As he started down the steps, Asher swore he heard someone whimper. Frowning, he looked around, trying to find the source. No one was near the longhouse, and those he saw were busy with whatever it was they were doing. Nobody appeared distressed. Maybe he’d been hearing things.
The whimper came again.
Okay, he hadn’t imagined it that time. Lowering to his haunches, Asher peered under the longhouse and spotted Joque. The small lion was hugging his legs as tears fell down his cheeks.
What on earth?
“Joque?” Asher cocked his head to the side. “What’re you doing under there?”
Asher had a huge soft spot for Joque. He’d saved Joque’s life when the lion’s father had beaten the man to within an inch of his life.
It had been touch and go for a while there, but Joque had finally recovered, not a single scar to show what his bastard of a father had done to him.
It was Joque’s mental state that worried Asher. The man was withdrawn, moody, and hardly spoke a word. As much as Asher had tried to reach Joque, the lion had closed himself off to the world. Nobody deserved to be alone, especially someone as sweet as Joque. Asher firmly believed that everyone should have at least one person in their corner, but, as hard as he tried, Joque kept him at arm’s length.
That didn’t mean Asher would give up. Joque was stubborn, but Asher was determined.
The dirt under the longhouse was as soft as sand, cushioning Asher's hands and knees as he crawled toward the lion. He moved slowly, waiting to see if Joque hurried away. When the lion didn’t move, Asher took a seat next to the man. “Want to tell me what’s got you crying?”
“It’s nothing.” Joque wiped at his face while shaking his head. The guy looked so miserable that it tore at Asher.
“Yeah, because I cry over nothing all the time,” Asher said as he bumped his leg into Joque’s. “Now tell me what’s bothering you.”
He wasn’t sure the man would open up to him. Joque hadn’t in the past. He kept everything bottled up inside, never letting anyone in.
Asher knew some of the hell Joque had been through while living with a cruel and unforgiving father and brother. Joque also carried around guilt about his brother’s death. Katron had told Asher what had taken place in the other village.
Katron had been taken prisoner, chained inside a room. Albert had pretended to be a victim, had been ready to kill Katron with a hidden knife. Katron had wrapped the chains around Albert’s neck when Joque had walked into the room. Instead of begging for his brother’s life, Joque had exited the room, leaving Albert to his fate.
Joque was as sweet as they came and wouldn’t harm a soul, and, although his brother Albert had been sick and sadistic, Joque still felt guilty for not stopping Katron from killing the guy.
Asher had spent many nights trying to get through to the lion, but Joque had never opened up to him.
“I was on my way to check on Jari,” Asher said when Joque remained silent. “Care to join me? I hear Ewon makes the best stew.”
Joque wouldn’t look at him.
“Or I could stay under here with you until you decided that living under a longhouse isn’t the best vacation spot.”
Joque glanced up at Asher and those soulful honey-colored eyes sucked him in. “Vacation spot?”
“It’s a place people go when they want to get away from it all, or just to have fun.” Asher glanced around the dirt they were sitting on. “I have to say, it’s nice and cool under here. Maybe it is a good vacation spot. Beats living in a hut where you’re hot all the time.”
Joque furrowed his brows. “You’re…weird.”
Lying on his back, Asher tucked his hands under his head. “I could get used to this.”
It actually felt ten degrees cooler under the longhouse. Asher hadn’t been joking about that. It felt so good that he had to force himself not to doze off.
“Why would you stay under here with me?” Joque asked. He turned his head and laid it on his bent knees, staring at Asher. The man appeared so downtrodden that Asher wanted to pull Joque into his arms and comfort him.
But he knew from past experience that Joque would only push him away.
“Because you’re my friend, Joque. I stick by my friends. If something is bothering you, it’s bothering me.” He gazed into those beautiful eyes, whishing he could say more and knowing he couldn’t. If he told the lion how he truly felt about the man, his confession would scare Joque away.
“I don’t think you want to be my friend right now,” Joque said. He turned his head and gazed toward the center of the village. His hair was long enough that the blond strands covered his eyes. It was a shame because Joque was a beautiful man. “It might not be healthy for you.”
That got Asher's attention. “I’m pretty sure I can handle myself.” He was fishing, and hoped that Joque would finally let him in.
Asher saw the frown set in Joque’s features. “No use having half the village hate you just because you’re friends with me. I’m not worth it.”
The guy was breaking Asher's heart.
The man crawled from under the longhouse and, with slumped shoulders, scuttled away. Asher lay there for a long moment mulling over the lion’s parting words.
No one in Pride Valley was fond of Joque’s father. The man had caused so much trouble, had tried to burn the village down, had tried to sell Jari off to the highest bidder, and had committed countless other heinous crimes.
And since Joque was Dirk’s son, he was paying for his father’s sins. That wasn’t right and it was unfair, but nonetheless true.
But one thing was for sure. No matter how hard Joque pushed him away, Asher wasn’t budging. The guy needed someone in his corner, and Asher would be that someone.
For the second time that day, Joque’s skin felt as though it had caught fire. When Asher just stared at him, Joque wanted to race from the hut and find a cave to crawl into. Embarrassed didn't even begin to describe how he felt.
Suddenly, Asher threw his head back and laughed. The sound was rich and warm, reminding Joque of warmed honey. Asher hugged Joque, his laughter quieting into a soft, caressing chuckle.
“Why are you laughing at me?” Joque was mortified, but he also felt on fire from the way Asher held him. The man was completely naked, his cock pressing into Joque’s stomach. A wild urge to wrap his hand around Asher’s thick shaft gripped Joque. He curled his hands into fists to stop himself from giving in to that crazy need.
“Oh, hon. I'm not laughing at you. It's just refreshing to be with someone who isn't trying to con me or play games.”
“I don't understand.”
Asher had yet to let him go. His strength wrapped around Joque like a safe blanket, but safe wasn't what he wanted as he felt Asher’s shaft grow harder.
“Where I came from, being gay was illegal. Men had to sneak around to be with each other. When deals are struck in darkness, blackmail isn't too far behind.”
“Um, I'm still confused.” Joque canted his head back. “Gay?”
“Two men or two women sleeping together,” Asher said. His gray eyes smoldered, making Joque’s breath catch. It still puzzled him how anyone could be that handsome and want him. It made absolutely no sense to Joque.
“Oh.” Joque didn't want to ask Asher to explain any further. He was getting a solid headache. It felt as if the guy was speaking a different language, and the more Asher explained, the more confused Joque became. He understood the part about blackmail. Dirk had blackmailed more people than Joque could count.
“Change of subject?” Asher asked. His voice had gone all husky again. Joque shivered.
“Yes, please.” He’d asked Asher to explain things in simpler terms another time, a time when Joque wasn’t wound so tight that he felt as if he’d explode at any second.
Asher wasn’t the only one standing there with a hard cock. All the blood had fled Joque’s brain, pooling between his legs. Joque didn’t want to think right now. He didn’t have enough brain cells at the moment to hold a conversation.
A growl rumbled in Asher's chest before he lowered his head. Their lips almost touched. “You make it so hard to keep my distance from you.”
Joque’s breath froze when Asher guided his hand to the man’s jutting cock. “Touch me, Joque. I feel like I’m going to die in the next five seconds if you don’t touch me.”
Joque felt the same way. His hand shook like crazy as he wrapped his fingers around Asher's heated and hard flesh. He jerked in Asher’s arm as he gave the hardened flesh a tight squeeze. Asher sucked in air between his teeth.
“Careful, kitty. You keep doing that and my gun will go off.”
The warning made no sense to Joque, but he eased his strangle hold.
In one swift motion, Asher lifted Joque and sat him on the exam table. He'd lost his grip on Asher’s cock, making his hand ache to touch Asher again. Never in his life had he wanted someone as badly as he craved the man standing in front of him.
Planting a hand on either side of Joque, Asher stared at him with liquid heat in his eyes. “Not fair that I should have all the fun.”
Before Joque could ask what Asher meant, the wolf freed him of his loincloth. Proof of his arousal sprung free. Joque pressed his hands over his lap as his body shook like crazy.
“No, kitty.” Asher gently moved Joque’s hands away. “No hiding from me.”
He sat ramrod straight as Asher lowered himself to his knee. Inexperienced, Joque had no idea what the man was doing. Curling his hands in, he bit his bottom lip and watched with amazement as Asher took Joque’s cock into his mouth.
He nearly bit his bottom lip off when pleasure exploded inside of him. Joque became lightheaded as Asher licked and sucked, his tongue trailing over the heavy vein on the side of his shaft.
A spark ignited. A crushing pleasure began to build inside of him. Joque wasn't sure what was happening to him. He wanted Asher to stop and keep going. He started to push back, but Asher grabbed Joque’s wrists, stopping him from escaping.
“Asher!” Joque’s back bowed, his hips punched forward, his head flew back as pulses of electrifying pleasure threaten to drown him. He cried out, fighting against Asher’s tight hold, his heart racing so hard that he feared it would give out on him.
Asher didn't back down, nor did he pull away. He took Joque’s shaft all the way down his throat. Oh, god. Joque wasn’t going to survive this. Just when he thought he might pass out, Asher shoved upward, fisted his cock, and thrust his hand until his seed spurted over Joque, chest, stomach, and spent cock.
No longer able to stay upright, Joque slumped on the table, fighting to breath. When Asher smoothed his hand over Joque’s chest—as if he were rubbing his scent into Joque’s skin—Joque jerked, every inch of his flesh overly sensitive.
“That was beautiful, kitten.” Asher leaned into him, nuzzling Joque’s neck. “Tell me you need a nap as badly as I do.”
Joque yawned. He couldn’t believe how tired he was.
Scooping Joque from the table, Asher carried him into his sleeping quarters and laid Joque on his pile of furs. He curled around Joque, holding him close.
As he lay there, Joque fought against the growing emotions blossoming inside of him. He was falling in love with Asher. That scared him considering nothing in his life had ever gone right. All he could do was pray that he would finally be able to find happiness, finally be able to enjoy life.
But with his father still on the loose, he was pretty sure Dirk would find a way to crush the little slice of heaven Joque had found with Asher.