Authors: JM Gryffyn
For Jamie, Judy E, Sue, and Eileen. And Glenda, of course, though she’ll probably laugh.
And also for Judy D, who understands recognition better than most.
May the wind be always at your backs, my friends.
it was late June in County Kildare, the morning air was cold and damp. But William didn’t mind; it gave him the excuse to seek out the fire. The musty scent of burning peat filled the great room of the manor house. He couldn’t get enough of it these days.
“Will?” his father called, and reluctantly Will left the hearth and stepped into the kitchen. “Ah, there you are, lad,” Peter O’Sullivan began. “It’s time to—”
“Father! Will!” Timothy’s strident voice cut into whatever their father had been going to say. “The Travellers are here.” He burst into the kitchen, disheveled and out of breath. “They can stay on the upland meadow like always, can they not?” Tim didn’t wait for a response but turned and started back out. “I’ll go tell Paddy,” he threw over his shoulder.
“Timothy!” Peter’s roar caught Tim in the doorway. “Don’t be thick-headed, boy. She’s a married woman now. She’ll not be coming to see ye this year.”
Will turned from the naked pain that suddenly blazed across his younger brother’s face. He didn’t want to see. Didn’t want to know what had gone on in his absence. Because if he let himself get involved, it would bind him to the place again. He knew this as sure as he breathed. And the last thing he wanted right now was to be bound to this house. When he looked back, Timothy was gone, and Peter was shaking his head in disgust.
“That boy’s a fool. Not like you, Will. You’re going to marry Ceara Kelly and make me proud. Give me grandsons to carry on our family name. Not lose your head over some Tinker floozie.”
“I’ll take Tip and bring the flock down to the lower pasture,” Will said by way of an answer.
His father shot him a scathing look. “That’s what I hired Paddy Daigle for.”
“Aye, but I want to, and Padraig has plenty else to do.”
“Work away then,” Peter acceded. “Come tomorrow, I’ll be off to Dublin to see your Uncle Denis. Ye will come with me, won’t ye, William? The rest of the family hasn’t seen you since you came home.”
Peter O’Sullivan’s gaze sharpened, but Will steeled himself and walked past his father and out the kitchen door. If he didn’t hurry, the sun would be well up by the time he got to the flock. With a sigh of relief, he strode out into the morning mist.
Once he was on the path just beyond the manor house, Will gave a whistle to call the dogs. Tip, his favorite of the manor’s border collies, bounded over to him, leaping around him in doggie delight. By the time he and Tip reached the uplands, the Traveller caravans were making their way toward the grassy mead that dipped down at the foot of the hills. Will stopped and watched as they began to circle their waggons in the age-old pattern, moving along the edge of the bowl-like meadow. The voices of children and dogs, ponies and men wafted toward him on the morning air.
A woman’s laughter rang out loud and clear, but it came from above him rather than down in the grassy bowl. Will looked up the next hill and saw a comely young gypsy woman sitting on a shaggy pony. As he watched, she leaned down and spoke into the ear of a fair-haired man leaning against the pony’s shoulder. Some trick of earth and stone brought the shimmering female voice right to Will’s ears. It had been a long time since he’d heard that particular lilt of the Gaelic language. All those months in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, he’d thought he might never again hear a voice from home, but he had especially wished to hear someone speak in the language of his childhood. For while his father always made them speak English, Irish Gaelic had been his first language. It was the language of his dear departed mother and of his homeland, though some folk, like his father, didn’t know it. From what he could hear, carried over stone and on the wind, it was a language his brother cherished as well.
“How I’ve missed ye,
,” the woman cooed as she touched Timothy lightly on his cheek. Tim ducked his head, his blond hair falling into his eyes, and Will imagined he could see his brother’s blush. The woman swung down off the animal, and a curly-haired boy who looked to be in his teens came to grab the pony’s halter. As Timothy and the woman kissed, long and deep, Will couldn’t help but smile. A married woman, eh? That didn’t seem right to Will, knowing Timothy as he did. Perhaps Peter had it wrong. Whatever the case, this was obviously a woman capable of driving his brother wild enough to defy their hide-bound father.
While the couple was kissing, the boy took off with the pony. He rode in Will’s direction, urging his mount to a gallop. The woman looked up and began to yell, but the lad kept going, bare heels pummeling the pony’s sides, veering off sharply and galloping up the slope of the next hill. Grinning at the boy’s hijinks, Will shook his head and turned away, setting his attention on the uphill path and his sheepdog.
the flock had been located and brought into the huddle needed for the trek to the lower pasture. Snippy, Tip’s daughter, had shown up, and Will was glad for the extra help of the second dog. He sat on a rock, taking a break and wishing he’d had the foresight to pack a lunch. High above him a kestrel soared, and he watched her, craning his neck as he looked up into the sky. He lost a bit of time watching the bird soar on thermals high above his head. He wanted nothing more than to be free like that hawk: no uniform to wear, no mantle of older brother, no restraining collar of heir to the estate. He ached to be where there was no yoke of good-son-come-home-from-the-war to fetter him.
Suddenly, the kestrel swooped down out of the sky, aiming for something on the ground. Will came to his feet smoothly and, without thinking, ran to follow the bird as it dive-bombed. One instant he was racing forward, his eyes trained on the bird, and the next he was stumbling on the edge of a craggy hillock, a bare inch from plummeting down, no ground beneath his feet. Will pinwheeled his arms to keep from pitching forward into nothing and began to fall backward. He ended up slamming down, flat on his back, the air driven from his lungs, his head spinning from the impact.
The words, spoken so close to his ears, forced him to blink and open his eyes.
Will found himself staring up into eyes as blue as a bird’s egg, into a face at once angular and softly fey, sprigs of dark hair dripping forward. “Who?” he gasped, struggling to take a breath. “What?”
, are ye a’right?” a voice like honey asked.
Will still couldn’t catch his breath—everything around him spun like a child’s top. The Traveller boy’s hands were on him, patting him, looking for injury. Finding none, he pulled Will up into his arms, held him steady in a loose embrace. “It’s all right,
, I’ve got ye. Now breathe.”
For an inexplicable moment, Will let himself relax into those encircling arms. It seemed for all the world the right place to be. Instantly the tightness in his chest loosened, and Will was finally able to get some air into his lungs. Pulling away, he flopped over to lie on his back in the grass, eyes open to the sky. The wide, high view was oddly disconcerting after the piercing blue-eyed gaze of the boy, so Will closed his eyes again.
“Young Mr. O’Sullivan? Is it that I should fetch someone?”
Will felt a gentle touch on his cheek. Reaching out, he grabbed the hand there, intending to cast it from him. Instead, he clutched it to his face, holding on for dear life. Hair brushed his temple, and he opened his eyes as lips touched his open mouth. To his shock, the boy kissed him—fully, deeply. A deliciously hot tongue delved far into Will’s mouth. Desire washed over him, stirring him to instant hardness.
Will gasped at the intensity of it, then heard an answering murmur of pleasure. The boy-man’s hands were on him again, and, throwing caution to the wind, Will allowed his own hands to travel down a lightly muscled back to slim hips. He cupped the globes of firm ass. Oh God, what was he doing?
He shoved the young man away and rolled aside. Even to his own ears, his rasping breathing sounded suspiciously like sobs. Images and voices flitted through his head. Robbie’s grin, his dark gaze filled with merry lust as he caught Will’s gaze from across a crowded pub. Robbie’s melodious voice crooning low and sweet in his ear, his own laughing response.
He wouldn’t think of that. If he did he would for sure be a sobbing mess in no time at all. Will drew a hand over his face in a banishing gesture, then rolled back over.
To see before him a sea of blue, awash with worry, confusion, and desire.
The boy had not run.
“What is your name?” It was all Will could think to ask.
“I’m Brock.” An elegant shrug of broad, young shoulders. “Why’d ye do that?”
“It’s obvious you want what I want.” Cerulean eyes swept to Will’s groin and back up to his face. “So why did ye stop me?”
“How old are you, boyo?” Will ground out. His erection had not subsided in the least. It was difficult to tell about the boy seated before him on the ground in his baggy clothes.
“You would not be my first,
“Tell me how old you are. Fifteen, sixteen?” Will asked, at the same time praying the lad was older.
Laughter bubbled from the boy’s full lips. “I am nineteen this past May, the same age as your brother. And ye be twenty and four, or so Timothy says.”
When Will frowned, the boy—the young man—smiled and yammered on.
“He talked of you often while you were away. Told us of your adventures. We were saddened to hear of yer capture. Tim sent Lena news of your escape when we were in Wales this spring. So none of us was surprised to find ye back home this summer.” The youth leaned in close as he spoke, eyes blazing with intensity. He reached out a hand toward Will, not at all tentative.
“So you see, I know ye,
,” he said softly.
night was cool, and Will shivered in his bed. The wind sawed through the grass and trees, bringing hints of laughter and conversation from the Traveller fires which dotted the bowl. Will ached to follow the wind out into the night, but he knew it would be his ruin if he went. Let Timothy be the one to make a fool of himself. Tim could get away with it. Coddled and protected since age seven, when a fall from his pony had left him with a bad limp, no one could ever tell him no.
But if Will showed up on the mead, there would be hell to pay. Even a mindless dalliance with a Traveller girl would not be excused by their father. After all, he was heir to the estate, and a by-blow from a gypsy girl would besmirch the family name. Will had to laugh, because if he were to go to the camp, no woman would have her virtue compromised. No, his mission would be to find young Brock. Then how long would it take for the word to wing across one valley and the next, down into town and all the way to Dublintown?
He had never told anyone of Robert. Now there was no reason for it. Robert had been his
, his first love, his first anything beyond a bit of smooching in the hayrick. He had been so embarrassed to admit his inexperience, but Robert had just laughed and taken him firmly in hand. Had called him silly endearments in his lazy Aussie accent. Robbie hadn’t seemed to mind that Will said very little, even in the heat of passion. And there had been so much passion. From Robert, Will had learned to take and to give. He had learned to love.
Will shifted on the bed, caught up in memory and old grief. Robert had died on the battlefield, and Will had thought for a time that he might die as well. He was a soldier during wartime; his strong emotion toward a brother-in-arms was not unexpected. Plenty of men mourned their fallen comrades. Or so the chaplain had assured him in the days following Robbie’s death. For a week or more, he had lain on his cot, unable to eat or sleep. Wishing that he had died instead. Eventually, he’d had to get up and get back to the business of war. In the ensuing days and weeks, he became reckless, harboring a death wish where he had once harbored a secret love for a tall, lanky Australian man.
At first he hadn’t cared when he was captured and thrown into a German prison camp. It was his intention to die in that foul place, and had half his English regiment not been caught as well, he may well have. But since he was senior in rank, the other soldiers imprisoned there had looked to him for guidance. So he had lived instead of giving up, and he’d planned and plotted. Just as duty had led him to organize the escape, duty compelled him to go with the others on that harrowing journey to freedom. But a successful escape plan and a promotion had done nothing to awaken the part of him that had died the day he had held Robert’s bloodied, lifeless body in his arms.