Chapter Fifty-two

Although the evening was barely underway, Wayne still prepared his pallet and then did the same for Wes. Next he sat down and waited for his brother to appear.

Wes had wandered off immediately after the evening meal, making it clear once again that he did not want to attend the nightly fireside gathering. In fact he had avoided contact with most everyone since his breakup with Nathan. There was such a dead weight in his chest that he felt half suffocated all day long, and every time he caught sight of Nathan the weight crushed him even more.

Wes finally made his way slowly back to his tent, hoping to be able to climb into his pallet before anyone got back. He could pretend to be asleep when they got in and he wouldn’t need to talk to them. His eyes opened wide when he saw his twin waiting for him.

“Where have you been?” Wayne asked the minute his brother appeared. When Wes did not seem inclined to answer, he added gently, “are you alright, Wes?”

Wes swallowed the lump in his throat and decided nothing would be gained by running away from Wayne, who would most likely pursue him. So he sat down on his pallet feeling terribly tired and listless. He thought for a moment on Wayne’s question. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Well, you don’t look fine to me. Why did you and Nathan break up?” Wayne asked, thinking it was better to approach it directly.

Wes shrugged and started to undress. Then he slid under the blanket and closed his eyes. “I don’t know. These things happen. We just weren’t ready for a relationship I guess.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Wayne asked, looking troubled. 

Wes was silent, as if thinking over the proposition, then he shook his head and closed his eyes. “No, not really; there’s nothing to talk about. Goodnight.”  With that, he turned his back to Wayne and pretended to go to sleep, refusing to speak another word.

Everyone was gathered around the campfire, simply enjoying the few remaining hours of their day off before facing another week of hard work. Some of the men were quietly talking about the past week’s activities while others were just sitting silently gazing into the flames, remembering the sad events of just over two months past when they had lost one of their own. It seemed so long ago that they had buried young Kelby and yet at times as if it happened only days ago. 

Quentin looked around the group and spied Larry placing his head on Aiden’s shoulder then slowly moving his hand beneath the big Scot’s kilt. He saw Aiden’s face light up in anticipation of things to come before getting to his feet and hauling his new husbands up at the same time. The three men then quietly slipped away from the group. The thought of what was about to take place between them caused a stirring in Quentin’s groin. Very discreetly he left the area so he could be alone and relieve himself of this sensation which was beginning to take over his body. They had been on the island for over four months and in all that time, he had not known the pleasure of another man’s body.

Unbeknown to Quentin, he was not the only one who had noticed the scene being played out between Aiden, Larry and Spyke. Hendrik smiled to himself as he watched Quentin slip away. He soon followed suit. It didn’t take the ex-cowpuncher long to catch up with the quarter master. Catching the older man off guard, Hendrik grabbed his arm and was relieved when Quentin didn’t protest.

“Hey man, I was wondering if you are as horny as I am.”

Quentin seriously eyed the other man before responding. “I just may be.” He returned the suggestive smirk.

“I thought so. What say we do something about it?”

Quentin looked Hendrik in the eye and the grin on his face broadened as the other man quickly undid his belt and blue-jeans before reaching for Quentin’s. Although slightly bigger than the younger man, the quartermaster soon discovered the strength the young wrangler possessed and how willing the other man was to submit.

“Please, Quentin, have sex with me. I should tell you I don’t mind it getting a little rough.”

Quentin thought about it for a second before placing a huge hand against the other man’s hardening shaft and giving it a firm squeeze. He was in a bit of a hurry just for the simple fact that if he didn’t get release soon he was going to burst. 

“Fine, I’ll take you any way you want.” Quentin could hear the other man’s deep chuckle as he ran a hot tongue around Hendrik’s earlobe. Next he slid a hand under Hendrik’s shirt, stroking his belly and sending jolts of pure pleasure through him. His mouth was soft but firm and demanding at the same time as his lips parted and his tongue traced Hendrik’s, silently demanding entry.

With a groan of submission, Hendrik opened up and took the exploring tongue into his mouth, moaning beseechingly. Quentin eventually pulled away, leaving the younger man a little dazed and disorientated, but only for a moment. Hendrik was brought back to reality when he felt hands pulling his shirt up and he lifted his arms over his head to accommodate its removal.

Big warm hands stroked his bare back and a hot tongue repeatedly stroked his neck from collarbone to earlobe and back again. Another moan escaped Hendrik’s mouth as he felt a hand between their bodies pulling down his trousers. He sighed in relief when his erection was released from its confinement. His sigh became a deep guttural growl as the hand wrapped around his penis.

As the tongue strengthened its claim on him, the hand teasingly stroked Hendrik’s balls, heightening his excitement. He thought he was going to ejaculate but at that precise moment the hand retreated, leaving him with an aching need. He groaned in frustration as Quentin fell to his knees and took the hard member into his mouth. 

It was like an explosion went off in Hendrik’s head when he felt the damp heat surround his shaft and hands helping him step out of his trousers. 

Quentin continued to show his superior talent as he swirled his tongue around, bringing the younger man to the brink and then backing off. “Not yet, cowboy, we finish together,” the older man insisted as he gently turned and pushed Hendrik to the ground, causing him to land on his hands and knees. He quickly divested himself of his clothing from the waist down before continuing.

Hendrik’s heart was beating so loudly he was sure it could be heard at the bonfire. He gasped as he felt a finger lubricated with his own pre-cum gently pushing inside him. He shivered and moaned as it instantly found his prostrate. It brushed briefly against the most sensitive spot before a second finger joined it and started slowly stretching him, teasing all the receptive spots. 

Only when Quentin heard Hendrik’s begging and was sure he was stretched enough; did he replace his fingers with his own hard shaft. Hendrik let out a keening wail as he was invaded but Quentin was unconcerned. Not a novice at what he was doing, he knew the sharp sting would quickly turn to intense pleasure. The feeling was incredible as Quentin pounded into him, changing the rhythm from a slow pace to a hard, fast one; deeper and deeper with Hendrik matching his every move. The two men were moving together in perfect unison calling out each other’s names as the ecstasy began to envelope them. 

As Quentin felt himself close to release, he placed a hand on Hendrik’s throbbing member and began pumping in time to their movements. It wasn’t long before the two men cried out as their orgasms simultaneously drove them over the edge. 

Quentin lay on top of Hendrik’s sweat-soaked body for a few seconds and then slowly pulled out of him. 

Hendrik lay flat on his stomach panting. When he could finally speak, he turned on his side to face Quentin. “Holy shit, Quarter Master; that was remarkable! It was just what I needed.”

“Yes, me too. Are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No, I’ll be fine. It may take me a little time to walk properly, but that’s okay.”  Hendrik laughed with a teasing lilt to his voice

Quentin let out a laugh of his own as he got to his feet and walked over to the clothing strewn around.

As they slowly strolled back to camp, Quentin wrapped an arm around the younger man’s shoulders and with a glint in his eye, proposed, “Maybe someday soon, we’ll do this again if you wish.”

“Sure thing, Quentin; you just name the time and place and I’ll be there. Hey, we all need to let loose like that from time to time and taking matters into your own hand can get kinda tedious and mundane.”

“Yes, everyone needs sexual release as a couple once in a while with no strings attached.”

“I second that!” Hendrik slapped Quentin on the back as the two men entered the clearing. 

As they parted, both knew that this evening was simply a casual thing. Neither man held strong feelings for the other. They had sought a pleasurable encounter with a willing partner and that’s exactly what they found.

Nathan sat off to one side, leaning against a tree and nursing a final cup of coffee before heading back to his workshop and new living quarters. He’d seen lovers leave the fireside to pursue personal activities. He watched as Wes slowly walked out of the woods, made a wide berth past the group of men gathered around the fire and as furtively as possible, make his way to the tent they used to share with Wayne, Samuel, Seth and Preston. Nathan’s chest tightened as he took in Wes’ posture and movements. Now that Quentin had pointed it out, the young man’s utter despondency was undeniably obvious. Damn! He had been too wrapped up in his own misery to notice how sad and hopeless Wes looked.

Finally coming to what might prove to be the most crucial decision he would ever make, Nathan straightened up, returned the empty cup to the mess tent and determinedly headed towards the canvas shelter Wes had entered not long ago. It was the tailor’s now unwavering objective to put an end once and for all to this standoff between himself and the man he loved.

Nathan lifted the flap and in three long strides, was standing over an astonished Wes. Reaching down, Nathan slipped his hand under Wes’ arm, unceremoniously hauled him to his feet and rapidly steered him passed his open-mouthed speechless twin, out of the tent, across the compound and down to the beach.

Not a word was spoken until the two men stood face to face near the ocean’s edge. The sun was sinking on the horizon as a light breeze blew off the water, cooling their reddened and overheated faces. Nathan waited until they had both caught their breaths before firmly but kindly stating, “we have to talk, Wes. And we are going to do it right now!” He lifted his hand and gently caressed Wes’ cheek.

Wes stiffened, too shocked to actually move away.  He just stared at Nathan, not trusting his voice to speak.  He had dreamed of having another chance to be with this man to explain, to make it right, and now that he had that chance, he was immobilised with fear, absolutely tongue-tied. He had pretty much thought there would never be a chance for reconciliation.

Nathan was slightly disconcerted when Wes did not respond, but then he saw the uncertainty in the eyes staring back at him and felt more confident. “I’m glad you are here. I was afraid you wouldn’t stay or listen, Minx…” Nathan’s voice cracked a little as he spoke the old pet name. “Oh God, we’ve let this rift between us go on long enough and trying to avoid each other is getting us nowhere. It’s time to end it!”
Wes could only swallow hard. He had to exert extreme self-will not to cry at the sound of that familiar nickname. 
Nathan pushed on. “We are both hurting, Wesley.”
Wes’s lips moved but nothing actually came out from them. He looked away in despair with no idea what to say. All he knew was the heavy weight crushing his heart.
“Minx, talk to me!”  Nathan’s voice was low and urgent as he pleaded for some response. 
“I don’t know what to say,” Wes finally admitted, feeling horribly inarticulate. 
“Maybe you can start by telling me how you’ve been feeling,” Nathan quietly encouraged.
Wes’ eyes flickered up into Nathan’s face, as he whispered “miserable.” That one word carried with it a ton of meaning reflected in the tone of his voice; it was raw and honest.
Nathan’s heart broke. He had witnessed the young man’s sadness but to hear it from Wes’ own lips was almost unbearable. His desire to gather Wes into his arms and comfort him was almost overwhelming, but Nathan did not think the moment appropriate. It was too soon; there was still too much ground to cover before they could begin to even be friends and he didn’t want to make any sudden moves that the younger man might find daunting. “I understand, as I believe I’ve been just as miserable,” he sadly declared.
Wes felt a sob rise in his throat and forced it down. He was drowning. ‘What did he have to lose?’ he thought to himself. What else did he have and how much lower could he go? “I have never been so unhappy in my life!” he blurted out. “I couldn’t believe you would just give up on me like that.”
Nathan drew back in astonishment. “I never gave up on you, Minx. Why would you think that?”
Not quite knowing how to respond, Wes mumbled with eyes lowered. “It felt like that.” It didn’t have to make sense and there didn’t have to be a reason. He just spoke from his heart.
“I am so sorry. I must have been blind to have missed whatever it was that had you feeling the way you did,” Nathan murmured, raking a hand through his hair in disbelief and frustration at his own inattentiveness. “Can you give me any specifics? Oh God, how the hell did you came to the conclusion that I had given up on you?”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember what we fought about.”
“We didn’t actually fight as much as we appear to have stopped communicating. Was there something I failed to give you that you felt in need of? Please talk to me,” the older man earnestly persisted.
Wes took a deep breath and sighed. “You made me feel unimportant!”
“Oh my God, Wes, you were the most important person in my life!” Nathan ardently tried to reassure the young man. He suddenly cleared his throat and said again with slow emphasis, “you still are the most important person in my life.”

The memories came flooding back into Wes’ mind and with that, the dam broke. “You never had any time for me. You were always doing something for someone else, like I wasn’t important enough. I know – I know you needed to get all the clothes in order and we only have you on the island to do the sewing and you were busy, I get that! But there was nothing left for me! I was always your lowest priority! You even said you would never fight for me.”
Nathan felt as though he had been punched in the stomach and the wind driven out of his lungs. Struggling to get his thoughts together, he momentarily closed his eyes and breathed in as deeply as he possibly could. “Yes, it is true I was very busy, but that does not excuse me for causing you to feel ignored and insignificant. For that, Minx, I apologise from the bottom of my heart.” He placed his hands on Wes’ shoulders to make sure he had the young man’s undivided attention and that his words were being acknowledged. “However, I do not recall my saying I’d never fight for you ever coming up in a conversation,” Nathan finished on a quiet note, slightly confused.
“Yes, you said it. I asked if you’d ever get as mad as Brock did when Raythe got switched and if you’d fight for me. But you said you wouldn’t ‘cause it would set a bad example,” Wes bitterly reminded him.
Recognising it was something he could have said, Nathan made an attempt to explain his stand on the subject. “All my adult life, Wes, I have purposely avoided initiating or participating in physical conflicts. I will either defend my principles verbally or walk away.”

“But you never even get jealous. Even with me spending time at the swimming hole with Hendrik didn’t seem to bother you. I would have thought if you really loved me you’d have something to say about that, but you didn’t.” Wes’ words and the accusing tone of voice clearly indicated this was a sore spot with him and was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Tell me, Wes, in all honestly, did I have something to be jealous about? Were you at any time being unfaithful to me, our relationship or our commitment to one another?”
Wes clamped his mouth shut. It was so unfair! Nathan had no right to ask him such a question; one where he could not answer with any semblance of reasonableness. If he said yes, he would be in the wrong and if he said no, then he had no reason to be upset in the first place. Wes fumed in silence.
Nathan continued gently but firmly in a tone that Wes had missed and to which he automatically responded.  “Spending some of your free time with a member of the community who is available for a bit of recreation should not be a threat to a committed couple who love and trust each other. It would have been very unreasonable of me to deny you a chance to relax simply because I myself was unavailable. Maybe had I had a little more help, I would have had more time to spend with you but although Quentin has done his best to assist me, he and everyone else has been very busy these last few weeks.”
The mild words were like a whiplash to Wes and made him blush with sudden guilt. He turned his face away, refusing to look at Nathan.
Nathan took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. He wondered if now would be as good a time as any to request at least an attempt at reconciliation. Wes’ stance was not promising to say the least, but Nathan suddenly felt they had wasted too much time already. Putting everything on the line, willingly opening himself up for possible rejection, Nathan softly intoned, “I don’t have a clear understanding of what happened between us, Minx, but I know beyond a doubt that I love you with every fibre of my being and want to spend the rest of my life as your partner, your lover, your best friend. Is there any hope at all for our getting back together and giving ourselves another shot at love and happiness? Are you willing to take a chance, my beautiful little Minx?”
The rush of emotions made Wes almost sway. He wanted so much to try and make it work, but Nathan was moving too fast. He felt totally out of his depth. Caught between a desperate desire to patch things up with Nathan and a natural fear of being hurt again, all he could manage was a stammered ‘yes’.
Nathan took a moment to still his heart; he didn’t know what he would have done if he’d received a negative response. “Good,” he said, his voice very low. “Good, that’s all I am asking.”

Although anxious not to miss the chance for another go, Wes softy requested, “will you give me a little time to think it all out? I don’t want to end up making things worse, if that’s at all possible.”

Nathan smiled understandingly. “I believe that is a very sound idea, Minx. We certainly tried to take time to give serious thought to our expectations the first time, seems only fitting we do the same now. One thing I do know for sure, Wes, is if you come back to me, I will not let you go again so easily. I fully plan to hold on to what is mine for the rest of my life. Please keep that in mind when making your decision.”

Nothing Nathan said could have made Wes happier or strengthened his resolve to work things out with his estranged lover. He looked up at Nathan through misty eyes and nodded his head, comprehending and willingly complying with what the older man was saying to him 
“Come, Minx, I will return you to your pallet before your brother sends out the hounds to track you down,” Nathan teased and taking Wes’ hand, began walking with him back to camp.
Wes felt a wonderful warm feeling as those familiar fingers entwined into his. But he was still very self-conscious of Nathan and there was no way he wanted to be seen holding hands with Nathan back at camp when things were far from decided yet. So as they neared the encampment, he slowly pried his fingers free. 
Nathan looked down at him and smiled. 
They all too soon arrived at their destination. Wracking his brain to find something to say to break the awkward silence, Wes asked, “are you going to be sleeping in your work tent again tonight, Nathan?” and then bit his lip with a grimace. ‘God, what a stupid thing to say,’ he thought as he felt his face flush. He hoped he didn’t sound as if he was making a proposition.

“Yes, I will be. Pleasant dreams, Minx.” With that, Nathan walked away. He could feel Wes’ eye following him all the way to the tent he presently considered his own.

Wes stayed rooted to the ground for some time, wishing he could prolong the conversation in order to be close to Nathan a while longer. He thought longingly of those times Nathan had slept beside him and sighed. Wes heard those parting words with disappointment though his face had registered none of what he was feeling. He watched as Nathan disappeared into the other tent; then quietly entered the one he shared with his brother.

The next day proved to be one of the longest in Nathan’s life. Although he caught glimpses of Wes throughout the morning and afternoon, he kept his distance to give the young man time to think.
Wes, on the other hand, was slowly coming to the conclusion that the next move was his to make. Nathan had taken that first step, had said his piece and having declared his love, left the final choice to Wes. He, on the other hand, had asked for more time but they hadn’t said how long they would wait. So how long did he have to make his decision known, he wondered crossly. He felt like kicking himself for getting himself into this fix.
Shortly before the evening meal, Wes decided to go for a stroll. Troubled and confused, he wandered aimlessly about and looked up startled when he found himself almost upon the door of the tailor’s workshop. He pulled up short and started to retreat immediately, but the voice from within froze him.
“Is that you, Minx? If so, please come in and sit awhile,” Nathan softly invited.
There was no mistaking the warmth in Nathan’s voice and it emboldened Wes to step inside. He looked about him shyly, suddenly realising how much he had missed this small space. He had rebelled against the confines of the shop in the past but now thought the room looked very inviting and cosy.
Nathan looked up from his work and smiled. He watched quietly as Wes took in the living quarters he had set up for himself. The bed was neatly made with a colourful quilt made from scraps of material that gave it a homey impression as did the field flowers sitting in a cup on makeshift nightstand.

“How are you doing, Minx? Have you given our situation any thought since yesterday?” Nathan realised he should probably take his time, but he really could not wait much longer.

Sometime during the night, Wes had decided it wasn’t worth holding on to pride and stubbornness when so much was at stake; it hurt too bloody much. He remembered the older man’s face lighting up when their eyes met the day before and the way Nathan’s hand had wandered to his face, touching it. Wes had groaned in his troubled slumber. Still half asleep, Wes had then made a sub-conscious decision. He wanted Nathan back no matter what. 
Nathan waited as patiently as possible with his heart in his throat, the love he had for this young man shining from his eyes.
Wes inclined his head, sat down in the seat offered him and answered with another shy smile. “Yes, I guess I am ready to talk now!”
Nathan slowly released his repressed breath and hung his head for a moment while tears unexpectedly stung at the back of his eyes. “Good, I am glad,” he said, his voice barely a hoarse whisper. So much hung in the balance now and he resolutely refused to let his brain dwell on the negative.
It was obvious that Wes too was finding it difficult to put thoughts into words. “I have given it a lot of thought, Nathan ... and I think ... that is to say, if you think we, um ...” Now that the moment had arrived, Wes found himself unable to speak past the lump forming in his throat.
A smile spread across Nathan’s handsome face. ‘Dare I hope?’ he wondered. The posturing from Wes indicated that the man had reached a decision but after weeks of heartache, Nathan advanced cautiously. He dragged his seat closer to Wes and it took every ounce of willpower he possessed not to envelope the young man in his arms.

“It is alright, love. Say whatever is in your heart and I will abide by it,” Nathan solemnly promised, regardless the cost.
“I-I want …” Wes’ eyes filled as he struggled, and then it seemed the barriers came crumbling down and suddenly the words spilled out fast and tremulous. “I am sorry for all the things I said. I am sorry for making such a mess of this. I don’t know what got into me. I know you didn’t mean to ... it was me, my fault ...” Wes choked back a sob and gasped. “All I know is I love you still, Nathan. I want us to be together and I need you in my life. Please tell me it’s not too late!”
Nathan’s shoulders sagged with relief and with a jerk, he pulled Wes his arms. “Come to me, my Minx.”

The young man went unresistingly into the open arms and was crushed against the broad chest. Wes’ hands immediately clung to the older man’s shirt as Nathan held him tightly and deeply breathed in his scent. No words were spoken for several long minutes and none were needed.
“The fault lay with both of us, my love. We each misunderstood the other,” Nathan softly set the young man straight.
Wes pulled away and brushed the back of his hand across his nose, sniffling loudly. He was still very emotional, hardly able to believe what was happening and quite fully prepared to have the whole thing fall apart again. 
“It most certainly is not too late, as I too desperately want us to be together and be a major part of each other’s lives.
“Do you really mean it, Nathan?”
“I have never meant anything more, sweetheart. I love you with all my heart, Wesley.” Nathan once again pulled the younger man close.
“I am glad you said it.”
“Have you not known all along, Minx? Have I not showed you how much I care about you?”
“It helps to hear you actually say it?” Wes murmured, hoping that didn’t sound too demanding. He didn’t want to risk spoiling any part of this new-found happiness.
“Then I will have to make it a point to say it more often instead of just keeping it in my head,” Nathan smiled at the man in his arms.
Wes nodded, saying quietly, “I wasn’t sure what you were thinking, that’s all.”
“If there is one thing I learned from all of this, Minx, it is the importance of talking and not assuming we know what the other is thinking or feeling. There’s no holding back, my love. Everything that concerns us or our relationship must be put on the table,” Nathan stated adamantly.
Although Wes nodded his agreement, Nathan wondered if the younger man really understood just how crucial this issue was for their future together. He drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes as a deep-buried memory stirred in his mind. 
“It is with that thought that I find myself finally willing to tell you about something that happened many years ago and which had a very profound effect on my life.”
“What is it, Nathan?”  Wes asked, watching the expressions dance across Nathan’s face.
Nathan looked searchingly at Wes and wondered how his Minx would handle what he was about to tell him of a secret he had been kept hidden for so many years. But having come to a decision, he didn’t want to waste any more time wrestling with doubts. No matter how Wes reacted, whether he would be horrified or not, Nathan decided it was time to reveal all. He had asked for truth and honesty and he now had to set an example and share this deep, dark secret from his past, no matter how difficult it was for him to bring it up again.

“I have only ever talked about this with one other person who I trust explicitly never to repeat it. It is of a time in my life when it was at its bleakest,” Nathan all but whispered. 
Wes’ heart began to thump warily. ‘What could be so difficult for Nathan to say,’ he wondered.

“Please, let’s get more comfortable, Minx.” Nathan moved them over to a pile of blankets waiting to be mended and indicated they lean back against the large crate that made up his worktable. He paused a moment to think about what he was going to say, about his sister, their stepfather, and the uncle who had liberated him from the guilt that had overwhelmed him so long ago, literally saving his life. Maybe confiding in the young man about his fears of past shadows influencing his life to this day would help Wes understand why Nathan was so cautious about fighting.

“I had a sister once, several years ago. Emily was all of ten minutes younger than I was.” He chuckled at the look of surprise Wes threw his way. “That’s right; a twin sister. Our father died while we were still babies and our mother re-married a short time later. I grew up viewing my step-father as a hero of sorts.” Nathan shifted uncomfortably and murmured, “I have never been more wrong about a person.”

Pulling up his legs and bending forward, Nathan wrapped his arms around his knees and stoically embraced the darkest moments of his life. He closed his eyes before softly continuing. “I was sixteen when I discovered what a bastard he was. Our mother had been dead for over a year and my sister had never told me what I was too blind to see for myself. The son of a bitch wasn’t content enough to have Emily take over our mother’s household duties; he also demanded she assume his dead wife’s marital duties in his bed. I discovered this one night purely by accident.”

Wes’ head snapped up and his face wore a look of horror but he managed to keep his tongue still. Nathan looked so intense the younger man hardly dared to breathe.

Nathan’s shuddered as the painful memories assailed him and was grateful for the hand gently rubbing his back. 

“I was such a young fool! I confronted him but it availed us nothing as all he did was ridicule me for having been so naive. From that night on, I slept on a pallet next to my sister’s bedroom door. For a while, he kept his distance. Then one night in a drunken stupor, he tried to get by me. We fought and I had never felt such white hot fury before. I was barely aware of what I was doing. He was a big man and to this day, I have no idea where the strength came from. Somehow, I managed to push him over the banister and he landed on the floor below with such a force, it broke his neck. The authorities accepted Emily’s story that he had fallen but I knew the truth; I had killed a man in an uncontrollable fit of rage. The fact that he probably deserved it didn’t lessen my guilt. We were taken in by our Uncle Alfred, who fortunately lived in a town far removed from where my crime had been committed. Six months later, my beautiful sister died giving birth to our step-father’s still-born son.” Nathan’s voice cracked and he laid his head down on his folded arms. 

“Oh God!” Wes whispered, not quite knowing what to say at first. Then he blurted out. “It’s not your fault! He deserved to die, Nathan. He was a damn bastard and you know it. It’s not your fault!” Wes went on rubbing Nathan’s back, feeling the tremors ever so slowly abate as the older man fought for emotional control.

Many long minutes passed before Nathan was able to finish what he had begun. “Uncle Alfred proved to be a God-send. It was his unwavering love and support that saw me through the months that followed and that ultimately save me from myself.

“I’m sorry about your sister. I can’t imagine losing Wayne. It must have been devastating.”

“It is the hardest thing I have ever had to bear,” Nathan murmured almost inaudibly.
“He sounds like a wonderful man, your uncle Alfred. I wish I could have met him.”
“It’s because of him I chose the profession I did. In fact, he had a very positive influence on many aspects of my life.” Nathan sighed deeply. He lifted his head to face his young lover and sadly smiled. “My Uncle Alfred is a tailor; he also has a male companion who I now know is actually his lover.”
Wes shifted as close to Nathan as he possibly could. His hand clutched Nathan’s bigger one possessively, as if afraid to let go. “I’m glad you told me,” he said softly.

“I understand your disappointment in my not manifesting my love for you by fighting. I have spent so many years exercising control over my more violent tendencies that I am unsure if I can change now. But please bear this in mind, sweetheart. I love you as much as I loved my sister. So Wesley, do you not think me capable of killing someone who truly wounded you? As long as there is breath in my body, Minx, no one will ever deliberately harm you and not live to regret it.” Nathan had never spoken so forcefully before.

Wes closed his eyes tightly and clung to Nathan. The older man had finally said what the younger one needed to hear and suddenly it didn’t seem all that important after all. What had really mattered was Nathan sharing something that had had such an impact on his life.

‘All those weeks of anguish over nothing!’ Wes groaned to himself. “Nathan,” he whispered. “I don’t know what I would have done if you had not taken me back.”

“I had to take you back, Minx. I could no longer go on without you either by my side or in my bed,” Nathan sincerely responded as his arms tightened around the love of his life. He placed a firm kiss on Wes’ lips.

“So, are you going to be sleeping in your work tent again tonight, Nathan?”

“Yes, but not alone. You and I are going to spend the night here together. This tent will provide us the privacy we need so I can make love to you until the wee hours of the morning.”

The supper bell had rung shortly before Nathan and Wes walked hand and hand into the mess tent. Several men glanced up and smiled. Hendrik winked conspiringly at Wes while Quentin happily nodded a ‘well done’ to Nathan. 


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