Weston Scott is happy with his simple, quiet life in a small English village. Yet he is haunted by deeply closeted yearnings, a secret he has shared with only one person. His best friend, Mark. As a constant reminder to guard his own heart, Weston wears an emerald ring on his hand.
Mark Goudy has a secret of his own, one that drove him to live far away in London rather than betray his best friend's trust: he's always been in love with Weston. Now he's back, but not for a friendly visit. Mark's done denying his emotions.
And if he can manage to slip that ring off Weston's finger for one night, he's sure things will change. For both of them.
"Where's my ring?"
After sticking a cigarette between his lips, Mark waved a hand dismissively toward the door. "Got rid of that when I took your glass away from you last night," he said, then cupped his hands out of habit around the cigarette as he lit it. The end glowed red as he inhaled, momentarily casting a crimson sheen over his face. "You were using it as an excuse. I wasn't going to give that to you."
"An excuse ..." Weston's eyes widened. The beers that kept coming. The initial kiss. The lube and condom in Mark's pocket. Who brought lube and condoms to meet a priest? "You planned all of this. Then you stole my ring."
"I didn't steal it. It's on your table. In plain sight."
"Why bother taking it from me at all if you think it's just a load of rubbish?"
Having Mark in his bedroom, casually naked, declaring his love, was far, far too dangerous. He hurried out of the door and into the living room, scooping his ring off the table. He'd wear it. And his cross. And he'd grab his Bible. Then he could pretend none of this ever happened because he didn't know how to deal with the fact that it had happened.
What had happened? How had he lost so much of himself? He had never broken his vows. Was he so corrupted, so sinful, that Mark barely needed to lift a finger to trick him into bed? God had been his rock, the one being in his life who would not hurt him with casual cruelty, or turn away from Weston's pain and confusion. Weston had turned his back on God, and now his fingers were shaking, and the rules he needed had been swept away. Mark had swept them all away. Flooded Weston's body with passion until he forgot everything. Shown Weston what he meant by love.
When he straightened with the ring in hand, he turned to see Mark had followed him as far as the doorway. Now he leaned against the jamb, smoke curling around his head, his eyes dark and hooded as he watched Weston panic.
"I can prove to you it's rubbish," Mark said. "Put it on and come back to bed."
"Mark, what do you want me to do? Ignore my calling? Leave all the good I've done here? Turn my back on my faith?" His voice rose with each question, and he was afraid of Mark's answers.
"You don't need to be a clergyman to believe in God. Or a congregation to prove you're a good man. Those of us who know you, Wes, know that already." He held his hand out. "Come back to bed."
Weston slid the ring on his finger, waiting for its comforting weight to push away any desire he had to take Mark's hand. He had only given in to Mark because the ring was gone. Yes, it was a silly superstition. Yes, Mark had been right all those years and the ring's power had only been symbolic. But he couldn't go back to bed with it on. How could he turn his body over to Mark with the constant, undeniable reminder that what he was doing was wrong?
Weston just wanted everything to stop hurting. Just for a few moments. Nothing hurt when he woke up, surrounded by Mark's warmth. Nothing hurt when they were children, playing together. Nothing hurt when they were sharing a pint and laughing over something stupid. Nothing hurt when they were just together.
Neither of them moved. The red tip of Mark's cigarette flared when he tightened his mouth and sucked at the nicotine, reminding Weston all too clearly what that mouth had looked like stretched around his cock. Wes tore his gaze away and stared at the ring, willing for it to work.
"There's one thing wearing that won't change."
A floorboard creaked. Weston glanced up in time to see Mark slowly advancing. His heart leapt into his throat.
"You can put that on," Mark continued. "And you can put on your collar, and you can stand at the front of your church and pray to God to forgive you for having the nerve to enjoy the attention of your oldest friend." He came to a halt in front of Wes, reaching sideways to drop his cigarette into the half-filled pint glass. Wes felt the sound of it sizzling as it went out in the warm Guinness across every inch of his skin. "But I'm still going to love you. And nothing anybody is ever going to say to me will convince me that that's wrong."