I just received the contract for Child of Joy which is the final installment in the Children of Bacchus series.
Here's an unedited excerpt where Arthur meets Gaelen for the first time and gets an indication that Gaelen isn't all that he appears. Enjoy!!!
Vauk stopped moving and signaled to Arthur to stop. “Did you hear that?” Arthur shook his head and listened intently. “There it is again.” Vauk’s whisper was barely audible as he cocked his head to hear it better. “It’s coming from over there.” Vauk pointed in the direction of a small creek. “Sounds like someone walking through the woods. Stay behind me and be careful. It may be nothing.”
The noise came again and this time Arthur heard it too: footsteps, sticks breaking, and what sounded like a voice, but the words were too far away. Slowly, they moved forward toward the source of the noise. The undergrowth was particularly dense and Arthur wondered as they moved forward how anyone could get to this portion of the property, or why anyone would bother.
Vauk stopped and motioned for Arthur to stop. Slowly he moved forward and pushed aside a tangle of branches and peered through the opening.
A young man, and from what Arthur could see, a rather handsome one at that, had slipped down the creek bank and was trying to climb back up, muttering as he struggled. “Stupid things. How can anyone use them anyway? Never get use to the clumsy things.” He tried again to climb up the bank, but only managed to slip down again, nearly ending up in the water. But to his credit he tried again, grumbling continually to himself. “Rotten moss! These things are nearly useless.”
Arthur put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing as the young man slipped back down yet again. Then, as the young man struggled yet again, Arthur stepped into the clearing. “What things are useless?”
The young man gave a small yelp, stumbled again, and began to slide back down the bank—only this time, instead of grumbling, Arthur heard a splash at the end. The young man was sitting at the bottom of the bank, his butt in the water, looking up at him. “Wh …wh … who are you?”
Arthur felt Vauk bump him as the big satyr stood beside him. “The important thing, young man, is who are you?” The young man squeaked again, his eyes widening as he stared at a very fierce looking Vauk.
“I … I …” The young man’s voice was high and cracked a few times as he stammered, “I’m Gaelen.”
“I’m Arthur, and this is Vauk.” He stepped forward and slowly climbed down the bank. “Let me help you up.” Arthur extended his hand but Gaelen didn’t move.
“I’m wet.” His eyes widened in unexpected surprise.”
“Of course you’re wet. Your butt is in the water. Come on, give me your hand and I’ll help you up.” Gaelen finally raised his hand and Arthur pulled him up onto what appeared to be unsteady legs. “Are you hurt?”
Gaelen shook his head and Arthur’s attention faltered slightly as he looked into those huge blue eyes. “No, I’m just wet.”
“Well, that’s good anyway. From the way you were struggling to get up that small bank, I thought you might have been hurt.” Arthur climbed the bank and extended his hand again, steadying Gaelen as he climbed up behind him. The stranger almost fell again, but Arthur steadied him. “Now that you’re out of the water, can you tell me what you’re doing here?”
Arthur watched as Gaelen’s gaze alternated between him and Vauk before settling on him. “I got lost and couldn’t find my way out of the woods. I wasn’t watching where I was going and fell.” Suddenly his tone changed and became more defensive. “I’d have gotten out on my own.”
Arthur couldn’t help himself. “Maybe. After all, from what we saw, you were doing a great job on your own.”
The young man glared at Arthur. “We’ll if you just got …” He cut himself off as began to back away, almost tumbling back down into the creek again.
Arthur reached out to steady him. This had to be one of the clumsiest people Arthur had ever met. “We’re not going to hurt you.” Gaelen still seemed unsteady on his feet, so he held the man’s arm to steady him, and then turned to Vauk. “We need to get him out of here and back to the farm, so he can get home.”
Vauk wasn’t paying attention, but appeared to be listening intently. “Can you take him back? I think I hear something in trouble.”
“Are you sure you should go alone?”
“I think it’s a deer that got caught.” Arthur knew Vauk had exceptional hearing. The big satyr could hear if a creature were in trouble in the forest as clear as anything.
“We’ll meet you back at the farmhouse.” Vauk didn’t answer; his attention was elsewhere as he took off through the underbrush almost as though it didn’t exist. “Come on, Gaelen, I’ll lead you out of the woods.” Arthur began to move, but Gaelen stayed where he was. When Arthur turned around, Gaelen looked like he was trying to decide what to do. “I won’t hurt you—I promise. Besides, we need to get you in to some dry clothes so you don’t catch cold.” He seemed to make up his mind and slowly stepped toward Arthur, but stumbled after a few steps and caught himself before falling. “You are really are clumsy, aren’t you?” Arthur found it kind of cute.
“Yes, I guess so.” He stumbled again and looked to see what caused it. There was nothing there but moss.
“Come on. Hold my hand and I’ll lead you out.” Gaelen reluctantly took the offered hand and they began to slowly weave their way through the trees.
With Arthur to steady him, Gaelen’s clumsiness seemed to abate, but that didn’t keep him from stopping to admire the various flowers they encountered along the way. Arthur watched as Gaelen bent, touched, and sniffed each type of flower, caressing the petals gently with his fingers before moving on to the next. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, they emerged from the trees and into the May afternoon sunshine.
Gaelen clapped his hands with what appeared to be delight. “You have a damhnait?”
Arthur looked at him funny. “You mean the deer? That’s Mika.”
Seeing the fence, Gaelen’s eyes became hard—sort of fierce. “What is she doing here? She should be in the woods, running free, not in a cage.”
Arthur stepped away, unsure what would cause such a serious reaction. “Not that it’s your business. Her mother was killed when she was young. We rescued her, but she got too used to humans to be released. So we take care of her.” Arthur saw the look in Gaelen’s eyes lessen slightly. He could understand Gaelen’s reaction. After all, he reacted the same way if he thought an animal was being harmed or mistreated.
“You mean like a pet?” The word pet was said with such loathing.
“No, here she’s loved.” As if she knew they were talking about her, Mika turned and looked at them, watching intently. Arthur moved close to the fence. “Come here, girl.” Mika walked over and put her nose to the fence, nuzzling Gaelen’s fingers. Arthur couldn’t believe it. Mika never approached strangers right away. “The gate’s down here.” He led them to the gate, with Mika following them on the other side of the fence.
Arthur opened the gate and ushered Gaelen inside, closing the gate behind them. Mika walked right up to Gaelen, nuzzling his hand and rubbing against him. She then ambled over and greeted Arthur, rubbing against him as well. “How’s my girl?” After getting some attention, she nuzzled him gently and then walked toward the corner of the enclosure to her food bowl. “We should get you some dry clothes.”
“Thank you, these are starting to feel funny.”
“I bet they are. Come on, you can borrow some of mine.” Arthur led Gaelen out of the pen and down the path toward the house.
Inside, the house was quiet and Arthur led Gaelen to the room he was using. “Here’s a pair of jeans and a shirt. They may be a little big for you, but at least they’ll be dry.”
“Thanks.” Gaelen took the clothes and before Arthur could leave, he opened his wet pants and pulled off his shirt, standing in the bedroom, naked. Arthur tried not to be surprised, but he couldn’t help it. He also couldn’t help looking at the perfect round butt and creamy white skin. Then he remembered his manners and got up, quietly leaving the room so Gaelen could change in peace.
Shutting the door behind him, he sat in the living room, waiting for Gaelen to finish dressing, his mind swirling with images of that beautiful light skin, firm butt, and damn if Gaelen’s legs weren’t something else, long, and like the rest of him, lean and … “Oh god, he’s so beautiful.”
“Who are you taking to? Is someone else here?” Gaelen was standing just outside the door, looking around.
“Sorry.” He was about to ask where Gaelen lived so he could take him home when the door opened and Arthur heard Travis’s voice. “The sheep are really doing well this year …” He stopped in mid-sentence when he saw Gaelen.
“Arthur, who’s this?” Cembran followed right behind Travis, closing the door.
“Gaelen. Mr. Vauk and I found him on the far side of the property near where the creek comes into the river. He fell in and got wet, so I brought him back here.
“What were you doing on the property?”
Arthur saw fear rise in Gaelen’s eyes. “I got lost and was trying to find my way out when Arthur and the big man you call Vauk found me. Arthur was good enough to bring me back here and loan me some dry clothes.” He seemed very nervous.
“Where do you live?” Arthur had never seen Travis react this way to anyone. He was usually so welcoming, so helpful, and he kept looking at Cembran, even stepping to block the line of sight between Gaelen and Cembran.
“In town.” Gaelen kept looking from Arthur to Travis, the tension and fear in the room rising by the second. Arthur couldn’t figure it out. This was a stranger—why would Travis behave this way toward someone he’d never met? And more importantly, someone Arthur was trying to help.
“Where in town?” Travis’s tone was becoming harsh, demanding.
“Uncle Travis, I was just about to take him home.” Arthur moved toward Gaelen to usher him out of the house. Whatever was going on, he thought it best to get Gaelen out of the house as quickly as possible.
“Not until I have some answers. What were you doing on my property?” Travis didn’t even wait for an answer, his tone becoming more and more urgent.
Cembran tried intervening, “Travis, let Arthur take Gaelen home.” To Arthur’s surprise, Travis glared daggers at Cembran. He’d never seen Travis react that way before, and poor Gaelen was just standing in the doorway, rocking on his feet, looking scared and completely confused. Arthur had the urge to go to him and comfort him.
“Uncle Travis …”
“Not now, Arthur!” Travis yelled at him. In the ten years he’d known Travis, he’d never raised his voice to him, ever. Travis took a step toward Gaelen, glaring at the scared, confused young man. Arthur looked from Gaelen, to Cembran, to Travis, trying to figure out what was happening. “What were you doing on my property?” Travis stepped closer, glaring at Gaelen, waiting for an answer.Gaelen opened his mouth, but all that came out was a squeak, and then with a small pop, he was gone.