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 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.