A Musketeer's Heart - Chapter Eight

It worked this time as well. But only on the other three. Aramis has remained stone-cold sober, staring straight down into his untouched drink. He couldn’t erase the look in Alec’s eyes from his mind. He couldn’t erase the image of Alec lying sprawled on the floor, his lip bleeding because Aramis had struck him. He couldn’t erase the feeling in his gut that the kid would never forgive him for the slight. Why should he? Aramis couldn’t forgive himself for having struck a friend.

He pushed himself up, but Athos grabbed his arm. “What are you doing?”

The alertness in his friend’s eyes, and the clearness of his speech told Aramis Athos was pretending to be deeper into his drink than he truly was. “I’m going back.”

Athos shook his head. “Not a good idea. Give the kid some time to cool off.”

“I need to apologize. And it can’t wait.”

Athos shrugged. “I’ll make sure to bring flowers to your grave every year.” He looked at the other two. “We’ll stay a little longer, allow Alec plenty of time to dispose of your body.”

Aramis grinned, “Thank you for the vote of confidence,” and strolled toward the tavern door.

“You should’ve thanked me for the flowers!” Athos called after him.

Alec rolled over on her pallet by the dying embers of the fire. She couldn’t sleep. The night was too fragrant with the smell of freshly cut grass, the crickets sang too loud, and the almost-full moon was too bright in the clear, starry sky. Her restlessness had nothing to do with what had transpired at the tavern, nothing to do with the ache in her head. And heart.

She rolled over again, grimaced as the ripe aroma of dried sweat rose to her nose. Combined with the smell of horse, lived-in leather, and four-days-worth of grime, made for quite a stink. She sat up, and looked around, listened intently. No one was approaching, the other probably making merry in the tavern now that the whelp was away. They probably wouldn’t return before morning.

Which gave her the perfect opportunity to take a much-needed dunk in the pond.

She jumped to her feet, grabbed her bag, and marched toward the pond, humming under her breath.

Aramis slowed his horse to a walk as they neared their camp. It’s been a while, Alec was probably asleep already, and he didn’t want to wake him. The apology could wait until morning. He dismounted, tied the horse to a low-hanging tree branch, and strode quietly into the circle of their encampment. The fire has almost died, only an ember or two still glowed in the small circle of stones, but the moon offered ample illumination. Aramis frowned. The kid wasn’t sleeping. The kid wasn’t in the camp.

If it weren’t for the fact Alec’s horse was tied to the same tree as Aramis’, he’d think the boy had left in a snit. He hadn’t, unless he’s decided to do it on foot, so where was he?

Aramis grinned as he noticed the kid’s bag was missing. Alec was taking a dip in the pond. So much for not having achy muscles.

He had no intention of following the kid, he’d simply wait for him in the camp...But he followed the path of trodden grass toward the lake. He slowed as he heard the splashes, he slowed even more, swallowing heavily, as he heard the sigh of relief. A sigh he knew well, he’d heard it before. It always made him hard when it fell off a woman’s lips after he’d kissed them. But he’s never been as hard as he was now, listening to Alec Reynaud—a man!—sighing contentedly somewhere behind the reeds enveloping the bank of the pond.

He should leave now, return to the fire, calm his roaring blood down, and think of what to say in apology, not of watching a boy bathe.

Merde!” he whispered viciously, and stepped closer.

His eyes widened at the clothing meticulously arranged on the fallen tree the farmers have probably placed on the part of the bank that wasn’t covered with reeds, and thus only part approachable by foot. He’d known the boy was a bit of a stickler for order, everything had to be in its right place—readily available, Alec always reminded them. But this arrangement was a tad too orderly, even for the military.

Boots were carefully leaned by the side of the trunk so they stood upright, stockings perfectly lined up. The doublet was precisely draped over the trunk, so were the breaches, not a line out of place. A fresh shirt was folded beside a fresh pair of braes, and a swath of white cloth. Aramis frowned. It didn’t look like a towel so what was the cloth for?

A splash made him look toward the pond, but for the small perturbation in the middle of it, it appeared empty. Then the boy’s head emerged from below the surface, the moonlight making it look like pearls danced in his hair. Aramis frowned as the boy’s entire face became visible above the water. He’d shaved and he looked even younger, prettier. Aramis swallowed past the lump in his throat. Damn it, why did the boy affect him so?

Alec swam leisurely toward the bank, where the pond was shallower, and, touching the ground, stood, the water lapping his stomach. Still hidden in the shadows of the reeds, Aramis’ jaw dropped.

Dark, beautifully arched eyebrows crowned a pair of currently down-turned eyes, lids at half mast, thick eyelashes fanning the high cheekbones. A small nose with a slightly-upturned tip, a mouth begged to be kissed with a fuller lower lip made to be bitten into, and a proud chin, completed the masterpiece of an intriguing, beguiling face. Water-slicked dark hair stuck to the long, elegant neck rivulets running over delicate shoulders, down the mouth-watering dimple at the base of the throat, and lower over perfectly formed breasts, glistening like jewels on rosy nipples.

The boy wasn’t a boy. He was a she! Alec, their friend, their travel companion, the man that’s been making Aramis’ life a living hell, the man he’s been lusting after— yes, now he could admit it—almost from the moment he’s met him, wasn’t a he. Alec was a woman!

Aramis swallowed. Anger and betrayal at being duped, at being deceived, at being made to think whatever he was feeling was unnatural, at having lived each day of the past few weeks feeling as if his body was wracked through blazing coals, mixed with a desire and craving so potent, so desperate it nearly brought him to his knees.

She lifted her arms to squeeze the water out of her hair, the move lifting her breasts, and he almost swallowed his tongue.

Deciding to deal with the anger and betrayal later, he gritted his teeth against the growing ache in his groin, and stepped out of the shadows.

“Hello, Alec,” he drawled, receiving the satisfaction of seeing her eyes widen. A muted growl emerged from deep in his throat as he saw her nipples tighten. Then she shrieked, and dove back under the surface.

Aramis grinned, and crossed his arms over his chest. He could wait.

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