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by JB McDonald
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Everything was supposed to work out. They had the dragon under control, they were back with the mercenaries - things were supposed to be good now. That was the plan. Then word of plague in Katsu's country arrives, and with it knowledge that will shatter everything Ashe thought he knew about his lover. When Katsu has to make a choice between Ashe or sailing overseas to a country that abandoned him to save a beloved sister--Well, some choices are harder than others. Some are nearly impossible to make.
eBook Publisher: Torquere Press/Single Shot, 2012 www.torquerepress.com
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [58 KB]
Reading time: 34-47 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"Thanks," Ashe said, smiling at the troll woman. Or perhaps ogre; he could never tell them apart. They all looked flat-faced and squat to him.
She smiled back, a grotesque twisting of blunt features, and moved on to the next customer.
Ashe pulled on newly bought gloves, the rest of his purchases tucked into the saddlebag he'd slung over one shoulder.
The shop hadn't been warm, but outside the wind nipped at his nose and the tips of his pointed ears, chilling him further. It caught at his long braids and tossed them, so the beads and coins clinked against each other. People scurried out of the cold as quickly as they could, and Ashe peered over the heads -- mostly human, and therefore mostly shorter than he was -- to see the inn where Katsu waited.
They were, from what they'd been able to glean, only half a day's ride from the mercenary crew he'd traveled with for years. He'd never have left, even for a few weeks, if it hadn't been for the dragon that was bonded to him. But now he knew how to control her, and they were headed back home.
His home didn't have a hearth and living areas. His home had a group of thirty-odd men and women, a campfire, tents of varying quality, and family. This was the last stop before he and Katsu caught up to them, and he was looking forward to going home.
It was also the last stop for supplies.
The crew would supply food, but clothes had to be bought or made as they traveled. Armed with new wool-lined vests, fur-lined leggings that could be tied into place over trousers, extra socks, and wool-lined oil coats and gloves, he and Katsu were now ready to face the northern reaches -- which seemed to be where the crew was headed.
Ashe found Katsu right where he'd left his lover, huddled miserably next to a fire in a tavern. Katsu's shoulder-length hair was loose. The black tresses framed his face, hiding eyes so dark they were nearly black. Golden-skinned hands cupped a mug of cheap mulled wine, as if the heat might soak through to his joints. "Why would anyone live where it gets this cold?" Katsu muttered, gaze riveted to the flames as they licked at wood and smoldering cow patties.
Ashe chuckled. "It'll get a lot colder. There's barely any snow on the ground." He draped the second coat around Katsu's shoulders. Katsu was slim for a human through the chest and shoulders, but still broader than Ashe's elven self.
Katsu shivered theatrically and buried his nose in his cup.
"That ogre was nice. The woman we met yesterday, who said she could get us our supplies? She came through."
"Troll," Katsu grumbled. "Half troll."
"How can you tell?" Ashe asked, recalling her face and squat body.
Katsu gave him a disbelieving look. "How can you not?"
"Come on." Ashe laughed, nudging him. "We've got everything. You'll be happier once we get to camp."
"But miserable on the ride there." Katsu drained his cup and set it down on the trestle table, rising grimly.
They stepped out into flurries of snow that whisked across the cobblestone streets. It hadn't snowed heavily enough to build up against walls and on corners, and the wind was too great to let it settle. The weather had been too cold for it to melt. They were in for a chilly winter.
Ashe pulled one flap of his coat over to the side, buttoning it there so it created an extra layer to help keep the wind out. He did the same for Katsu's, buttoning on one side while Katsu struggled to pull gloves on.
"No civilized countries have winters like this," Katsu muttered to himself. "No wonder everyone here is barbaric."
Ashe just grinned, happy with the general state of the world. They'd gotten control of the dragon that had been sapping his magic and killing him slowly, and they were so close to his chosen family that they'd see everyone before nightfall. Best of all, with the dragon's magic drain under wraps, Ashe had enough energy for sex again. They'd started the morning on a very good note.
He finished buttoning Katsu up, then paused to trail a gloved-encased finger over the tiny, single braid Katsu wore at one temple, tangled in with the rest of his hair. Light-colored locks were braided into that one plait, a mirror image of the black locks braided into one of many braids on Ashe himself. Though Ashe kept his hair in rows upon rows of braids that fell past his shoulders in true Keela style, that front braid indicated current ties -- including lovers.
Not that their version of it meant much, he reminded himself as Katsu stalked down the road toward the stable. The braiding hadn't been witnessed, they hadn't done it to each other, and there were no little trinkets tucked in. The other elves of the Keela Empire would see it as no more than an amusing triviality.
Still, it meant something to Ashe.
They didn't converse as they walked, though Katsu continued to mutter. Ashe watched the people around them, watched the way the air puffed in clouds out of Katsu's mouth, watched the wagons going by.
Eventually, he watched a young woman wearing some sort of skirt over her trousers, visible as it hung below her heavy down jacket. She was golden-skinned, though more yellow-toned than Katsu was, with Katsu's same slightly tilted eyes, and the same inky black hair. She was slim for a human, and her expression was determined. She was the only person like Katsu that Ashe had ever seen.
She was following them.