile tugged at Ronan's slender lips. "True enough."
By the time they finished burying Dow, night had fallen. Breac and Ronan shared a fire and a sparse meal. "Why do you have no clan?" Breac asked as they sat, elbow-to-elbow in the shadow of a moss-covered cave.
"I mistook someone's interest in me. It ended badly."
Breac chuckled. "Women are nothing but trouble anyway."
Ronan held his gaze and Breac's stomach tightened. No woman he'd ever met had made him feel like this when he looked into her eyes. "Men are more trouble," Ronan said softly.
Breac's heart skipped a beat. All his life he'd kept his desires secret, knowing he would be driven away from his clan or perhaps even killed for lusting after men. Was it possible that was why Ronan was alone?
They spoke no more that night, but in the morning, Breac invited Ronan to return home with him. As a friend of Breac, Ronan was accepted into the clan. He and Breac became close as brothers. Ronan lived with Breac, his mother and sister. Breac's father had died in battle years ago, leaving him to support his family. Though Breac's mother had encouraged him to take a wife, he had no interest in settling down with a woman.
* * *
Breac and Ronan ran along the beach on a sunny summer day. Breac had taken the lead, but Ronan soon caught up and lunged at Breac. They grunted as they hit the sand and rolled a bit before Breac straddled Ronan.
The wicked grin on Ronan's lips told Breac that his companion's hunger matched his own. Breac's hand loosened on the front of Ronan's tunic, becoming a caress. Breac leaned down. His lips hovered over Ronan's.
"Not here," Ronan said, his voice huskier than usual. "This is how I got banished from my clan."
"Your clan is my clan now."
"It won't be if they discover we're far more than friends. It will end badly for both of us."
Everyone knew Breac loved Ronan -- though like a brother. He wished they weren't forced to hide their union, but Ronan was right in reminding him they needed to be careful.
The concern in his lover's eyes, the fear of again being driven off from a place where he was accepted, dragged Breac out of his lustful fantasy and back to reality.
He rose and offered Ronan a hand up. They continued their run, this time to a nearby cave. Breac sat on the sand, tugging Ronan with him.
Taking his lover's face in his hands, he stared into Ronan's beautiful blue eyes and said, "You won't be alone again. Even if we were discovered, we'd go together."
* * *
Ronan was still deeply asleep in the sand, his usually stern face softened by sleep. Breac loved seeing him peaceful like this. He longed to kiss him, but didn't want to wake him. With one last glance over his shoulder, Breac strode out of the cave, noting that it was almost dark.
He noticed a strange ship on the water and a group of warriors on the beach. One man stood out among the others. Lean with black hair and piercing eyes, he was richly dressed and carried a silver sword. His dark eyes glanced at Breac and he issued orders to his men in a language Breac didn't understand.
The warriors raced toward him, swords drawn, their eyes glistening in the dimness.
Breac was torn between shouting for help and not wanting to drag Ronan into this. Surely he would be killed and didn't want his lover to share his fate.
Steel clashed as Breac fought for his life, but it was over in moments. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of warriors, he was disarmed, bound and dragged toward the richly dressed man. Forced to his knees, he tilted his seething gaze toward --
Breac's heart nearly stopped beating. He almost forgot to breathe.
The man's lips drew back over pointed teeth as he smiled and grasped Breac's chin in a grip that nearly snapped his jaw.
"You look strong and the hate in your eyes is beautiful. I can make you even stronger and more beautiful. I believe I will."