Wounded in Iraq, Dean Hudson is forced to give up his dream of a career in the Marine Corps. Nearly recovered from the physical wounds that left him scarred, he resigns himself to a life alone, and begins to deal with the emotional and mental scars the war left behind while he tries to rebuild a life. Having kept his homosexuality a secret for so long, he doesn't expect to find love or acceptance in the arms of a knight.
On the weekends, successful brewery co-owner, Dom Ethan Moreland dons armour and a sword and fights other knights. The adrenaline rush and stress relief provided by the atmosphere of the renaissance faire also serve as a constant reminder of the love he still hasn't found and can't remember having.
When Dean meets Ethan dressed as a knight, he never dreams that he will find happiness and love on his knees while submitting to Ethan.
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Swords clanged together as two armoured men fought in the centre of a large, roped-off area. Dean Hudson sat in the bleachers with his sister and her three children watching the by-play, his gaze on the knight in the maroon tunic with a dragon painted on it.
"Uncle Dean?" a young voice called out. A small hand tugged on his shirt.
"What is it pumpkin?" he asked, pulling his five-year-old niece onto his lap.
"Is that what you did when you were in the Ma'eenes?" she asked, pointing to the knights.
"No, we weren't lucky enough to have swords," he smiled. "They didn't even give us horses."
"That's not nice of them!" she said, hands on her hips, looking indignant.
"Jennie, you're not supposed to ask Uncle about that," Dean's nine- year-old, nephew scolded.
"Todd," Dean's older sister Carla warned her eldest son. "Dean, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have dragged you here."
"I've never been to a Renaissance Faire before. Besides, it beats staying home and drinking." Dean shrugged, turned his attention to his niece. "Look, pumpkin, I think that's the Queen." He indicated a middle aged woman in a heavily beaded, dark-green velvet gown.
"Queen Isabella Savoy." Carla wrinkled her nose. "Ethan and Sean call her a fun-hater and a micro-manager."
"I see. And who again are Ethan and Sean?"
"Ethan's in the maroon and white tunic with the dragon on it. He's fighting Lord Darken, Sean, in the green and yellow tunic," Carla said, pointing to the two combatants before naming the rest of the men in the fight ring.
"Everyone has a different name?" He shook his head. "How do you keep them all straight?" His gaze wandered back to Ethan. Dean had seen him without a helmet on and recognised him from the photographs his sister had sent to him while he was in the desert. Familiar memories tugged at him. Refusing to acknowledge them, he became acutely aware of his surroundings. He hoped the sights and sounds of the faire would keep the memories at bay for a while longer. Now was not the time or place to relive that hell. Smiling, he prayed Carla wouldn't notice. She deserved to see him happy, deserved a day of fun.
His sister shrugged. "From hanging around them, I know all of the Knights of Steel and a good portion of everyone else here — the ones dressed up anyway. All rennies, the people who do this all of the time, adopt a different name and persona. If you're observant and patient, you can see scenes unfold just below the surface of the show for the public."
Dean nodded and shifted uncomfortably in his seat, wanting to bolt. The crowded open area of the faire set his nerves on edge, and he longed for peace and quiet and solitude. Jennie wriggled out of his lap, and he waited for her to climb down to the bench in front of them to join her two brothers before he edged away from Carla.
Dean rubbed his sweating palms on his jeans, thankful the breezy day spared him the awkwardness of explaining why he wasn't wearing shorts. He hadn't worn shorts since before his last deployment, when his body and life were changed forever. It was a day like any other, but one he would never forget the day of his last patrol. Two years later, he was looking at an uncertain future as a disabled vet who couldn't stand on his own two feet without the aid of a cane.
He watched the maroon-clad knight, Ethan, round on his opponent, swing his sword and drive the man to his knees. Kicking him in the chest, he raised his hands in celebration as the man toppled backwards. Half of the crowd cheered. The other half booed. An armour-less man dressed in a black and white tunic bearing the colours and crest of the entertainment troop rushed forward to help the defeated knight to his feet.
"Honour her majesty!"
One after another, the armoured men dropped to one knee, heads bowed in the direction of a short, round, blonde-haired woman, who despite her smile, looked as though she'd just tasted something disgusting. Ethan stuck his sword into the dirt, removed his helmet then knelt on one knee.
Dean inhaled sharply. Long, light-brown hair was tied at the nape of the man's neck, and beads of sweat ran down the sides of his face. His angular jaw gave way to the subtle lines hidden beneath armour.
"Ethan's gay, by the way, and single," Carla whispered in his ear. "I thought you might like him."
"You told me in one of the letters you sent me. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to play matchmaker," Dean said good- naturedly, hugging his sister.
"Why shouldn't I want my brother to find true love?"
He wasn't sure about true love, but Dean wondered what it would be like to get fucked by Ethan. The single photograph Carla had sent him of Ethan was decidedly less sexy than the sight on the field in front of him. Dean started. How long had it been since he'd thought about another guy? Too long, he chastised himself. There was no guarantee that Ethan was single, and Dean had to meet a player he liked. He strongly suspected Ethan was a top, which suited him fine. Dean had topped before, but he preferred bottoming. So had Brad, his ex, so he'd ended up topping more often than not, wanting to make his lover happy. It hadn't been enough to keep Brad from cheating on him.
Dean remembered the day he'd come home early and found Brad in their bed, technically Dean's bed, with one of the company clerks. Dean shook his head, pulling himself from his memories, surprised to find all of the armoured men standing in the centre of the ring. The combatants squared off. Dean winced when Ethan was hit first in the leg by one person, followed closely on the back of the helmet by the knight in the green and yellow tunic.
"Come on, I'll introduce you to him. You'll like him." Carla giggled.
Dean smiled and nodded trying to keep his excitement at bay.
"Ethan! Lord Blackmoore!" Carla called out, drawing the attention of several knights.
"You fought wonderfully, as always," Carla said, hugging Ethan.
"Ethan, this is my brother Dean Hudson," Carla said, reaching for Dean. "Dean, this is one of my best friends, Ethan Moreland, also known as Lord Blackmoore, one of the Knights of Steel."
"Nice to meet you, Dean. Welcome home." Ethan held out his hand.
Dean moved his cane to the other hand and shook hands with Ethan, who ran his thumb over Dean's knuckles. Desire ran rampant through Dean's body, pooling in his groin at the contact. "Nice to meet you too," Dean replied, wishing he knew Ethan well enough to move the errant strand of light brown hair that fell across one dark eye.
"You're being summoned my lord," Carla said, turning from them towards the arena where the other knights had gathered.
"You will be staying for a while, right?" Ethan asked, looking from Dean to Carla and back again.
Dean saw the plea in sister's eyes, pushed aside his growing discomfort and nodded. He wanted today to be special for her. On top of working, raising her kids and trying to have a life, she'd been looking after him since he'd returned home.
"It was nice to meet you," Dean said, half hoping he'd get to know Ethan better.
"My pleasure, Dean. My pleasure," Ethan answered, running two knuckles along Dean's jaw line. Dean thought he saw a look of possession in Ethan's eyes before the man turned and left them.
"Come on. Let's go see more of the faire," Carla began as soon as Ethan was out of hearing distance. She hooked an arm through his and pulled him away from the arena. "So, what do you think?"
"They do this for fun?" Dean looked around at the vast array of costumes ranging from elegant to gaudy. He leaned heavily on his cane, carefully picking his way over the rough terrain.
His sister nodded. "You're avoiding the question. What do you think of Ethan?"
Dean shrugged. "He's nice enough."
Carla stopped and stared open mouthed. "Nice enough? Really, brother, you have seriously fried your brain. Admit it. He's hot!"
"Won't argue that," he agreed, following his niece and nephews down a short path to a stage decorated to look like the deck of a pirate ship. "Hot doesn't make him nice or dateable, Carla, merely fuckable." He'd learned the hard way that looks were deceiving, more often than not. How many times had he caught Brad in one lie or another before finding him in bed with another man? Dean still didn't know how many times Brad had cheated on him. Their relationship and breakup had been a secret, neither one willing to leave the Corps.
Since Dean had been home, simply being near people had him jumping at every sound. Crowds and loud noises unnerved him. He might fuck Ethan, but more than that was out of the question. While others swore that a relationship had provided a sense of control and sanity, he didn't want to deal with the neediness or insecurities of another person. Especially not one who played at being a warrior.
* * *
Several hours later, Ethan blew out a slow breath as he walked off the stage. His heart ached at the encroaching shadows he'd seen in Dean's deep-blue eyes when he'd met him earlier that day. Carla hadn't lied. Her brother was drop dead gorgeous, and he was available. Ethan couldn't ask for more than that in a potential lover. But even though Ethan was ready for a committed relationship, Dean was hardly his ideal man.
He was several inches shorter than Ethan's own six-foot three-inch height, and while long and lean with well defined muscles, it went against the type of man Ethan normally went for — a man close to his own height with broad shoulders. He'd never been drawn to the lithe, slender type before. Still, Dean oozed sensuality, with a mouth made for kissing. It had taken all of Ethan's will power not to claim him at their first touch.
Dean's dark brown hair was cut short in a Marine Corps high and tight, so there was nothing to hold onto. Not to mention he was a Marine. Ethan knew enough of them to know they generally like to dominate. Ethan was submissive to no one. Then there were Dean's internal scars that had to be dealt with. Even if Carla hadn't mentioned her concerns, he knew there would be issues. Ethan knew from talking to Carla that Dean had been on his third tour to Iraq. He'd noticed the tension radiating from Dean when he'd finally met the man earlier. It confirmed his suspicions, which had been strengthened by Carla's concerns. While he didn't know the cause, he was certain that crowds and loud noises bothered the younger man. Ethan shook his head, he wasn't sure he wanted to get involved. Spotting Dean at the edge of the group of people that had stopped to watch, he moved towards the man occupying his thoughts.
"Dean," Ethan called out, placing a hand on Dean's arm and descending the steps of the stage, his best friend, Sean, trailing behind him. Keeping a hand on Dean's back, Ethan manoeuvred around him forcing Dean off the path and to the side, away from the crowd.
It had taken all of Ethan's self-control to finish the scene and remain in character once he'd seen the shadows rise in Dean's eyes. He'd broken character as a short tempered knight to let the other participants in the staged, but script-less scene know he needed out immediately. They had ended the short skit seamlessly without any hint of irregularity, for which he was grateful. He didn't want to call extra attention to Dean, but he could tell the man was hurting. "This is a friend of mine, Sean Baker, AKA Lord Darken. This is Dean, Carla's brother."
"Nice meeting you. Carla, it's wonderful to see you again. Um, there's a show starting in a few minutes if you're interested in joining me."
Carla paused, looking from Sean to Dean and back again.
"Excellent idea, Darken! Carla, you and the kids go to the show with Sean, and I'm going to show Dean around some more. We'll meet you back at the fight list just before four," Ethan suggested, before he whispered in her ear that he'd take Dean away from the crowd.
Carla nodded, and he and Dean watched the group leave.
"Ethan, I appreciate —"
"Follow me. I know a quiet place away from the faire," Ethan said, pulling on Dean's arm. "Trust me. I'm just going to take you away from people and noise."
Dean hesitated momentarily before following. Ethan led Dean slowly through the maze of tents and buildings towards the back gate which led to the rest of the preserve and the participants' campsites. He stopped just out of sight of the gate guards.
"In order to get through the gate, you'll need this." Ethan produced a laminated card that read 'participant'. He'd simply told Sean he needed it for a friend and Sean had given him the pass. Dean reached for the badge.
Ethan shook his head. "Let me." He pinned it on Dean's T-shirt, brushing a hand against a nipple and feeling metal through the fabric. Mine. The claim surged forward unexpectedly.
Dean inhaled sharply.
Ethan smiled. "I'm not going to hurt you. Carla would kill me."
"Where are you taking me?" Dean demanded, a flurry of emotions flew across his face.
"Someplace quiet and safe," he answered firmly. He knew Dean needed time away from the noise and the crowd in order to regroup enough to make it through the rest of the day. They left the faire and walked along the fence to a well-worn path in thick green woods.CHAPTER 2
Instincts warred. Survival was a priority, but something deeper drew Dean to Ethan. Carla had written him about Ethan, and how they'd met, while keeping him abreast of the mundane things going on her life. She'd never asked him what he was doing or where he was, instead simply asking him to write back once in a while. The letters were a double-edged sword, giving him something to look forward to and reminding him of what he was missing and how life went on without him.
"Dean, come with me," Ethan said. "You can trust me. Like I said, if I don't behave myself, your sister would have my head."
"I can take it off without much trouble before she found out," Dean replied, flatly.
Ethan took hold of his wrist and tugged. "I wouldn't expect anything less."
Dean knew he could get away easily enough. So he nodded and allowed Ethan to lead him along the path. They rounded a bend and crested the top of the hill. Tents of every colour and size covered the clearing. In the distance were dozens of vehicles, varying in make, model and condition. Ethan led him through the maze of campsites to a group of tents forming a large circle around a fire pit. A metal coffee pot sat nearby in the dirt. Ethan moved towards a large grey tent with a white and orange canopy over it.
"Have a seat," Ethan said pointing towards the circle of camp chairs surrounding the fire pit. "Everyone is gone, so it doesn't matter which one."
Dean's gaze swept the site before he slowly lowered himself into the chair in front of Ethan's tent. Cocking his head, he listened for movement. Aside from the sounds of nature, there was no sign of people in the area.
"Who do the rest of the tents belong to?" Dean asked, watching Ethan and feigning curiosity. His heart pounded furiously in his chest, the nearness of the other man driving his senses wild. He'd found other men attractive before and he'd slept with plenty, and never had he reacted to any person this way. That he'd known Ethan only a few hours did nothing to ease his mind. He clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms, hoping the bite of pain would clear his mind.
"This group," Ethan replied, gesturing to the circle of tents, "belongs to us. The rest belong to other participants, vendors, security detail, and the medics."
"So not everyone stays on site?"
He blew out a breath as Ethan walked past him into the tent. What was he doing here? He should be with Carla and the kids, not hiding from the world and drooling over one of his sister's best friends. He leant forward to get up and started when drops of ice cold water hit the back of his neck.
"What the —" Dean spat, leaning on his cane and standing.
"Drink," Ethan ordered, holding out a bottle of water. "And no, not everyone stays here, but most do."
"I'm not thirsty," Dean protested, his back stiffening.
"Not a question."
"I told you, I'm not thirsty."
"Drink the whole bottle. Then either go lay down in my tent or you can stay put," Ethan stated, holding out the bottle of water. "Drink the water, or you'll go down with heat stroke."
"I've handled hotter," Dean quipped, his cock stirring at Ethan's command. He swallowed his surprise.
"Just because you can, doesn't mean you will. You will take care of yourself." Ethan set a firm hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Sit and drink."
Dean found himself nodding, wanting to obey the other man. Lowering himself back down into the chair, he watched Ethan pull another chair closer, facing him as he opened his own bottle and sat down. The pair sat in companionable silence for several minutes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knight of Pleasure"
Copyright © 2010 Simone Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
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