Mother Earth book 2: Shenandoah.
The weakness he fears could be his lover’s only hope.
Bear has never regretted leaving his old life behind for his exotically beautiful lover, Dragon. Following his heart, though, has left them in need of a home. There’s only one place he can think of where they can be together and be happy. Shenandoah. A place of myth—until he encounters signs that it’s a real place that lies somewhere to the north.
Dragon doesn’t share his lover’s faith that it even exists, much less that it will live up to Bear’s high expectations. Yet they are Brothers now, bound by love and so much more. No hardship will keep Dragon from Bear’s side. Even if it means nothing but disappointment waits at the end of their journey.
Danger lurks in the wilderness, the ruined cities of the lost Old World, and especially within themselves. As Bear’s quest for a new home becomes a spirit journey of mystical power, Dragon doubts his own strength—an unbearable shame he tries to hide deep within. But when a chance encounter turns into a fight for survival, Bear’s life depends on Dragon’s ability to put his doubts aside…and dare to hope.
(Warning: This book contains knife fights, cannibals, mysterious ruins, and dirty sex between warrior men.)
© Copyright 2010 Ally Blue
Dragon’s knife opened the last grime-crusted belly from groin to rib cage. The fevered light died in the big man’s eyes and he crumpled to the ground in a puddle of his own bloody intestines.
Bear eyed the five motionless bodies strewn among the weeds. “That’s the last one, for now.”
“You think there’s more?”
“I know there are. Several times this number, most likely. They always move in groups.” Large groups, generally, to counter the strength of the Packs that protected every tribe. Lifting his arm, Bear mopped sweat from his brow with a relatively clean patch of sleeve. “They scatter during the evening, capture who they can, then gather at some prearranged spot after dark for their fun. I think we were supposed to be part of the night’s entertainment.”
A muscle twitched in Dragon’s jaw. He crouched to clean his gory knife on the back of the dead man’s shirt. “The light’ll be gone in another hour or so. We should find a safe place to spend the night.”
Squatting beside the nearest corpse, Bear wiped the blood off his stone blade as best he could using the man’s pants. The vest the dead man wore looked suspiciously like cured human skin, which did nothing to make Bear feel better about the area where he and Dragon now found themselves. He scanned the silent ruins looming like jagged black teeth against the red-orange of the sunset sky. “There’s no safe place in this part of Char.”
Dragon stood, raking a stray lock of his waist-length braid out of his eyes. “Then we need to find the most secure spot we can.” He looked down at his blood-splattered clothes with a frown. “And we need to bathe, if we can find water. We’ll draw every animal and nightfeeder for miles around if we don’t.”
“Yeah.” Keeping his knife in a loose grip, Bear studied the pattern of crumbling buildings around him. It had been two years since he’d last walked through this section of Char, on the patrol where his Pack had lost Rabbit, but the area ought not to have changed much. “There used to be a cistern nearby where water collected when it rained. We can bathe there.”
“It ought to be full after the storm we had last night.” Something scuttled through the vines climbing the metal skeleton of what had once been a building a stone’s throw away. Dragon tensed, knife whipping up. He relaxed when a rat emerged and raced off into the lengthening shadows. “Can you find it again?”
“I think so. There’s several pretty intact buildings near it where we can spend the night and be as safe as it’s possible to be around here.” Bear eyed the sky. “Which is good, because we’re running out of time.”
Dragon glanced up. His expression didn’t change, but Bear saw the apprehension behind the hardness in his eyes. They’d known each other less than three days, but Bear could already read Dragon better than he’d ever been able to read any of his Pack Brothers, with the possible exception of Lynx. If he tried hard enough, he sometimes felt like he could look straight into Dragon’s mind. And he knew Dragon saw him just as clearly.
The knowledge left him feeling exposed in a way he never had before, a way he couldn’t quite explain even to himself. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and he wouldn’t have traded that feeling for all the wine in the Carwin Tribe Council’s stores.
A quick sniff of the air told Bear the only creatures close by right now were rats, squirrels and a couple of wild cats crouching in the ruins. Throwing caution momentarily to the winds, he strode forward, curled a hand around the back of Dragon’s neck and kissed him hard. Dragon grunted in surprise, but his mouth opened anyway to let Bear’s tongue in. The hand not clutching his knife grabbed Bear’s ass in a bruising grip.
Electricity jolted up Bear’s spine. In spite of the constant danger he and Dragon now faced—danger he knew wouldn’t let up until they were well clear of Char—he didn’t regret leaving the Carwin Tribe and his Pack for Dragon. His heart and his gut told him he’d made the right decision.
“We’ll be okay,” Bear murmured when the kiss broke. “Come on.”
The corners of Dragon’s mouth quirked upward. He slipped out of Bear’s embrace and they moved through the weeds together, Bear scanning for landmarks while Dragon kept an eye out for any signs of people. Carwin Tribe members never strayed this far from their walled city, not even the Pack unless they were on a special patrol. Therefore, any human beings other than the two of them were enemies.
Like the five men lying dead in the dirt behind them. Bear had encountered their type before. Bloodthirsty butchers who’d slice a man open just for the pleasure of watching him die, then skin him and clothe themselves in his flesh. String his teeth together for a necklace.
Bear preferred the nightfeeders. At least they only killed for food.
Not that these nomadic bands were above a little cannibalism. The bodies and bones they left behind showed tooth marks often as not.
The glint of light on water caught the corner of Bear’s eye. He swiveled toward the gap in the buildings to his right at the same time as Dragon. “There. I see it.”
Dragon nodded. “You smell anything?”
Bear sniffed the air. Greenery, damp earth, animal dung, charred wood. People had been here, but not in the last day or two. “Nothing to worry about. I’ll go first. You watch my back.”
They moved through the narrow space together, knives at the ready. The remnants of last night’s rain pattered from the vines overhead onto Bear’s shoulders. After the day’s oppressive, muggy heat, the cool drizzle felt good.
A few seconds later they emerged from the shadows into a wide clearing surrounded by some of the tallest, best preserved structures in the ancient city. Not a breath of breeze stirred the soupy air. In the middle of the clearing, ringed by a tangle of wildflowers, tall grasses and young trees, sat a large, rectangular stone cistern full to its knee-high brim with water. The sunset reflected dazzling orange off the flat liquid expanse. Bear squinted against the glare.
“What’s that thing in the middle?” Dragon asked as they approached the cistern. “It looks like a plant, but it isn’t, is it?”
Bear eyed the piece of stone rising from the center of the water like an enormous petrified blossom. “No, it’s not a plant.” When they reached the edge of the cistern, he motioned to Dragon to skirt the perimeter in one direction while he did the same the other way. “It’s part of the cistern. Made by the people of Char, before the Change. Other than that, I don’t know. Nobody does.”
Dragon turned away and began his circuit of the reservoir without another word, but not before Bear caught the spark of excitement in his eyes.
Bear waited until he’d put his back to Dragon to let the threatening grin tug up the corners of his mouth. He knew exactly what Dragon was thinking, because he was thinking the same thing. Knowing someone besides himself who could be catapulted into old-world daydreams by a mysterious hunk of stone gave him a strange, warm sensation in the pit of his stomach. He liked it.
They met on the far side. Rising on tiptoe, Dragon kissed the corner of Bear’s mouth. “Everything still smell clear?”
Bear nodded. “No nightfeeders hiding nearby. No nomads, either. They’ll be here, though, eventually.”
Dragon’s gaze darted sideways toward the blackened, stone-ringed circle in the grass a few paces away. “Theirs?”
“There’s no way to tell for sure, but I think so. Carwin Tribe Pack doesn’t camp in the open inside Char, and nightfeeders don’t build fires.”
“Maybe we should find another place to hole up for the night.”
“There isn’t anyplace as secure as the buildings in this area. Besides, we don’t really have time to hunt for another spot.”
Dragon’s brow creased with a frown, but he nodded. “You’re right. We’ll just have to hope they won’t sniff us out.”
“We’ll make sure they don’t.” Bear wormed his knife-free hand into the back of Dragon’s pants, one finger sliding into the sweat-slick crease between his buttocks. “What about you? Did you see anything?” He’d learned the previous night—their first night in the Char ruins—that Dragon possessed incredibly keen vision. In fact, his night vision was nearly as good as Lynx’s, and Bear had never known anyone who could see in the dark as well as his former Pack Brother.
Dragon shook his head. “I looked in between all the buildings. Nothing.” He hissed and clutched at Bear’s shoulder when Bear’s finger pressed against his hole. “Great Mother, Bear. Here? Really?”
“No.” Regretfully, Bear pulled his hand out of Dragon’s pants. “But I wish we could. I want you.”
Dragon peered up at Bear with a heat that turned his simmering desire into a sharp, aching need. Unable to help himself, he fisted his hand in Dragon’s hair and took a deep, rough kiss. Even as their tongues curled around each other and Dragon moaned into his mouth, Bear’s senses remained on high alert, and Dragon’s body twitched in his grip, ready to jump at the slightest sign of danger.
After a few searing seconds, Dragon pushed him away. “Let’s get clean and find a good spot to spend the night. Then I’ll suck your cock until you forget your own name.”
Bear’s prick, already half-hard, jerked and swelled. He grinned. Dragon grinned back, gray eyes glittering, and Bear laughed out loud. “I’ll get the soap.”