"What is it that makes us human and differentiates us from animals or machines? The answer this book gives is very clear: emotions, and the key to unlock them all is love. Many stories exist that speculate about what would happen if we ever managed to create the "perfect soldier", using human genetic material and training to generate perfect fighting machines. This is one of them, and it looks at what happens after the war. The government's solution in this version of our near future is easy: the soldiers are sent away to an isolated deserted island with orders to establish an outpost and wait for new orders. There is only one problem: the island isn’t deserted and the people already there may not be super-soldiers but they have been banned as well. Lucius is an interesting character. He starts out as a soldier with a few very private thoughts and no desire to do anything but obey orders. Lucius isn’t stupid: he has been educated and has a few ideas about what he is supposed to be fighting for. But as he finds and gets to know Ari, a civilian, Lucius begins to realize not all is as he has been told. He needs a new purpose, and this time it is his to decide what, or who, that is. His growing ability to recognize the emotions he had been trained to suppress was fascinating, and I enjoyed taking this journey of discovery with him. As he allows himself to feel more and more, the emotions he has for Ari deepen. Ari is a farmer, eking out an existence in the harsh world of what used to be Oregon. Now an island (due to a major earthquake), it is an area full of people who refuse to die. They may be threatened by hunger, lack of medical care, and a marauding enemy called "the Horde", a band of misfits with weapons, but they are determined not to give in. Ari is courageous, willing to help his friends and neighbors, and while Lucius scares him at first, then frustrates him because he doesn't react "normally", the rough soldier also awakens feelings in Ari he didn't expect to ever have. Together, these two men learn to listen to their hearts, defend what is theirs, and begin to build a new life. Several setbacks and serious threats to Ari's life stand in their way, but once they make up their minds to stick together, what grows between them is beautiful. If you like slightly dystopian stories about a future where parts of humankind are rejected and need to learn how to survive their new reality, if you enjoy reading about tough soldiers who are introduced to the feelings they've been trained to ignore, and if you're looking for a sweet story with a few rough patches, then you will probably like this novella." -- Serena Yates, Rainbow Book Reviews
Ari tightened his fingers around the knife in his hand to hide the tremble that flickered through his entire body. The soldier standing before him was the biggest damn man Ari had ever seen in his life. He stood taller than the wooden doorframe.
Ari didn’t move other than to try and draw some much-needed air into his breath starved lungs. He wasn’t stupid. He knew he was facing off against a Spartan warrior, one of the fiercest fighting machines ever created.
The three black tattooed lines on the side of the man’s face were a dead giveaway. All Spartan had them. Each line was a mark of rank or something. Ari wasn’t sure. He also wasn’t sure what this man’s rank was, but he hoped it was high enough up that he could keep the others from killing him—assuming he didn’t kill Ari himself, which was a very real possibility.
Ari had seen the Spartan warriors in the cities during the war. He had seen them fight and seen them kill. He knew what they were capable of, and he was fully aware of the fact that he didn’t have chance in hell of beating the one standing in front of him or the ones standing behind him.
“Who are you?” the man repeated.
“Ari.” Fuck, this guy was freaking huge. Ari swallowed hard, trying to bring some moisture back to his dry throat. “I live here.”
“No one is supposed to be on this island.”
Ari cocked his head to the side, a small frown of confusion working its way across his forehead. He slowly lowered the knife in his hand but didn’t let go of it. He would most definitely lose a fight with this soldier, but he’d cause a lot of damage as he died.
“Who told you that?”
“My superiors informed us that this island was uninhabited.”
“They were wrong.”
Ari gulped when the man’s lips thinned in obvious anger. He quickly held his hand up to placate the guy, and hopefully keep his head attached to his shoulders. “I’m sure they thought the island was uninhabited, but it’s not. There are a lot of us here.”
Ari groaned when the warrior’s eyes narrowed at him. He knew he talked too much when he was nervous, and a person couldn’t get much more nervous than he was right now. If he didn’t tuck his lips in, he’d start spilling about every damn thing floating through his head.
“How many are here?”
Ari pressed his lips together and shook his head rapidly. He was in enough trouble. He wasn’t taking anyone else down with him. The next instant, Ari found himself disarmed and lying down on the floor on his back, his arms pinned down above his head and the biggest damn warrior in the group sitting on him.
“Speak,” the man growled, low and menacing.
Ari swallowed again, just knowing he was enjoying his last few minutes on earth, and then he shook his head. He might not like everyone that was stranded on the island, but he refused to divulge their numbers or whereabouts to a bunch of soldiers.
Nothing in the world could have prevented the squeak that fell from Ari’s lips when he felt the very sharp edge of a knife blade press against his throat.
Yep, he was going to die.
Shaking his head was out. He’d just end up cutting his own throat. “No,” Ari said with as much bravado as he could muster up considering he was so scared he was about to piss himself.
“Then you will die.”
Ari almost rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I kind of figured that.”
“Then speak.” The Spartan sounded confused, almost as if he couldn’t quite understand why Ari wouldn’t speak if refusing to do so meant his life would be forfeit. And maybe he didn’t understand.
From what Ari had seen during the war, many people would give up their mothers for the right incentive. Ari’s father had died at the hands of the Horde. Ari barely remembered him. But that didn’t mean he didn’t have people in his life that he cared about.
Ari refused to give the others up. He might not like some of them, but he had made friends with a lot of them. Besides, Ari had always known he would die at some point. It was kind of a fact of life. And he’d rather go out protecting his friends than from starving to death or getting a cold.
“Do you want to die?”
Ari’s lips twitched. He almost felt like laughing. “Not really.”
“Then speak,” the man said in a deep voice devoid of emotion. “Tell me how many others there are.”
“You might as well kill me now because I won’t tell you anything.”
“So be it.”
Ari braced himself, waiting for the killing blow. But instead of dying, Ari was yanked to his feet. He found himself spun around, and then he was picked up and tossed over the large warrior’s shoulder. The Spartan started out the door, pausing on the doorstep to look back at the other warriors.
“Burn it,” he said before carrying Ari out of the building.
“No!” Ari screamed as he started to struggle, visualizing all of his hard work going up in flames. “No, please, don’t—”
“Then speak,” the Spartan said as he dropped Ari down to his feet.
Tears blurred Ari’s vision as he glanced at his house. It had taken him nearly two years to get the place livable, to carefully cultivate his garden and get all of his food stores canned and in his pantry. He had worked so hard, often from sun up to sun down. He couldn’t watch it all go up in flames.
“No,” Ari whispered as his shoulders slumped. Even if it meant his home, he couldn’t betray his friends. His house could be replaced. His friends couldn’t.
A lone tear slid down Ari’s pale cheek as he watched the first flicker of flame come to life on the torch one of the warriors held. He knew once the torch was fully engulfed with flames, the Spartan would toss it in his house, beginning the process that would take everything from him.
He’d seen it before.
Ari jerked back when the large Spartan with onyx eyes wiped his tear away with a single finger. “Why do you cry?” the Spartan asked. “This is your decision. Tell me what I want to know and I will not order the building burned.”
Ari’s nostrils flared as he inhaled hard. “Fuck you!”
Ari yelped when he was suddenly grabbed around the neck and yanked forward. Hard searching lips pressed against his…and that was it. Ari waited for something more to happen—movement, the slip of a tongue, anything.
He got nothing.
Lucius was frowning just about as deeply as Ari had ever seen when the man leaned back. “I am not sure I fully understand why everyone seems so excited by a kiss, Ari. While I find that my pulse increases and my penis grows harder, this kissing thing does not seem to be a good enough reason to be so excited.”
Ari’s jaw dropped. “That wasn’t a kiss, Lucius. That was just you pressing your lips against mine.”
“A kiss is the act of pressing one’s lips against another person’s, is it not?”
“Yeeaahh, sorta. There’s a little more involved than that.” Ari chuckled as he pushed the blankets down and moved to sit on the edge of on the bed. He patted the mattress in front of him. “Come over here and I’ll show you why everyone raves about kissing.”
Well, Ari hoped he could show Lucius what was so exciting about a kiss. He was pretty sure that Lucius was interested in men if he gave the Spartan a hard-on. That did not mean he would like kissing. Not every man did. Ari, on the other hand, loved kissing. He dreamed of making out with a lover for hours.
If he had a lover.
Once Lucius had moved into place, Ari went to grab him when he noticed the flak jacket he was wearing and the gun holstered at his hip. While the man was prepared to go into battle, this was not a battle.
It was a kiss.
“Can you take off the flak jacket and gun?” Ari gestured to the nightstand. “You can put them there within easy reach.”
Lucius looked hesitant, his jaw firming as if he was fighting his instincts, but finally, he unbuckled his gun belt and laid it down on the nightstand then pulled his flak jacket off, laying over the top of his gun holster. When he was all done, Lucius settled back down on the bed.
Ari chuckled just because the situation was so fucking weird. “Close your eyes.”
“Please?” Ari would never admit to Lucius that he was too nervous to have the man watching him while they kissed. Lucius’s dark eyes assessed everything, looking for strengths and weaknesses. For once, he just needed to feel.
Ari’s stomach fluttered when Lucius’s eyes slowly slid closed, and that was a telling moment in itself. Ari knew that there had to be at least some level of trust for the man to close his eyes around him.
Ari held his breath as he cupped Lucius’s chiseled face between his hands and leaned forward, touching his lips to Lucius’s. His tongue stroked across Lucius’s lips, caressing his mouth more than kissing it.
Groaning, Lucius opened to him, and Ari swept his tongue inside, exploring, conquering. Tasting the warrior that he had wanted since the moment he saw the strong man standing before him with a knife in his hand.
Ari started when he was suddenly crushed against Lucius’s chest, the man’s large hands fisting his hair. Lucius pressed his mouth to Ari’s, claiming his mouth with a savage intensity that seared Ari to his toes. Ari returned Lucius’s kiss with reckless abandon, wanting more, wanting Lucius.
Now, this was a kiss.
When the full weight of Lucius’s muscular body pressed into him, Ari fell back against the pillows. A deep growl rumbled through Lucius’s chest as he crawled up and settled over the top of Ari, the width of his hips spreading Ari’s thighs until they almost hurt.
The pain was worth it to feel the monstrosity of a cock Lucius was sporting press against him. Ari’s breathing sped up as he hitched his hips and wrapped his legs around Lucius’s waist, bringing their two cocks together.
Ari bemoaned the fact that fabric separated them when he so desperately wanted to feel Lucius’s naked cock against his own. He reached down, wiggling his hand until he could get it between them, searching for the buttons of Lucius’s pants.
The moan that fell from his lips came partly from the victory he felt when he found the buttons and got them undone, and partly from the lips that continued to devour his. Lucius kissed Ari with a hunger that rivaled his own, threatening to consume them both.
Ari slid his hand inside of Lucius’s pants. The very moment his hand wrapped around Lucius’s wide girth, the man’s head snapped up, breaking the kiss. Lucius stared down at Ari for what seemed like a million years, and then tossed his head back as he roared, bucking wildly as hot cum filled Ari’s hand.
Ari just laid there, stunned, his own cock throbbing, aching. After watching Lucius’s display, he was so close to release that a stiff wind would have sent him over the edge. He just needed a little more, a little…
Ari cried out, his entire body going ramrod stiff as Lucius’s lips slammed back down on his, the man capturing his lips in a kiss that showed who dominated who. Lucius’s hand wrapped around Ari’s throat and the underside of his jaw, tilting his head back. The other one moved down Ari’s body, sliding down under him to grab his ass.
He was so damn close.
Ari almost went out of his mind when Lucius’s single hand covered a fair amount of both ass cheeks. He ripped his lips away from Lucius and stared up into Lucius’s unfathomable eyes, the intensity of the man’s gaze making his entire body clench with need. Ari swore he could see flames leaping to life in Lucius’s dark eyes, an invisible web of attraction building between them.