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Authors: Rie Warren

Under His Guard (9 page)

BOOK: Under His Guard
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“It's nothing. Just wounds of war.” I found a cloth, dipping it into the water. Returning to the bed, I swiped his stomach, his legs, his groin, placing a gentle kiss upon his lips.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore.” Nothing hurt as much as knowing he might never remember the times we'd shared together.

“Let me take care of you.”

My brow furrowed. “How?”

He gave me a cunning smile, looking down at my lap where my cock lay.

“Leon.”

His fingertip hovered over my mouth.
“Shh.”
At his pack, he pulled out Miss Eden's famous first-aid kit. “On your stomach.”

I rolled over as he opened a tin of salve.

The feeling of Leon's long fingers warming my skin, massaging the scars that marred the moko across my upper back created a level of intimacy that astounded me. I hummed with each touch, relaxing into it.

Suddenly, he went cold, and his fingers stilled. Swirling depths of confusion doused the tender mood. I was stupid to let him do this. He had to recognize his work, memory or not.

“Whose names are these on your back?”

I didn't want him to know the depth of my deception. I swallowed. “People I lost.”

Leon said nothing more.

W
hen I woke, warmth spread through me. Leon stretched beside me, huffing in his sleep. His knee crooked across my thighs, and his head was on my shoulder. His hair fell over his face and onto my chest.

He murmured something and his nose wrinkled. His hand slipped from my stomach to between my legs, causing my muscles to contract. Holding the steely brand of my shaft, he blinked his eyes open. Sleep shifted into sultry awareness. Then that drowsy sensual look disappeared. He sat up abruptly, pulling his hand off of me.

“Good morning?” My voice was hoarse with the first words of the day.

He plucked at the lightweight blanket tepeed over his knees. “Mornin'.”

The same sense of coldness from late last night drifted off of him. I brushed a length of his hair behind his ear, studying his somber profile. Attempting to smile, I took his chin in my hand and turned him to me.

“You seemed to sleep well.”

His gaze stole to the blanket barely concealing my obviously rigid cock. His cheeks turned pink, and those dreamy brown eyes swung to my lips.

“Are you shy all of a sudden?” I murmured, drawing my fingertips along his jaw, lingering on the soft feel of morning stubble.

He shook his head and took a deep breath.

“Do I make you nervous?” I replayed his words to him.

An almost smile worked across his lips but evaporated. He pulled away from my hand.

I was unwilling to let him close me out like I'd done to him so many goddamn times. “Tell me what's going on then.”

“Fragments again.” Leon knocked on his head. “Dreams dat felt so real they were palpable.”

“Dreams of what?”

“You an' me. It's always dat…dat anger and sadness. Can't get rid of it.” He rubbed his sternum as if he could rub the gnawing ache from his soul. “I don' know what the truth is anymore. What happened to us?”

I reached for him, but he stopped me. His eyes met mine, his agitation growing. “There
was
an ‘us,' wasn't there?”

They weren't just dreams. It wasn't fragments. It was all the fractures between him and me beginning to show. When I didn't answer, Leon swung his feet to the floor.

I grabbed his arm. “Baby, I—”

“Knock, knock. Stop sucking cock.” Liz's voice outside interrupted us.

Leon sat on the edge of the bed. I took the opportunity to trail a hand down his back. When he didn't move, my head fell to his shoulder. I kissed the silk of his skin, breathing in the warmth of his flesh while I could. As I brushed my lips against his ear, he let out a moan that was part whimper.

“Just give me a few more days,” I rasped.

He turned and rested his forehead against mine for an all-too-brief moment. “Time don' seem to be on our side.”

Liz stuck her head in with no further announcement. I leaned over, grabbed a discarded boot, and chucked it at her. She ducked with a laugh, stepping inside. Hands on her holsters, her gaze swept over my arms around Leon's middle. I lifted one unmistakable finger at her. Leon's belly clenched in silent laughter.

Undaunted, she crossed over. “Chow time. Rise and shine…” Her gaze cut to Leon's lap. “
Oh
, my bad. I see someone's already risen.”

I growled then, jumping up to stand in front of Leon, stark naked.

Liz's hands flew to her eyes. “Ooookay. Did not need the whole show, Darke. Jesus. You got a permit to carry that thing?”

Clicking his tongue, Leon swatted my ass to move me out of his way. He pulled on pants while Liz's eyes remained covered.

I grabbed my own pair of pants. As I dragged a shirt over my head, I heard Liz swear. “Holy shit, Darke.”

I peered over my shoulder to see both her and Leon staring at my scarred-over moko. “Goddammit.” Yanking the shirt on, I pivoted. “It's fine, all right? It doesn't hurt. That was four months ago.”

“During the time I don' remember,” Leon said in a flat tone.

“But all that work. All those hours spent—” Liz jerked with a sudden awareness and glanced at Leon.

I gave a nearly imperceptible shake of my head. Not imperceptible enough. Another icy storm of emotion swirled around Leon.

“I'll see y'all later.” He opened the flap and was gone.

“I'm sorry, Darke. I haven't seen your back since that night. I didn't mean to—”

I cut her off. “Just tell me what the detail is for today.”

The day's detail turned out to be anything but the resting up Raine had suggested. That was fine by me. I wouldn't be able to sit still until I got my hands on Leon or at least talked to him again. After a morning meal with what seemed like half the villagers—during which Leon ignored me to a far better degree than I'd ever done him—I decided to help out the Freelanders wherever I could.

Karesh might've been in the middle of nowhere, in the harshest of climates, but with a unique irrigation system from rain-captured water, their many small plots of native crops flourished. The livestock were free to roam, but they knew where their water supply came from and always returned home. Foragers scoured far and wide for wild fruits and liquid-filled gourds. Resourcefulness in abundance proved once again humanity could survive and thrive, without the CO's intervention.

I busted my ass all day long in an effort to keep my mind occupied. Lay a whole new plot for planting?
You got it.
Clean out lean-tos for horses more wild than tamed?
No problem.
Do a weapons demonstration for young warriors in the making?
Right up my alley.
Catch Leon's eyes during the intervening eight hours?
Not gonna happen.

Exhausted from the day, I sat beneath the big awning in the center of Karesh, taking a break in the shade. I made sure to get an unimpeded view of Leon, who helped the women prepare the early-evening meal. They fawned over him. Their men grumbled from the sidelines.

I smiled, watching him beguile them all.

“You've got some drool.” Cannon hunkered down beside me.

“Need I remind you how you blubbered all over yourself at your and
Blondie's
handfasting?”

“I have allergies.”

“And it was cold. That explains how pink your face got. Yeah, I heard it all.”

The smile on his face was all encompassing until he said, “The tables have turned, huh?”

My fingers dug into the ground.

“Listen, Darke, I know you loved Wilde and Tammerick. I saw you with them—”

“This is not about them.”

He rocked back. “You're done mourning?”

“Yes.” I was too busy yearning for Leon.

“But what about…?” His face flushed so bright I had to laugh. “Being bi?”

“I'm not bisexual technically. I love who I love. Man, woman, why does it matter?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Just don't get two loves.”

“All love, one love. It's the same as you being gay. When it happens, it hits you in the chest. There.” I knuckled his sternum with force. “The Company decrees one life, one order,
straight
love. That's not the natural way.”

“Are you always so philosophical?”

“Only when I'm horned up.” Leon and his god-fucking-damned pants riding low on his hips. Of course he'd taken his shirt off in the heat of the day, wrapping it around his head like a native.

“Probably more info than I needed to know.” Cannon leaned back on his elbows and watched me scoping out Leon. “He's damn lucky to have a warrior like you watching out for him.”

“I don't think he agrees.”

“What'd you do to him now?”

“Nothing.” Nothing apart from deliberately withholding the truth. “He's being cautious because of his circumstances.”

“How unlike Leon.”

I snorted.

“You mean you didn't throw him down last night?”

My face burned. This was not a conversation I'd ever imagined having with a former Elite Corps Commander.

“Hell, yeah, you did!” he shouted, calling the attention of half the people around us.

I neglected to meet his fist bump.

“You weren't up to snuff?” Cannon asked.

“Fuck. Off,” I bit out.

“So you just didn't do it for him, huh?”

My jaw clamped tight. “I didn't say that.”

He crowed so loudly Leon finally looked over.

“Do you and Liz compare journals or something?” My dig at his unlikely pastime shut Cannon up at last. “He's starting to remember little things.”

“Hey, that's great, man.” He squinted at me as I frowned. “Or maybe not.”

“I really don't know anymore.”

Clasping my shoulder, Cannon stood. “You gotta set shit right before it's too late, Darke.”

He ambled off, no doubt in search of his man to rock their yurt.

*  *  *

Later that evening, while we readied to saddle up our transport—aka the spitting, hissing camels—Farrow launched into a conniption fit. “Y'all are tellin' me Ah gotta sit around and babysit mah little brother?”

To say she was unhappy about being left behind with Sebastian was putting it mildly.

I leaned over her. “You wanted him on this mission. Now suck it up, spy girl.”

She scowled at me, her eyes brittle green and murderous. “And here Ah thought Linc was the only bullheaded bastard of the group.”

“Bull something,” Liz murmured, staring at Linc's lower half. Then she smirked at me. “Although, from what I saw of Darke this morning, and I saw a lot—”

Linc clamped one hand over her mouth and the other over her eyes. “At least he's covered up now.”

Covered up? I was sweltering in meters of finely woven cloth from my neck to my feet, with a cowl-like hood over my head. Only my arms were bare, circled in tight silver bands on my biceps. The midday sun had felt like a warm spring breeze compared to the harsh heat crawling up my spine, but I bore up my deep disguise, squaring off with Linc.

He hit me with an acidic glare. “Next time don't even think about parading around naked in front of Liz.”

“She was the one ogling, my man…”

“All I did was ask if he had a special license for his weapon.” Liz was dressed in a fringed skirt and a short top that barely skimmed her midriff. She kept tugging at it distractedly.

Linc grabbed her hands, stilling them. He covered her taut stomach with his palm. “No one else needs to know how much you like handling weapons, sweetheart.”

“Just yours…” she purred.

“Well, I guess we know why Leon calls Darke
big guy
,” Sebastian drawled.

Leon shot me his first grin all day. One of these days I was gonna get him naked and slap his perfect ass until all that came out of his mouth was
more
and
please
.

I abandoned that train of thought when Cannon groused, “Hate this shit.”

He scratched the two-days' growth of beard on his face that completed his transformation from commander to Freelander.

“And I'll take pleasure in shaving you tomorrow.” Nathaniel kissed his jaw.

I mounted my animal and turned to Raine. “You're sure tonight is necessary?”

“My guy Colt thinks he's found a rare plant we can use for the cure. So yeah, if you wanna save”—he quickly scanned our crew, “
someone's
life, it is.”

Riding toward Omega was a lesson in trying to keep my cock under wraps, literally. With Leon in front of me once more, and bouncing up and down against my crotch, I had a hard time breathing, let alone thinking, strategizing, or planning an escape route if shit went haywire tonight. He wore an open animal-skin vest and no shirt, his hair dyed shocking black from a rinse of indigo over henna. A kilt similar to Chief Shehu's hung from his waist, and I was willing to bet he didn't have anything on underneath. New henna tattoos on his chest entranced me, but not nearly as much as the real one low on his groin I'd licked and sucked and bit.

“My ass is startin' to hurt again.” He jostled against me.

“Consider this practice. You probably won't be able to walk by the time I get through with you.” Though my response was gruff, I drew in a breath of relief he was talking to me again.

He leaned back against my shoulder and turned his head, licking the rivulet of perspiration that ran down my throat until my fingers convulsed on the reins. “I'm still mad at you.”

“Sure feels like it.” I bit his pouty bottom lip, smiling when he moaned.

The ride ended abruptly outside of Omega. The dusky twilight was shot through with vivid neon spots radiating from the area we approached. A stone-block fortress pulsed from the noise inside. It was so close to Omega walls, it was practically part of the sprawling, bustling city jam-packed with buildings one on top of the other. This appeared to be another case of the CO
generously
turning a blind eye to the lifestyles in this Territory.

Cannon tied his beast beside Raine's. “Fuck's sake. Just put up a sign already:
Round up Freelanders here.

“The Corps usually leave us alone,” Raine said, shrugging. “They tap our livestock and crops, use us for workers.

“Welcome to our Amphitheater.” He spread his arms out toward the network of buildings made of pale yellow stone. “This was once El Badi Palace. We call it now by its nickname:
The Incomparable Palace
.”

The palace was extensive, taking up what would be at least two city blocks. The structures may have been ancient and aged, but it was easy to imagine an era when they'd been sparkling with marble, gold, and murals. I was certain the CO had confiscated every piece of priceless art and architecture they could from the ruins, leaving only this surviving shell.

Crowds of Freelanders roamed outside the entrance to the Amphitheater, passing bottles back and forth and toking from the slim metallic pipes of hookahs. From the open door, grinding bass music jolted through my body, sending reverberations through my brain.

BOOK: Under His Guard
3.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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